Child support is an important element of your divorce agreement and spells out how much money is to be provided for the care of your children. Special expenses are costs that go above and beyond basic level of child support.

By Diana Shepherd, CDFA ™

In many cases, children may have additional expenses that go beyond what the Child Support Guideline amounts will cover. These special expenses generally need to considered both necessary and reasonable by both parents: necessary because they are in a child’s best interests, and reasonable in relation to both parents’ incomes.

Special expenses on top of child support could include items such as:

  • Child-care expenses. The custodial parent incurs as a result of his/her job, illness or disability, or educational requirements for employment (e.g., returning to college to finish a degree in order to qualify for a job).
  • Medical and/or dental insurance. The portion of the custodial parent’s medical and dental insurance premiums that provides coverage for the children.
  • Health care not covered by insurance. Examples might include medication, orthodontics, counselling, elective surgeries, eye exams and glasses, etc.
  • Extracurricular activities. For instance, extra fees for sports, music, arts, and school trips.
  • Private school or tutoring.
  • Post-secondary education. Usually, this is for a first degree; however, it could include a second (Master’s level) degree.

If both parents agree that additional special expenses are both reasonable and necessary, then they will usually each contribute to them in proportion to their incomes – but they may also agree to an alternate division in which one parent pays anywhere from zero to 100% of the expense in question. Both parents are free to decide if a special expense is reasonable and necessary and how much each of them will contribute to them.

For instance, Frank and Judy have agreed to split expenses for their two children’s private school tuition proportionate to income. However, they disagree about ballet lessons for their daughter and rep hockey for their son, so Frank has agreed to fund 100% of the hockey and Judy will fund 100% of the ballet lessons.

In your agreement, you can list special expenses that you expect to incur today, in the near future, or many years later. For example, you can specify who will pay for what proportion of uninsured orthodontic expenses, your children’s daycare, and your children’s university tuition.

Special expenses are often a hotly-contested area in divorce. If you can’t agree on whether an expense is both necessary and reasonable, ask an objective financial professional to analyze your situation and let both of you know whether you can truly afford the additional expense. You should also speak to a lawyer about how judges in your area are ruling on special expenses – and how the judge would likely rule if you took your case to court.

If you still can’t reach agreement, you could hire a mediator to help you resolve your differences, hire lawyers to advise and assist in your negotiations, or go to court and ask a judge to decide.

Diana Shepherd, a Certified Divorce Financial Analyst® and Editorial Director of Divorce Magazine, has been writing about divorce-related issues since 1995.