What Expenses Do Divorced Parents Usually Share?

By Rob Jennings J.D.

Mother sending son off to school at bus stop

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Many parents use child support payments to pay for child care, extracurricular activities and college tuition along with basic necessities, such as food and clothing, for their children. However, parents sometimes disagree over whether child support should cover all of a child's expenses or whether parents should split certain costs.


Parents pay child support to help protect children from the economic impact a divorce can have on a child’s standard of living. Child support helps the parent with primary custody of a child meet the child's basic needs and enjoy the same standard of living he enjoyed while the parents were married. Included in these necessities are food, clothing, shelter and other basic needs, such as personal hygiene products.


Child support often does not cover extra expenses, such as soccer, school trips and music lessons. It also usually does not cover larger expenses that parents incur as their children grow older, such as a car and auto insurance. Typically, the noncustodial parent is not automatically liable for a portion of these costs; the custodial parent can't unilaterally decide to take on a huge expense for a child then force the other parent to pay. By the same token, the noncustodial parent can't usually refuse to contribute to such expenses simply because he pays child support.


Some states allow courts to award college support beyond the age of majority, which is usually 18. This type of child support is called post-secondary or post-minority support. College support may be paid in addition to child support, as part of child support or as a separate payment after regular child support ends. The parent can use this money to pay for an education at a college, university, vocational school or other type of post-secondary educational institution. However, many states have no statutes holding parents responsible for paying for their children's college education. Thus, some parents include provisions for the payment of college support in their child support agreement.


If parents cannot agree whether an expense is necessary and how to pay for it, a judge may have to intervene. A court may divide the responsibility to pay for extra expenses by looking at each parent’s financial ability, which parent wants the activity, whether the child has participated or regularly participates in the activity, and why the parent supports or opposes the activity. If parents disagree about expenses regularly, they may want to modify their support order and add specific language to address these expenses. They may also want to use a mediator or parenting coordinator who can help them resolve their issues rather than go to court.