Without question, the majority of parents what the best for their children, and without question, most parents do their best each day to provide their children with what they need – not only healthy food, and medical treatment, and the necessities of everyday life, but also an education, extracurricular activities, and other opportunities that will enrich their lives. Many parents who are going through a divorce expect, understandably, that when one parent is ordered to pay child support to the other, the child support payments will cover those expenses, and this is generally true.
A common question we receive, however, is what about extra expenses? Unanticipated expenses? Expenses that are, well, expensive, and over which the parties might disagree? By way of example, imagine a couple who has a child that is a star soccer player, and one day, might even have a shot at a scholarship. One spouse believes that the child should join a travel team that will provide excellent instruction and experience, but is certainly costly. The other spouse believes it is too expensive, and the child should play only for a recreational team. Or, imagine a couple with a child that has a learning disorder. A specialized, private school is available, but the cost each month will be considerable. One spouse thinks that the public school is fine, and the other thinks that the child needs to be at the specialized school in order to truly thrive.
How will these potentially “extra” expenses be allocated, insofar as child support is concerned? How will a court decide which parent is responsible for paying those expenses? It’s a fair question, and one that is asked often. The North Carolina Child Support Guidelines do allow for the consideration of extraordinary expenses when calculating the amount of child support to be paid by one parent to the other. Specifically, the guidelines reference examples like private or special school expense, transportation costs, and counseling, although those examples are by no means exhaustive. Other examples of “extraordinary” expenses might include:
- Summer camp costs;
- Fees associated with sports or other extracurricular activities;
- Private schools, or other specialized schools;
- Unexpected medical expenses;
- Other expenses that were unforeseen at the time the initial support obligation was determined.
While it is important to understand what an extraordinary expense is, it is equally important to understand what it isn’t. Sometimes, parents mistakenly think that money spent on fun leisure activities or going out to eat, for example, constitute “extraordinary” expenses beyond the normal child support obligation, when this is not in fact the case. If, for example, you have your children on the weekends, and decide to take them to the amusement park, and out for dinner afterwards, you cannot then reduce the amount you are required to pay to your spouse by asserting that these expenses spent on entertainment were “extraordinary”. Unless a court instructs the parties otherwise, the spouse receiving support is entitled to the amount ordered by the court, and the responsible spouse is required to make those payments.
It may seem confusing – some parents ask, for example, “What is the difference between buying my child a tennis racquet, and paying for ongoing tennis lessons? Both are extraordinary expenses.” While this line of thinking is understandable, it is ultimately a misassumption. Typically, courts do not consider on-time purchases of that nature to be in the same category as ongoing expenses required for a certain activity. Certainly, however, a court’s determination will be fact-specific, and dependent upon the particular circumstances of the parties.
A party seeking to have a child support obligation modified to account for these extraordinary expenses would need to retain an attorney and file a motion to modify the support obligation with a court, if the child support obligation was entered by the court initially. The court would review evidence presented by the parties, and would ultimately have the final discretion to determine what actually constitutes an extraordinary expense, and to make adjustments to the child support obligations to cover those expenses as it deems necessary. If, on the other hand, the parties agreed to child support payments via a parenting agreement, they can choose to work together, with their attorneys to modify that agreement to suit the new set of circumstances, or failing the ability to do that, file with the court if necessary.
Consulting an attorney about any extraordinary expenses and the possibility of modifying an existing support order or parenting agreement is always a wise decision, and one that will make the process easier for all parties involved. At The Law Office of Dustin McCrary, we would be happy to help you with this process, or with any other portion of your divorce with which you need assistance. Call us today.