Shared Parenting: Managing Back-to-School Expenses

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As well as the excitement (and relief) of kids heading back to school, the new year can be a stressor for separated parents when it comes to back-to-school expenses.

The issue of who pays for school fees, uniforms, laptops, books, and extracurricular activities can cause tension between separated parents.

Child support payments are generally calculated to cover all the costs of caring for a child, including associated school expenses. A statutory formula is used to calculate the amount payable, based on the number of nights children spend with both parents, the age of the children, and the parents’ individual circumstances.

However, the reality is that this can be an expensive time of year – particularly for children entering into kindergarten or high school where there is the additional expense of new school uniforms, books and laptops, along with sports and excursions.

In this case, communication is key. If you’ve agreed to send the children to a particular school and take part in certain activities, then the fairest solution may be to split the expenses 50-50, or in shares which reflect your differing incomes, no matter what the child support assessment is.

For other items, such as uniforms and school essentials, if household finances make it possible, having a set for each parent’s home may help to avoid dispute. And when those often expensive items are “lost” at school, ensuring they are discreetly labelled on the inside of the uniform or bag will help to ensure items are found and returned easily.

Occasionally, the CSA can determine that additional payments are required to cover specific costs, such as private school fees. Often, this is based on whether the parents intended to educate their children in private school prior to separation. If child support payments aren’t enough to cover the school expenses, a parent can apply for a change of assessment.

If you are unable to resolve a dispute about private school fees and expenses, then you may choose to seek advice about what the Child Support Agency might be able to do to help, or about entering into a Binding Child Support Agreement, or in some cases seeking intervention from the Court. In this case, the Court will consider whether the children are already being privately educated, or if there was an intention to educate the children at a private school. Generally, if a parent didn’t consent to private school or can demonstrate that they can no longer afford it, then they are unlikely to have to contribute to those expenses.

Finally, remember that even though these expenses are related to your children, it’s important they aren’t involved in the actual management of them. Kids don’t need to know the ins-and-outs of how finances are being handled. Avoid discussing expenses or reimbursements in front of your children, particularly in a way that could cause worry or distress on their part.

Each matter is unique and needs to be addressed according to your personal circumstances. Our experienced family lawyers can help you navigate all aspects of your parenting arrangements, including child support. Contact our office on (02) 6212 7600 to make an appointment.