Back to School and Other Costs For Children- Who Pays?

Under California Family Code section 4053, child support orders are calculated to cover all the costs of raising a child, based on the parent’s “circumstances and station in life” and “ability to pay.” However, the California guideline calculator for support does not always cover “special” expenses related to raising a child. That is where “add-on” child support comes in. There are two types of add-on or additional child support, mandatory and discretionary.

The mandatory types of child support add-ons must be ordered by the court anytime child support is also ordered. One mandatory add-on is child care incurred by one parent due to employment, education or job training reasons. So, if one parent has the child from after school until the next morning, but cannot be at school right when school lets out because of work, then that parent may enroll the child in an after-school program, and request reimbursement from the other parent to pay half. These days, child care is a norm for working parents, and without splitting these costs, parents would suffer financially. If the parents are too high-conflict to request reimbursement from each other each month, they may agree or be ordered by court to pay the care program one-half of the costs directly.

Another type of mandatory child support add-on is for uninsured health care costs. This isn’t the cost of coverage, although parents may agree to split that. This is the costs above the monthly insurance fee, such as co-pays for a doctor’s visit, costs for prescriptions, special treatment or procedures for children not covered under their plan, etc. The court will normally presume that the costs actually paid for the children's uninsured health care needs are reasonable, and the burden is on the other parent to show why they were not reasonable. This, again, is to ensure that children receive the care they need, in a time where health care and child care costs are at an all-time high. No parent should have to worry about getting their child the care they need because they are not certain they are entitled to reimbursement afterwards.

The other types of add-ons are discretionary, or costs that a judge does not have to order, but can if he or she feels it’s necessary. The first type is educational or other special needs costs. Educational costs are low if the child is in public schools. A court may order the parents to split the cost of private school if the parents have the ability to pay, or if the child has special needs, and/or has been attending the school for quite some time. Courts, however, are aware that when parents divorce, they are now running two separate households, with two separate expenses. This may take the preference of private school out of the picture, unless there is another reason to keep the kids in school. If one parent wishes to continue paying for private school when it’s not necessary or reasonable, that parent may do so, but the court may not order the other parent to pay half.

Other educational expenses, such as clothing/uniforms, supplies, etc. may be ordered to be split, but this is not mandatory. Normally after a divorce, each parent purchases the new school items they wish for the child, and understand that these items may be transferred back and forth between parents. The court also has discretion to order a split of extracurricular activity costs, such as sports or other after-school programs.

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