The inception of the Federal Child Support Guidelines in 1997 went a long way towards clarifying the complex issue of child support.
In a nutshell, the guidelines created a two-stage approach to child support. First, take the payor’s income and calculate the base amount of support payable according to their income and the number of children.
Second, look at whether there are any special or extraordinary expenses, which both parents then split proportionately based on their respective incomes. These special or extraordinary expenses are set out in Section 7 of the guidelines and are often referred to as “Section 7 expenses.”
They may include: child-care expenses, medical and dental premiums, health-related expenses, extraordinary expenses for educational purposes, post-secondary education expenses and extraordinary expenses for extracurricular activities.
Case law makes it quite clear that the base guideline amount of child support is not meant to cover only the payor’s share of the cost of a child’s food, shelter and clothing, but also the payor’s contribution to expenses that are not extraordinary, including ordinary extracurricular activity fees, school fees, and so on.
The most common source of disagreement for many parties seems to center around what extracurricular activity fees are subsumed in the base guideline support and what extracurricular activity fees are added to the base guideline support.
The answer involves a two-step process. First, it must be determined whether an expense is “extraordinary.” If it is, it must then be determined whether the expense is necessary and reasonable.
Although there is no hard and fast rule, the courts have determined that a number of factors should be taken into consideration when deciding whether an expense is extraordinary. These include the combined income of the parents, the nature and amount of the expense, the nature and number of the activities, any special needs or talents of the children and the overall cost of the activities.
The outcome is going to differ on a case to case basis, as an expense which is not extraordinary for a family with a combined income of $60,000 could be regarded as extraordinary for a family with a combined income of $25,000.
If the expense is determined to be extraordinary, it must then be determined that it is also necessary and reasonable. Case law indicates the courts will not hesitate to disallow extraordinary expenses if they are unreasonable based on the parents spending pattern prior to separation and their combined incomes, even if there is no doubt that the activities in question are beneficial to the child.
Unfortunately there isn’t a list of activities that are covered by the base guideline amount and those that aren’t. Rather, it must be decided on the facts of each situation. What people should remember before they demand additional support for soccer or refuse to help pay for hockey is that any arrangement made between directly between the parents results in more money for the family that would otherwise go towards legal fees!
Legally Speaking appears every second week in LIFE. It is intended for information purposes only. Readers with a specific legal problem should consult a lawyer. This week’s column was written by Danielle Elder, of the Red Deer law firm Duhamel Manning Feehan Warrender Glass. Elder can be reached at 343-0812 or at www.reddeeraltalaw.com.