The costs of raising a child are substantial. The family court system helps offset these expenses through child support. Child support is an obligation to support your child which is generally set by a court order. The payment of child support is meant to cover basic support costs. These basic costs include food, shelter, clothing, transportation, and incidental recreational costs. The fact is that there are numerous other expenses that a parent incurs raising a child. To help elevate the financial burden to one parent a court may make orders regarding variable costs.
In instances where parents have a shared placement schedule, meaning both parents have court-ordered placement of at least 25% of the overnights or 92 days per year, the court shall assign responsibility for the payment of a child’s variable costs in addition to a child support obligation. The portion that each parent pays is determined by the portion of the parent’s physical placement. For example, if parent A has 60% of the physical placement he/she will pay 60% of all variable costs.
A variable cost means any reasonable cost above basic support costs incurred by or on behalf of a child, including but not limited to, the cost of child care, tuition, a child’s special needs, and other activities that involve a substantial cost. These expenses commonly include costs to participate in sports or clubs, fees associated with playing a musical instrument, tutors, school registration fees, and similar school related costs.
The court order will specify how payment of variable costs shall be made. Most commonly parents exchange variable costs and payment is made directly between the parents. It is also possible to have the court order state that each parent is responsible for making a payment to a third-party service provider. Given the vague definition of variable costs and the fact that direct payment between the parents is often ordered, it can be difficult to collect on variable costs. If one parent is refusing to pay the variable costs as set forth in the court order a contempt motion may be brought by the other parent to enforce payment.
To avoid future conflict and expensive litigation over variable costs it is important to make sure that your court order details what variable costs are, the method of how variable costs should be exchanged, the frequency in which variable costs shall be exchanged, the method by which payment should be made, and a date by which payment should be received. It is also important to consider whether a parent should be required to obtain written consent from the other parent before incurring a variable cost or a limit to the amount of reimbursement for a variable cost incurred without seeking written consent from the other parent.
Another way to avoid future disputes is to keep good records. Maintain receipts for all the variable costs you incurred. Ask for reimbursement in writing. Keep copies of checks for the variable cost you reimbursed to the other party. When possible have open communication with the other parent about what variable costs you intend to incur and estimated costs to the other parent.
If you have questions regarding variable costs, child support, or any family law matter contact one of the experienced family law attorneys at Lawton & Cates.