There are a few particular seasons in the life of a divorced parent when the complexity of sharing expenses becomes a bit more trying. The specific period we’re addressing here is the back-to-school season. In addition to Christmas and birthdays, it can be one of the most overwhelming times for co-parents and their wallets. Learning how to manage these expenses while children are young can be extremely helpful as school expenses tend to increase as they get older.
Trying to get a good grip on who pays for what, which expenses are necessary, all in a way that’s fair to both paying parties can lead to confusion, frustration, and added conflict. Disagreements can arise concerning how much (or how little) of allocated child support funds are used appropriately.
Open dialogue and a practical co-parenting expense-tracker can help ease tension during this time so that you, your co-parent, and your child can hit the ground running for their new school year.
School expenses can include uniforms, backpacks, lunch, extracurriculars, and transportation costs. While child support is intended to cover basic school supplies, those extracurricular activities, as well as things like tutors, after-school child care, and private schooling, often fall into the “special or extraordinary expenses” category (look in Section 7 of your child support documentation for details).
These more ambiguous expenses can muddy the waters because what might be considered “extraordinary” for one family in a court of law will not necessarily be the same for another family. Individual circumstances and income levels come into play when a judge or magistrate makes the determination.
You might think that a quick trip to the store for pencils, paper, and crayons would cover a child’s needs for the new school year. However, studies show that back-to-school shopping and expenses are growing.
In a 2021 Deloitte survey of 1200 parents, the company found that back-to-school spending had increased by 16% from the previous year. A 2019 LendingTree survey found that 46% of parents admitted to spending over $1,000 on their kids’ favorite hobbies, and some even went into debt to fund those extra programs.
These school-related decisions and expenses aren’t likely to stop when your child turns 18. Roughly half of U.S. states give courts the ability to order a non-custodial parent to pay some portion of college expenses.
This information points to the need for a reality check and good communication.
Parents, be realistic about wants versus needs with yourself, the other parent, and your children. For example, private music lessons may be a no-go this year, but perhaps a free online tutorial can suffice for the time being.
Look at your income and expenses together, if need be. Certain co-parenting apps can help in terms of organizing expenses. Looking at your two co-parent incomes as a whole can help you determine a fair way to split costs that are not covered in your custody agreement.
There is no one rule that dictates how you and your co-parent should split back-to-school expenses. Your compromise will depend on several factors, including your two incomes and lifestyles. Here are some standard arrangements to consider.
Co-parents with similar incomes may choose to pay exactly half of everything.
For co-parents with significantly different incomes, income-based reimbursement may be the fairest way to go. Figure your two incomes together as a whole and then divide your earnings out of it to get your percentage. Splits such as 70/30 and 60/40 are common.
You and the co-parent could decide to pay for every other expense. Such a deal could work better for experienced co-parents who have tracked expenses in the past and can anticipate and fairly split costs.
In this arrangement, a parent can decide to pay solely for an extracurricular that is particularly special to them. For instance, one parent may agree to pay for piano lessons because they are a music-lover. The other may agree to match that amount of money on school clothes.
Document. Document. Document.
Write out the agreements you and your co-parent make. Keep solid payment records. It’s helpful for you, the other parent, and the mediators, advocates, or judges with whom you consult.
Hopefully, one of the above ideas, or a hybrid, will work for your situation. No matter your arrangement, you’ll want to organize expenses and reimbursements so that you have accurate documentation for tracking who paid what.
A child support app can make documenting and tracking shared expenses for your particular arrangement easy. Use an app that will allow you to upload a picture of all receipts and request reimbursement for any agreed-upon ratio and interval.
In addition to keeping payments fair, tracking school expenses can aid both parties in becoming more transparent and realistic on what constitutes a child’s school expenses. Moreover, after accumulating data on a year’s worth of school expenses, co-parents can modify and plan better for future school costs together.
Whether the school year is about to begin for your child, about to end, or somewhere in between, figuring out which parent pays for what can get complex for divorced parents. Do your best to plan with the other parent ahead of time regarding how decisions about your child’s extracurricular activities should be made and what that budget should look like.
Be considerate of the other parent’s time and finances when considering extracurricular activities for your child. Be realistic about what you and your co-parent can afford. Be courteous and prompt with requests for money and money reimbursements. Doing so will prevent conflicts, violations of child support agreements, and extra costs for mediator expenses.
Use technology to your advantage. Find an app like Dcomply to document, pay, and track child custody expenditures, even without the cooperation of the co-parent.