There’s so many components to child support – this blog is intended to share the basics of child support. In last week’s blog I explained the basics of “base child support”, and this article will explain the “extras”.
What are the “extras” in child support?
First, by way of reminder, child support is divided into 2 basic components – last week we talked about “base support” which is typically that amount that one parent pays to the other for the basic necessities – food, clothing, and shelter.
This week we’ll be talking about the “extras”. These are the expenses that are listed in the child support guidelines that are expected to be shared between parents. Here’s the categories:
- Child care expenses for the primary parent – these are to allow the parent to attend school, go to work, or for respite;
- Health insurance premiums that relate to the children – this is the difference between the cost of a single person versus a family rate plan.
- Health related expenses that exceed reimbursement by at least $100/year – there are certain included expenses: orthodontics, professional counselling, speech therapy and glasses;
- Post-secondary education expenses; and
- There’s 2 categories that are preceeded with the word “extra-ordinary” – this means that not all expenses in these categories are going to be shared – it’s the “extra-ordinary” ones – these are primary and secondary school expenses and extra-curricular activity expenses.
How are these “extras” shared? Is it always divided 50/50 or how does that work?
By default, these categories of expenses are to be shared between the parents on a proportionate basis. This means that they are shared based on both parents’ income levels.
For example, if one parent earns $70,000 / year, and the other parent earns $30,000 / year, then one parent pays 70% and the other parent pays 30% towards these expenses.
There are some parents who agree to deviate from this proportionate sharing – some say they’ll share 50/50, and there’s others who approximate their percentage.
One thing to remember is that the percentage is always the after-tax dollar amount of the expense – this is particularly important for expenses like child care which can be deducted on income tax returns.
What about RESPs and other savings for kids’ education fund. Is this a shareable expense between separated parents?
Here’s the irony – post-secondary expenses are shareable between parents as part of their child support obligation, but there is no obligation to save for these expenses
Lots of parents have RESPs and other savings accounts set up for their children. It can get complicated where parents have these savings from during the relationship, as these may be divisible between the parents just like any other bank account.
However, I often recommend to families that they simply do their own thing as far as education savings plans post-separation. There’s no limit on RESP accounts that can be set up for kids, but there’s a limit of course on the government grants that go along with these accounts.
I know the financial planners are cringing, thinking that the advantage of compound interest is wasted with multiple accounts being set up, but the benefit is that you have control over how much you save, when you contribute, and what you do with the funds. If you have a joint education savings account, there can be problems in the future if one of you doesn’t hold up your end of the bargain as far as contributions or use of the account.
The amount you save will be your contribution towards the kids’ post-secondary expenses, as part of your “extras” obligation.
These categories you mention seem so broad. So many expenses could possibly fit into one of the categories. How would families determine whether something is an extra or not in their situation?
The exact items that are shareable will depend primarily on 3 things:
- Necessity to a child of the expense;
- Reasonableness of the expense in relation to the family’s finances; and
- Standard of living pre-separation for the children.
There are so many factors that go into whether something will be shareable in addition to base child support.
I always encourage families I work with to think through the types of things that impact their children so that they define for themselves the extent of the shareability of the expenses – from health-related costs, to educational expenses, to activities – all of the costs that they can foresee. We talk through it all when I work with them because when we say that the parents agree to share the costs of, for example, hockey – are they talking just registration and equipment, or the cost of tournaments, hotels, bus rides, volunteer obligations, and more? What is the equipment expectation – something new each year, high-end or middle-of-the-road equipment? If families can plan for these expenses in advance, and get it into their parenting plan, then they can really help to diffuse future issues.
Here’s some examples of items that have been deemed by courts to be shareable in some circumstances and not shareable in others:
- Cell phones;
- Private school expenses;
- Art school fees, choir lessons, dance camps, summer camps, art lessons, acting lessons,
- Second-language lessons, technology upgrades to help a child with special needs
- Laptops, auto insurance, travel costs for education.
These are just some of the random expenses that courts have had to grapple with when parents can’t agree on what’s shareable as an “extra” and what’s not.
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