Child support is meant to cover the basic living expenses for a child and may also address how childcare, health insurance, and medical expenses will be paid for. But who is responsible for the extraordinary expenses such as private schooling or extracurricular activities?
By WomansDivorce | Answers by Brette Sember, J.D.
Extraordinary expenses are expenses beyond the scope of regular child supports. Ordinary expenses covered by monthly child support are those costs which normally occur when raising children.
For example, the cost of going on a field trip or buying school supplies would be considered an ordinary expense. Other examples of ordinary expenses include eating out, clothing, vacations and weekend trips, manicures and haircuts, leisure activities, prom clothing and accessories, the child’s cell phone bills, or one-time purchases of sports equipment.
There are no exact rules on what would be considered an extraordinary expense. A lot depends on your unique situation and whether your state child support guidelines address the issue specifically. Generally, if a child is gifted in a certain activity or if an expense would be considered necessary and beneficial to them, the related costs for supporting their needs could be considered in the child’s best interest.
Examples of extraordinary expenses include:
It is always a good idea to address the issue of extraordinary expenses in your parenting plan or child support agreement. You should outline how the expenses will be paid for and require the other parent be notified before incurring a large expense. Having these extra expenses outlined in such a way allows a parent to seek enforcement of the agreement if the other parent isn't paying their share.
The costs incurred for extracurricular activities, private schooling, and other extra expenses should be reasonable, considering each parents’ income and the standard of living the family enjoyed prior to divorce. It would be unreasonable to expect a parent making minimum wage to split the cost for private schooling. On the other hand, high income parents can generally afford to spend more for these types of expenses and their child support order may address these issues specifically.
Most states use the incomes shares model when determining child support, with the support being based on each parent’s proportion of the total combined income of both parents. In the same fashion, extraordinary expenses are usually divided between the parents in proportion to their respective incomes. Another way to divide these extra expenses is to split them evenly, with each parent paying half.
Extraordinary expenses are paid separately from the basic child support when they occur. Generally, one parent pays for the extraordinary expense and then provides receipts to the other parent. The other parent will then reimburse his or her share of the expense. If a parent questions whether an expense is necessary, the other parent will need to justify why paying the expense is in the child’s best interest and show that it is an expense that both parents can afford.
Our legal advisor has provided additional information about how these types of expenses are handled in the following FAQs.
Janine's Question: If my ex pays child support, does it dismiss his responsibility to contribute 1/2 the cost for "extra" big ticket items such as: first car, driver's training, band camp, etc.? I am on public assistance, but my ex refuses to help with the expenses of these larger items. He cites his monthly child support payments for his reason to be excluded from these expenses.
Brette's Answer: It depends on what the child support order says. Generally the parent paying child support is required to pay only the specified monthly amount, unless the order specifically says that other expenses are to be divided by the parents. If your order does not specify, you can file for a modification to include these items.
Julie's Question: My fiancé pays more than twice the standard support because the mom stated the children required additional money, and she was the one who they spend most of their time with. In the decree it states "this Court must state findings in support of a deviation from the presumed guidelines the Court finds that the physical, medical, educational and extracurricular needs and activities of the children require additional expenses incurred by the Plaintiff". Their daughter participates in high school rodeos, which the mother refuses to pay anything towards. My fiancé ends up spending an additional $300 - $500 a weekend for rodeo expenses. Shouldn't some of this expense be included under "extracurricular needs"?
Brette's Answer: Yes, I agree with you.
Rachel's Question: My work hours were recently reduced and I'm making 20% less salary. I want to bring my ex back to court for the children's extracurricular activities (dance, cheerleading, little league, etc.). My ex is claiming he cannot afford the extras. Do I have a case?
Brette's Answer: You can definitely ask. The court will consider both financial pictures and adjust child support accordingly.
Kenee's Question: My ex is demanding that I pay for our sons motocross bike (that he bought and keeps), race entry fees, and parts and service. I have never been asked or agreed to support motocross racing (too dangerous!) Anyway, this is what our decree states word for word. "The parties agree to pay one-half of any costs associated with the extracurricular activities of the parties' minor child of which the parties **AGREE** to allow their son to participate." Am I right in thinking it is not my responsibility to pay for these things?
Brette's Answer: Generally, if your ex enrolls your child in something without your input, it would seem he would be responsible for that cost. That is how I would read that provision, but a court could interpret it differently.
Kathy's Question: Our divorce papers say he is liable for 50% of all extraordinary expenses. We've been divorced over 18 months and he hasn't paid a dime. I send him monthly invoices to show where the money goes - sports, school supplies, etc. How do I collect on that?
Brette's Answer: File with the court for enforcement/violation.
Mary Anne's Question: Is a child's car insurance included in child support? My ex refuses to help pay for her insurance because he says it is included in child support. She needs the car to drive to college.
Brette's Answer: He would not be required to pay for this unless the court order specified so. You can seek to modify to include it.
Laura's Question: My ex provides child support each week and has for the past 10 years. Our oldest daughter needs to go through a $600 driver's education course to get her license. I believe, since this expense is outside the normal care costs, should be split between us. He feels his child support payments cover it. Who is right?
Brette's Answer: If your order says you are to share educational costs this would be covered under that. If it doesn't, then it is outside of the order. You could seek to have the order modified. Good luck.
Trina's Question: My son goes to a private school. Can I have my ex pay 1/2 of tuition in addition to child support?
Brette's Answer: You can request it as an educational expense.
Carla's Question: I want to take our 2 preschoolers out of private school and enroll them into our assigned public elementary school instead. If my husband does not agree, am I forced to pay for private school or would he have to pay for this himself?
Brette: It depends on how your child support order is written. He could also contest your decision to do this and ask the court to decide where they should go to school.
Teresa's Question: If the divorce papers read Husband shall pay tuition fees and ballet fees at a specific school, does he still not have to pay if she changes schools?
Brette's Answer: I would suggest getting your order updated to remove the school name and just specify what he is responsible for paying in terms of tuition and lessons.
Mary's Question: My ex and I have 50/50 time with our two girls. He makes a lot more money than I do and the agreement states that he pays to keep the girls in the private school they’ve attended since preschool. Both girls will be graduating from the school next fall and going to public school. Their father doesn’t think he should have to continue paying me the tuition amount once they leave private school. As it is, he only pays a small fraction of what the legal payment scale requires since he’s been making up the difference in tuition. Can he get away with this?
Brette's Answer: If the order states he is to pay for school he's obligated to do that, but if there is no tuition it would seem he wouldn't owe the money, but you need an attorney to review that order with you and interpret it. You should talk to an attorney about asking for an increase in child support if you feel it's not enough.