By Elizabeth J. Billies
With the summer winding down, it's time to think about the upcoming school year and, gulp, maybe even camp for next year. Do your children attend camp and/or participate in after-school activities? Do those activities cost money? If so, you may be asking, who pays for those expenses if the parents are separated? Are they part of the basic child support order?
In addition to determining basic support, the court can also allocate additional support expenses and include them as part of your support order. Examples of those additional expenses are childcare costs, health insurance premiums, unreimbursed medical expenses, summer camp expenses, private school expenses, and after-school activities. With these expenses, remember to provide your attorney with written documentation of the actual costs and proof of payment. The court wants to see documentation of the actual expenses before they are going to order your co-parent to contribute. This will also help to show that the proposed cost is reasonable given you and your co-parent's incomes.
Summer Camp Expenses
The court will allocate summer camp expenses if there is a need for the expense and the expense is reasonable given the circumstances, both financial and otherwise. Generally, the division of the cost will be proportional to the parties’ respective incomes.
There are a few ways to share this expense. If the total expense for camp is already known, then it can be included in the support order as part of the monthly support obligation. Or, the court can order the payor to pay his/her portion of the expense directly to the camp or the other parent when the expense is incurred.
Although a camp expense is generally only incurred in the summer, the court will generally divide the total amount over a twelve-month period so that the monthly support order remains consistent. What if the expense is not included in the monthly support order? Then, the party incurring the expense must provide documentation of the actual expense and request reimbursement from the other parent.
What if you and your co-parent disagree about summer camp?
Generally, the biggest issue about camp is the cost. For example, one parent may want to send a child to an expensive sleep away camp, while the other parent may prefer (and only be willing to pay for) the local YMCA day camp. You may be asking what happens in this scenario.
This is both a legal custody and a child support issue. If you and your co-parent disagree on which camp to send your children to for reasons other than the cost, then you will have to resolve this dispute in custody court. In general, the court will look at whether the objection against the camp is reasonable. If not, then the request for permission for the children to attend the requested camp will likely be granted.
If the issue is cost only, then the court will look at whether the expense is appropriate given your finances. For example, is the cost of the overnight camp almost half of what you and your co-parent collectively earn in a year? If so, the court is not going to order that you share in that expense. In the alternative, if you have the resources and have sent your children to the same overnight camp for many years, the court is likely going to find the cost reasonable and order it to be shared.
Expenses for After-School Activities
As you know, many children are involved in regular after-school activities which come with a cost. The allocation of extracurricular activities is not specifically set forth in the Pennsylvania Rules of Civil Procedure relating to support. However, those rules do say that a court can allocate “other needs” which have “not been factored into the Basic Child Support Schedule.” Extracurricular expenses have consistently been found to be considered “other needs” by the Pennsylvania Superior and Supreme Courts.
Examples of after-school activities include equestrian activities, music lessons, dance lessons, community sports leagues, travel sports, Boy/Girl Scouts, after-school clubs and racquet/swim club memberships. Really, anything that your child regularly participates in that is outside of school. It does not include vacations, trips to amusement parks, movie tickets, or video games.
In determining whether to divide the expenses for these activities, the court will again look at whether they are consistent with the family’s collective standard of living and station in life. If the court finds these expenses reasonable, then the cost will likely be allocated commensurate with the party’s incomes.
What is an after-school activity expense?
So, now that we know what an after-school activity is, what is an after-school activity expense? In general, registration fees, tournament fees, lesson fees and membership dues are an after-school expense. In addition, any equipment or uniforms needed are also included. However, other costs such as, transporting the child to the activity, meals out, snacks for the team, and hotel rooms for weekend tournaments are grey areas.
If you are looking for your co-parent to contribute to those expenses, you need to show: (1) how the expense is benefiting the child directly; and (2) that it was required so that the child could participate in the activity. If possible, discuss these types of costs and how you are going to handle them with your co-parent first before incurring the expense.
Like camp, the cost can be included in the monthly support order. It can also be paid outside the court system via paying the provider directly or reimbursing the paying parent. In general, I see after-school expenses paid outside the court system as they fluctuate more than summer camp costs.