By Ashley Dutcher
With summer quickly coming to an end, at the forefront of most parents’ minds, is the issue of back to school. When you are separated and in a co-parenting situation, navigating the waters of back to school and who pays for what can become a stressful situation. Here are a few things to keep in mind when it comes to back to school expenses:
If you pay child support or are the recipient of child support, you are likely aware that such things as sporting equipment and some school fees can be considered as special or extraordinary expenses. These are commonly referred to as section 7 expenses in accordance with the Federal Child Support Guidelines.
Section 7 expenses are separate and apart from the regular monthly child support you may be paying or receiving. Generally, section 7 expenses are shared in proportion to each party’s income. In deciding what should be considered a section 7 special or extraordinary expense, a court will consider a number of core factors including the incomes of you and your co-parent, the pattern of spending on such activities prior to your separation, the ability of the child or children to contribute to the expenses, and whether those expenses that would fall under an “extraordinary” category under the Guidelines are truly extraordinary or should be covered by the table amount of child support. Further, in determining whether something is a special or extraordinary expense and how that expense is shared, the courts typically consider the following 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 and/or after school care is almost always viewed as reasonable, as this extra expense is often necessary to allow a parent or both parents to work. While 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 parents. Courts weigh necessity in relation to the best interests of the child(ren). Examples of necessary costs may include medical and dental fees, special tutoring or counseling services and where a child has a special talent or gift, the costs associated with nurturing and encouraging that talent.
A simple reminder for those of you who are about to incur "section 7" expenses, your agreement or court order may state that you need to receive the other party's consent before incurring such an expense, so try and get that consent in writing before incurring any large expenses and be sure to keep your receipts for those expenses.
Unfortunately, unlike the school supply list, most children receive to assist with back to school preparation, there is no checklist defining what is, or is not, a special or extraordinary expense, because every family is different and individual circumstances are considered when determining section 7 expenses.
This article is for information only and is not intended to be legal advice. If you have any questions or would like further information, you should consult a lawyer.
Ashley Dutcher is a lawyer with Burchell MacDougall LLP’s Elmsdale office located at Suite 205 in MacMillan Centre, 550 Highway #2.