Some of the most challenging decisions faced by separated parents can relate to the costs of their child’s education and extracurricular activities. For example, one parent may be adamant that their child must attend an exclusive private school, while the other parent argues that they simply cannot afford such an unnecessary expense. Or one parent may feel that their child is uniquely gifted in a relatively expensive sport such as ice hockey, while the other finds this proposition financially and factually preposterous.
Expenses such as these are over and above the normal day-to-day costs associated with raising children, and in family law are referred to as Special and Extraordinary Expenses (as defined by the Federal Child Support Guidelines). The guiding principle is that Special and Extraordinary Expenses are shared by the parents in proportion to their respective incomes. To get a sense of how this works, you can calculate child support including special expenses using our child support calculator.
The courts determine who should pay, and how much, by asking these two questions:
1. Is the expense reasonable?
2. Is the expense necessary?
For the courts, whether or not an expense is reasonable is largely a question of cost.
- For parents with lower incomes, fewer expenses will be considered reasonable. Daycare is almost always viewed as reasonable, as this extra expense is often necessary to allow a parent to work.
- Fees associated with enrolment in an expensive sport such as ice hockey might be seen as reasonable for parents with mid to higher incomes.
- An expensive private school might be reasonable for parents with high income levels.
An expense might not be reasonable, but it may be necessary – even if the expense imposes a degree of hardship on the parents. Courts weigh necessity in relation to the best interests of the child. Examples might include:
- Medical costs.
- Special tutoring or counselling services.
- Where a child has a special talent or gift, the costs associated with nurturing and encouraging that child’s talent.
If you are being asked to pay for Special and Extraordinary Expenses that you feel are unreasonable, or if you feel that your child deserves opportunities that are not being provided, a family lawyer can help you reach an acceptable solution.
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