The financial turbulence that frequently accompanies a couple's separation brings about a host of lifestyle changes not only for the parties themselves, but also for their children. Separation difficulties often rearrange a custodial parent's financial priorities and leave little room in the budget for things like extracurricular activities. In some cases, however, extracurricular activities can be incorporated into a child support order.
Child Support Calculation In General
All states calculate child support under a set of guidelines that take certain variables and calculate an amount of monthly support for one parent to pay the other. State child support guidelines apply a presumption that the guidelines amount is sufficient to meet the needs of the child and appropriate in light of the parties' incomes and ability to provide support. Commonly considered variables under state child support guidelines include the parties' monthly incomes, support obligations to other children, health insurance premiums, work-related child care costs and extraordinary child-related expenses such as extracurricular activities.
Whether a given extracurricular activity constitutes a valid extraordinary expense deserving inclusion in a guidelines calculation depends upon the circumstances of the case. Statutory or case law applicable in the forum state may dictate the extent to which the court can include or leave out expenses incurred for regular extracurricular activities. The incomes of the parties, the benefit of the activity to the child and whether the child was already engaged in that activity prior to the separation of the parties will all influence whether the court includes the activity in its calculation of a child support obligation. Courts will be more likely to include extraordinary expenses for enrichment activities such as music lessons or sports when a child has demonstrated a particular gift for the activity.
Modification of an Existing Order
The expenses associated with extracurricular activties may, in some cases, play into the modification of an existing child support order. Generally, state law allows for the modification of child support orders upon the passage of a certain time period or the occurrence of a substantial and material change of circumstances in the parties' incomes or the needs of the child. The incurrence of extraordinary expenses or a dramatic increase in the cost of an established extracurricular activity may serve as a basis for modification if the court finds the activity promotes the best interests of the child and the parties have the ability to pay for it.
Sharing Expenses Outside of the Guidelines
Including the expenses associated with an extracurricular activity in a guidelines calculation will produce an order that may become excessive if the child thereafter quits the activity. To prevent this, a court may order the parties to share in an expense outside of the guidelines calculation either equally or in proportion to their incomes. Whether a court orders such sharing or decides the custodial parent should cover the activity out of the general child support obligation involves a consideration of the same factors as whether to include the expense in the guidelines calculation.