When a divorcing couple has children, one of the biggest concerns these individuals often face is what is covered under child support payments. This is understandable because, most families now have two working parents, which may allow them to cover their household expenses. However, with a separation, the dual-income is suddenly divided and the household expenses increase with the need to have two separate residences. The concern about being able to provide for your children while still being able to provide for yourself keeps many people up at night worried about how they can make it all work. With over 35 combined years of exclusive family law experience, our team can help you draft a fair child support agreement that protects you and your children’s financial futures.
Support for Main Costs for a Child’s Upbringing
The purpose of a child support order is to allow for both parties to provide financial support to the children. The Massachusetts Child Support Guidelines provide a calculation that takes the time each parent spends with the child, both parents’ gross incomes and allowable deductions for child care or health, dental, or vision insurance into consideration. Although only one parent pays support to the other parent, the parent who is receiving the support is presumed to also be paying additional money on top of what he or she receives in child support toward the financial support of the child.
So, let’s talk about what is generally expected to be covered within a child support order. First and foremost, support payments cover any primary expenses associated with your child’s care and upbringing. This includes costs for things necessary for the child’s daily living, such as food and clothing as well as providing a place to live and the expenses that go along with that.
As any person who has had to pay the expenses relating to a child, we all know there are significantly more costs than the basic daily necessities that they need. Because of this, a divorcing couple can agree to pay additional expenses for the children on top of the child support order.
When the parents share physical custody, it is typical for both of them to split the costs of daycare. When doing so, be sure to work with an attorney familiar with the ins and outs of the child support calculations because if you include daycare in these situations, often the person paying child support ends up paying more than he or she should.
Uninsured medical expenses for the children are generally an additional expense that is shared between the parties. Pursuant to the Child Support Guidelines, however, the person receiving a child support payment should be responsible for the first $250.00 per year toward these expenses.
Another cost generally shared between the parties on top of child support is the child’s extracurricular activities. This would generally include sports, organized activities, and clubs, etc. If either parent is concerned about the other person enrolling the children into 101 activities just to interfere with the other parent’s parenting time or to run up costs, certain clauses can be included to protect these types of situations from happening. For example, you could include a clause that requires both parents to agree in writing before the child is signed up for any activity before the other parent is responsible for the cost. You could include an annual cap on the additional extracurricular expenses each parent could be responsible for. You could even include a clause that prevents either party from enrolling the child in any activity that interferes with the parenting time of the other without written agreement.
Education in Child Support Arrangements
Another expense child support can cover is the cost of education. The cost of transportation to school and school supplies are generally considered a daily part of the child’s needs which should be covered under child support. However, this does not cover the cost of private school. Parents can agree to enroll and pay for their children to go to private school; however, a Judge will not typically force either parent to pay the additional costs of private school if the issue is contested. There are some situations where the Court could order for one or both parents to contribute to a child’s private schooling; however, those usually involve very high-earning parents and a history of the child attending private school.
In Massachusetts, if you remain married, you have no obligation to pay a single cent toward your children’s college education. Yet, if you divorce, the Court can order one or both parents to contribute toward their children’s college education. Currently, the Massachusetts Child Support Guidelines cap the amount each parent can be ordered to pay being half of the amount of the tuition and expense of a child attending the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. The Judge does have discretion in higher-earning cases though to order a higher contribution.
When your children are still a few years or more away from having to attend college, it is usually best to put off the decision on how the costs are paid for until it is closer to the time that the child actually is about to attend. No matter what financial position you or the other parent are currently in, that situation may change greatly by the time your child is old enough to go off to college. We have seen people agree to pay half of the college expenses within their divorce agreements and then, because of the way the clause is written, be forced to pay that amount even if their financial situation has decreased greatly. You do not want that to happen to you.
Including Healthcare in a Support Agreement
In addition to the bare minimum costs of caring for a child and facilitating their education, support payments also generally include healthcare costs. Usually, at the time of a divorce, one parent is the policy holder of an insurance policy that covers the children. This parent would typically continue covering the children on his or her policy. Regardless of who covers the children, the amount that is paid toward the health insurance policy gets included within the child support calculation to come up with the presumed amount of child support.
We have seen agreements where the parents agree to share the costs associated with the kids’ being on the health care policy. In those situations, similar to what we discussed above relating to sharing the cost of child care, that amount should not be included within the calculation to avoid any double dipping scenarios.
Uninsured medical expenses are not included within the base child support amount and those are typically shared equally. Pursuant to the Massachusetts Child Support Guidelines, the parent who receives a child support payment is typically responsible for the first $250.00 per year relating to these expenses. Uninsured expenses typically include co-payments, prescriptions, prescription eyewear, orthodontics, and many other types of costs that insurance does not fully cover. However, it’s always best to include a list of the costs and expenses that are expected to be shared to avoid any future disagreements. We believe it is wise to include a clause that requires both parents to utilize care providers for the children that are within the health insurance policy’s network as well.
When Does Child Support End?
A child is defined as emancipated pursuant to state statute. Unless there are significant reasons to deviate and for child support to continue past the typical point of emancipation, child support payments terminate upon a child becoming emancipated.
The point of emancipation could be as early as 18 or upon the child graduating from high school, whichever happens later within reason. However, if the child is still living with one or both of the parents and is financially dependent upon the parents, child support could continue until the age of 21. After the age of 21, there is a requirement that the child be enrolled in college for child support to continue. Regardless of whether done with college or not, the child will become emancipated once he or she graduates from undergrad or turns 23, whichever happens first.
There are other reasons a child may be deemed emancipated. These situations can include the child enrolling in the military (however, the National Guard or ROTC does not necessarily count) or the child getting married.
Unless your agreement clearly defines the termination date, it is best to file a complaint for modification seeking that the child be deemed emancipated and child support terminated before you simply stop paying child support. If you decide unanimously to stop paying child support but the Court disagrees that your child is emancipated, you could find yourself with a significant amount of arrears and possibly even being incarcerated.
What if I Have a Child Over the Age of 18?
If one or more of your children are over the age of 18, the Massachusetts Child Support Guidelines provide a calculation that automatically reduces the amount of child support owed for children aged 18 and above. The reason for this is that children of this age can get a job to help support their own needs as well. However, it is very important to note that, even though the Guidelines provide for such a calculation, whether or not child support is paid for that child is pursuant to the discretion of the trial judge.
Contact an Attorney to Discuss What May Be Included in a Child Support Arrangement
Understanding what can be covered under child support payments is crucial to protecting your financial security and your child’s well-being. Thorough agreements should explicitly outline your rights and obligations as a parent as well as the obligations of the other parent. If you are currently negotiating child support or wondering if you are paying the right amount, speak with the attorneys at O’Connor Family Law. To discuss your particular situation, call today.