When parents are divorced or not raising a child together, expect to find a child support order. Child support can be as unique as any family, even though the starting point is a state's child support guidelines.
While starting points for child support are a child's needs and parents' means, what about all the extras? Education and extracurricular activities put a dent in any parent's budget. Learn how these expenses may be a factor in your child support case.
State Law Controls
It's important to work with your lawyer in calculating child support because every case is different and state laws can vary a lot. Your lawyer is prepared to help you look at your situation given your state's laws.
There can be a complex mix of financial data, a family's living standards before a divorce and of course, a child's needs, to take into account when coming up with a fair child support award.
Education costs are one important factor. These are greatly affected by the decision on whether public school or private school is best for your child. Another factor is who will pay for added costs as your child enters secondary school.
The cost of private school is a common issue. Sometimes parents aren't happy with the local public schools and would prefer a private school for their children. The court will have to decide if private school tuition should be included in child support. Some factors courts look at include:
- The child's best interests
- The parents' ability to pay
- The needs of the child
- The length of past attendance at the private school
- Public school options
Dividing costs are also an issue. Courts often divide costs in proportion to the parents' income. If you have a greater income than the other parent, you may pay a greater portion of the cost of private school.
Typically, child support guidelines distinguish between child-related expenses that are included in the basic child support award and extras, such as extracurricular activities and entertainment. "Extras" are generally not included in basic child support awards. Parents aren't expected to pay child support to cover such costs.
A court can, however, award support to help cover these extra costs. Often the decision turns on parents' abilities to pay for their child's activities. Extras can include all sorts of enrichment, ranging from sports of all kinds to music and dance. When parents' finances are limited, a court will likely order that costs are to be covered by the basic child support award to the extent possible. Once again, courts rule on a case-by-case basis, looking at the facts in your case.
Special exceptions may arise when children perform at a high level, or are even gifted, and before a divorce or separation, both parents paid for expensive lessons or activities. The court may order each parent to contribute to the costs in proportion to their respective incomes. This order is separate and apart from the basic child support order.
Summer Camps and Vacations
Children's expenses can change throughout the year, especially in the summer when many schools are out. Summer camp costs can take the place of usual child care bills when school isn't in session, and a court could order child support to cover the expenses.
Whether summer camp is considered "child care" makes a big difference in child support obligations. Courts mainly look at whether or not camp takes the place of child care needed while a parent is at work or school. Summer camp may be a discretionary expense when a child doesn't need or use child care, and a court could decide not to require child support for the expense.
Summer vacations may mean an adjustment to the usual amount of child support, especially when a child spends an extended time with his or her non-custodial parent.
Generally, if both parents intend to raise the child in a particular faith, and it's apparent at the time of a divorce or separation, reasonable costs for religious education can be included in a child support order. A court may divide costs between parents. Examples of religious education costs include religious classes, bar/bat mitzvahs, confirmations and first communions.
Agreeing on child support can be challenging for any set of parents. Work with your lawyer and strive to cooperate to find an arrangement that is fair to both parents and meets your child's needs.
Questions for Your Attorney
- Do I have to pay for private school if a good public school is an option?
- Can I have my child support reduced if the other parent takes our child out of private school?
- Do I have to pay for my child's activities if I can't afford them after my divorce?