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Sharing Children's Expenses After Divorce

Judgments for child support set a monthly payment for the basic expenses of children such as food, clothing, and shelter. In addition to these basic needs, children often have "extraordinary" needs not covered by that basic payment. They may go to a private school or take dancing lessons. They may incur uninsured medical expenses in excess of $250 per year. Courts have the power to add these "extraordinary" expenses to the parents' basic child support obligation. Parents share the "extraordinary" expenses on the same pro rata basis that they pay (or receive) monthly child support.

When one parent falls behind in his or her basic child support payments, the parent has also usually failed to pay his or her pro rata share of the extraordinary expenses. Calculating and proving the amount of the unpaid basic child support is usually not difficult. Most people pay by check and most recipients keep records of what they have received. Even if it's all they have in the way of evidence, each parent's bank statements provide a fairly reliable payment history of their basic child support obligation.

Many parents do not, however, keep track of what they owe or what they receive for "extraordinary" expenses. Although these transactions can be reconstructed, the effort to do so can be overwhelming. No one wants to reconstruct how many co-payments or deductibles they made or paid for three children over two years. Many people do not make any demand upon the other parent for such expenses because to do so does not seem worthwhile. The result is that a payee parent leaves money on the table that could be hers (or his). The payor parent can be blindsided by a demand for thousands of dollars that he (or she) did not know was owed because no demand for it was made.

To make matters more complicated, each parent may be paying "extraordinary" expenses for which reimbursement is owed by the other parent (although at a different rate).

The solution to these problems is good record keeping and regular demands for reimbursement.

As an example, if your child is attending a private school and the other parent is obligated to pay 60% of those expenses, you should:

  • Reach an agreement, if possible, for each of you to directly pay the school for the tuition, fees, lunches, and extracurricular expenses.
  • If you cannot arrange this and you pay 100%, immediately send your ex-spouse a copy of the school's tuition, fee, lunch, and extracurricular expense schedule with a demand letter.
  • Each time you buy school uniforms, uniform shoes, or school mandated accessories, send your ex-spouse a copy of your receipts and a demand letter.
  • Each time you pay for a school field trip or other school activity, send the school's notice of the event and its cost and a demand letter.

The "demand" can be informal and cordial. But it should provide the other party with what he or she needs to evaluate it and decide whether to pay.

Another example is uninsured medical expenses. Most doctors take credit cards now for co-payments and deductibles. Keep these credit card receipts so you don't have to provide your entire credit card statement. Write the name of the child being treated on your receipt and the condition (flu, well child check-up). Keep the receipt for the medicine that the pharmacy gives you. Use your phone and take a picture of the medication (prescribed and other the counter) that you buy.

It is not necessary that you send your "demand" each time you incur an expense. You can buy an expanding file folder and toss the receipts in by month. If by summer you have enough accumulated to make it worth your time and effort, you can then take a few hours to organize what you have and send it with a "demand".

Whatever and whenever you send, send it on paper and by hand or by mail. Keep copies of exactly what you send stapled together and put that documentation back in the expanding file folder. If you are handy with Excel spreadsheets, you can keep track of expenses and payments in great detail. However, your original credit card receipts and bills for tuition and fees are the best evidence of what you spent and what you are owed.

If you're the paying parent, it is very important that you keep track of when a "demand" was made and what came with it. Write the date you received the "demand" on it when you get it. If you have questions about the expenses, ask those questions in writing as soon as possible. Keep a copy of your questions. Pay what you know you owe and argue about the rest later.

As a paying parent, it is a good idea to be proactive. If you know your children are attending a private school but you haven't received your ex-spouse's "demand" for your share of the tuition and other expenses, call and ask about it.

In conclusion, where "extraordinary" expenses are concerned, good record keeping and good communication are the keys to collecting everything you are due and to protecting yourself from an unpleasant surprise in the form of a motion for contempt.

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