What a wonderful idea! Perhaps you are thinking, you and your co-parent will sit down with budgets of the kid-expenses and openly (and respectfully) discuss how best to ensure you can afford what they need? Then, you’ll address fair and equitable sharing of those expenses. Yes, you can do this;
- BUT, you absolutely must be informed about the laws in your jurisdiction and be sure your coParenter Child Support Plan is properly filed.
- AND, you may need to be prepared to hear from an attorney or the courts that your unique, thoughtful approach to expense sharing isn’t the “way we normally do things.”
But as long as your plan meets the criteria for the court, so what, right? These are your children and these are your co-parent executive and financial decisions. Strong work. You’re stepping into self-determined, non-adversarial two-home family co-parenting. This is called a “Child Support Deviation.”
Child support deviations are common in a variety of circumstances. The most common is when parents have agreed on a 50/50 residential schedule. Another is when one parent’s income (both parents’ combined incomes) significantly exceeds the state’s methods for calculating child support. The key purposes of child support from the court’s point of view is that children are cared for and not disadvantaged in one of their two homes post-divorce.
Basic Expenses: So, let’s be clear: a 50/50 residential schedule does not necessarily eliminate child support transfer payments from a higher earning parent to the parent with lower household income. That transfer payment may be the difference that enables a parent to live with their children in a three-bedroom rambler instead of a cramped two-bedroom apartment, while the other parent continues to live in a family-like home as well. The child support transfer payment ensures that children aren’t disadvantaged in either of their two homes.
Extraordinary Expenses: Once you’ve figured out whether there will be a transfer payment and how much, the next step is listing the kid-expenses for the last year. You’ll want to include (but not limited to): Health care insurance premiums and copays, school-related expenses (will that include school lunch meal tickets and tutoring?), extra-curricular activities and gear, work-related child care and summer camp experiences, and a seasonal clothing budget (back to school, cold / wet weather, late spring and summer). For older children, you’ll want to have a conversation about cell phone bills, car insurance, and college prep expenses. Lastly, address major expenses like braces and college savings – how will you two budget for these if necessary?
Parents generally keep a stock of basic clothing and personal care products in each of their homes and refresh as needed on their own. When all the pajamas end up at dad’s, he simply turns around returns a few pairs to mom. This is normal. Happens in every two-home family. Just like socks get lost in the dryer! Help each other by rebalancing as soon as you notice.
Wow. Now you’ll have a clearer idea of what it costs to raise your kiddos!! These next two steps are vitally important. Ask yourself:
- “What can I afford?” It is not your co-parent’s responsibility to meet your child’s financial needs alone. Step up. If you want Frankie to play softball, you have to be able to help in some way financially, unless you both agree, that the ways you help are non-financial.
- “How will we split these expenses?” Sometimes parents split expenses 50/50 when their household incomes are relatively similar. Sometimes parents split expenses proportionally based on incomes. This prevents burdening one parent unfairly when incomes are discrepant.
A serious trap I want you to avoid during this step is judging your co-parent’s spending habits. Please do not criticize or imply that the new car in their driveway means they don’t care about the children. Differing financial priorities are what they are. Judgment and conflict only serves to harm kids. This may require some serious deep breathing!
Let it go.
Do what you can do to be sure your kids don’t feel ashamed for wanting to play high school volleyball that requires special shoes.
Do what you can to never fight about money.
Come together. Come to agreements. Make joint decisions about kids’ activities. Keep a good credit rating with your co-parent; reconciling and paying bills on time. And review your child support process every year or two as needed.