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Christina: This is Christina.
Ed: This is Ed. Today, are going to discuss child support add-ons. Christina, what are child support add-ons?
Christina: We have been discussing the “base” amount of child support. In addition to the base amount, you have “add-ons”, which are extra amounts of support that are paid on top of the base amount.
Ed: are there two types of “add-ons”?
Christina: Yes. You have mandatory “add-ons” and discretionary “add-ons”. You have two mandatory add-ons consisting of child care costs and health care costs. You have two discretionary add-ons consisting of educational costs and the cost of extra-curricular activities.
Ed: How do child care add-ons work?
Christina: Child support includes child care costs that are incurred so a spouse can be employed or so a spouse can obtain an education or training to become employed. The child care costs are stacked on top of the base child support amount. Again, child care costs are a mandatory add-on. If you have child care costs, you need to include provisions in your settlement agreement for the sharing of those costs.
Ed: How are child care costs shared?
Christina: Typically, the child care costs are divided equally. Mom pays half and Dad pays half. However, if requested by one party, the court can apportion the child care costs based on the amount of each party’s net disposable income. If one parent earns substantially more than the other parent, then a court may assign a larger portion of the child care costs to the higher earner. Some of the support calculation programs will do this calculation for you if you want to allocate child care costs based on each party’s net disposable income. However, the most common practice is to split the child care costs equally. You can look at the current amount that it is costing for child care, divide that by 2, and add the amount to the base child support number. However, since the cost of child care changes over time, a better approach is to have your child support agreement simply state that each parent will pay their one-half share of the child care costs as the costs are incurred.
Ed: How do health care expenses as an add-on work?
Christina: Child support also includes the cost of health care. Again this is a mandatory child support add-on. Your child support agreement should include provisions regarding health care for the children. The first issue is: Which parent will provide health insurance coverage for the children? “Health insurance” maybe just medical insurance or it may also include dental and/or vision insurance. Hopefully, at least one parent will have health insurance available for the children through that parent’s employment at no cost or at a very reasonable cost. The child support agreement should state which parent is going to provide health insurance coverage for the children. If neither parent has health insurance through their employment, then health insurance for the children should be obtained and the cost of that insurance can be paid equally by both parents.
Ed: What about co-pays and deductibles?
Christina: That is the second issue. Even if you have health insurance, there are going to be deductibles, co-pays, and other costs that are not covered by insurance. The typical child support agreement is going to state that any and all out-of-pocket health care costs incurred on behalf of the children will be paid 50% by each parent. Again, the court can allocate the out-of-pocket health care costs based on each party’s net disposable income, but the most common agreement is to equally share these costs.
Ed: What about educational costs as a discretionary add-on?
Christina: Sometimes educational costs may be incurred on behalf of a child. For example, a child may need a tutor. Educational expenses can include lots of items. Even if your child attends public school, many schools require various fees to be paid at the beginning of the year, particularly high schools. There may be field trip fees, yearbook fees, fees to attend or participate in school sporting events, etc. When some children are juniors or seniors in high school, they take expensive courses to prepare them to take college entrance exams. College application fees are typically paid when children are seniors in high school. Although educational expenses are a discretionary add-on, most parents are willing to pay 50% of these fees. If one parent is unwilling to pay, most courts will order the parents to share reasonable educational costs. You want your child support agreement to be as specific as possible describing exactly what educational expenses are going to be shared. Vague agreements invite future arguments. Specific agreements help avoid future arguments. Our Marital Settlement Agreement template, which is discussed in another video, includes provisions that cover these types of issues.
Ed: What about private school tuition?
Christina? Private school fees are a different animal. If both parents are in agreement that the children should attend private school and both parents are willing to share those costs, then there is no problem. Include the understanding to share private school tuition as a provision in your settlement agreement or judgment. However, if one parent objects to paying private school tuition, it is oftentimes very difficult to get a court to order the sharing of private school tuition. Although the parents may have been able to afford private school for the children when the parents were living together, private school tuition sometimes becomes unaffordable after the parents split up.
Ed: What about extra-curricular activities as a discretionary add-on?
Christina: The cost of extra-curricular activities or other special needs of the children is a discretionary add-on, but most parents are willing to share in these costs. Examples are fees associated with the children participating in activities such as soccer, little league, dance lessons, piano lessons, etc.
Ed: In your practice, do a lot of disputes arise between parents when it comes to the children participating in extra-curricular activities?
Christina: Yes. Problems can arise when one parent goes overboard, signing up the children for multiple extracurricular activities at a time. There are two issues: 1) cost; and 2) interference with the other parent’s custodial time. For example, assume the custody agreement says that Dad gets custody of the children every Thursday evening, and Mom then signs the children up for karate lessons on Thursday evenings. Another example, Mom gets visitation with the children on the weekends and Dad signs the children up for swim team which involves swim meets every weekend that last 4 to 5 hours. Mom may not want to spend her limited time with the children sitting around the pool while the children do swim team events.
Ed: How do you deal with problems regarding extra-curricular activities?
Christina: It is a good idea for the child support agreement to contain detailed provisions about extra-curricular activities so as to minimize future disputes. An agreement may provide that the parents will equally share the cost of the children’s extra-curricular activities for any activities that the children have participated in the past, but in regard to any “new” activity, the obligation to share in the cost is conditioned on both parents providing their written consent, with said consent not to be unreasonably withheld. You may want to include a provision that the children will not be signed up for an extra-curricular activity if that activity will take place during the other parent’s custodial time unless the other parent gives their written consent. Another approach is to simply include in your settlement agreement a list of the extra-curricular activities that both parents agree the children will participate in and for which they will share the costs.
In the next video, we will discuss additional child support issues, including provisions in your settlement agreement requiring a parent to maintain life insurance for the benefit of the children and provisions for sharing the cost of a child’s college education.