All parents know that raising children can be expensive. Clothing, food, daycare, extracurricular activities, medical and dental expenses and post-secondary education are costly for many families. How these costs are shared after parents separate is an issue that should be addressed in a Separation Agreement or Court Order. There can be many expenses that need to be sorted out between parents and between households.
In family law, expenses generally fit in two categories: those that are covered by child support payments, and those that are extras or add-ons, regularly called special or extraordinary expenses. A roof over your child’s head, food, clothing, and basic necessities tend to be covered by child support payments. Other expenses though, the extras, can be classified as a special expense. Two questions need to be answered though: how does an expense get dubbed a special expense and if it is a special expense, what does this mean for how it’s paid?
What is a Special Expense?
Whether an expense is treated as special or extraordinary depends on a number of factors. These include:
- What is the expense;
- Is the expense is in your child’s best interest;
- Is the expense reasonable in relation to the parents’ (and child’s) ability to pay; and,
- What was your family’s spending like before separation.
There are set expenses that, by law, are understood to fall into the special expense category. Notably, these are:
- Daycare and childcare as a result of the parent being unable to provide care due to work, illness, school;
- Medical and/or dental insurance premiums;
- Health related expenses exceeding insurance coverage;
- School or special programs a child needs to take;
- Post-secondary education; and,
- Extracurricular activities.
Each of your child’s expenses needs to be looked at through this lens to see if it’s a special expense. What is a special expense for one family may not be a special expense for another. Not all activities, for example, will necessarily be considered a special expense.
Of course, these still need to be in your child’s best interest and be reasonable.
What about other extras for your child that don’t fall in these categories? Common ones are cell phones, travel for competitive sports, driving lessons, or tutoring. How these are treated is fact specific and can vary from case to case. Parenting arrangements may also impact what is considered a special expense, particularly if the parents have shared parenting and there is a child support set off or the parent’s incomes are relatively equal.
If it’s a Special Expense, How Does it Get Paid?
If an expense is deemed a special expense:
- The cost of it is shared by both parents. Usually, this is determined to be in proportion to each parent’s income.
- These contributions are on top of child support payments. This is an extra and, because it’s in your child’s best interest, both parents need to pay towards it.
To ensure contribution and consent, it’s recommended that you and your former partner/spouse have a written agreement to this effect. This is best done via Separation Agreement or, if the matter is in court, via Court Order. An Agreement or Order would set out what’s considered a special expense, how it will be shared, how this will change if incomes change, and how to deal with future expenses.
If you need assistance with your child’s special expenses and with preparing an Agreement, please don’t hesitate to contact any one of our lawyers in the Family Services Group.