Play Ball? Deciding Which Activities are Covered by Child Support
Determining Who Pays for Extracurricular Expenses in New Jersey Child Support Case is Highly Fact-Sensitive. And You Need to be Prepared.
One of the most common questions asked by parents who are new to the world of child support is “what does it cover?”
In other words, “I am paying or receiving $150.00 per week for my children; which expenses is this child support award intended to cover, and which expenses are considered ‘extra’ and are therefore my responsibility?”
The answer, as with all things in New Jersey family law, can be somewhat complicated and turns on the facts of your particular case. The first place to start is in Paragraph 8 of Appendix IX-A of the New Jersey Court Rules; there, you’ll find a comprehensive listing of expenses “covered” by child support:
Housing: Mortgage interest payments or home equity loans, property taxes, insurance, refinancing charges, repairs, maintenance, rent, parking fees, property management or security fees, expenses for vacation homes, lodging while out of town, utilities, fuels, public services, domestic services, lawn care, gardening, pest control, laundry and dry cleaning (non-clothing), moving and storage, repairs on home, furniture, major appliances, purchase or rental of household equipment of tools, postage, laundry or cleaning supplies, cleaning and toilet tissues, household and lawn products, stationary, all indoor and outdoor furniture, floor coverings, all small appliances and housewares (except personal care appliances), all household textiles (e.g., linens, drapes, slipcovers, sewing materials, etc.), and miscellaneous household equipment (e.g., clocks, luggage, light fixtures, computers and software, decorating items, etc.). The net purchase price of a home and mortgage principal payments are considered savings and are not included as expenditures in this category.
Food – All food and non-alcoholic beverages purchased for home consumption or purchased away from home (including vending machines, restaurants, tips, school meals and catered affairs). Non-food items (e.g., tissue papers, alcoholic beverages, cigarettes) are not included.
Clothing – All children’s clothing, footwear (except special footwear for sports), diapers, repairs or alterations to clothing and footwear, storage, dry cleaning, laundry, watches, and jewelry.
Transportation – All costs involved with owning or leasing an automobile including monthly installments toward principal cost, finance charges (interest), lease payments, gas and motor oil, insurance, maintenance and repairs. Also, included are other costs related to transportation such as public transit, parking fees, license and registration fees, towing, tolls, and automobile service clubs. The net outlay (purchase price minus the trade- in value) for a vehicle purchase is not included.
Unreimbursed Health Care Up to and Including $250 Per Child Per Year – Unreimbursed health-care expenditures (e.g., medical and dental) up to and including $250 per child per year are included in the schedules. Such expenses are considered ordinary and may include items such as non- prescription drugs, co-payments or health care services, equipment or products. The parent’s cost of adding a child to health insurance policy is not included in the schedules.
Entertainment – Fees, memberships and admissions to sports, recreational, or social events, lessons or instructions, movie rentals, televisions, radios, sound equipment, pets, hobbies, toys, playground equipment, photographic equipment, film processing, video games, and recreational, exercise or sports equipment.
Miscellaneous Items – Personal care products and services (e.g., hair, shaving, cosmetics), books and magazines, education (e.g., tuition, books, supplies), cash contributions, personal insurance, and finance charges (except those for mortgage and vehicle purchases).
There are naturally exceptions to the Appendix’s list, and more New Jersey parents are running up against them than ever before. Economics play a major role. Households have less spare cash on hand than in recent years. Moreover, due to government cutbacks in recent years, some school districts have begun to charge extra for students’ participation in extracurricular activities including team sports.
Translation: the extracurricular activities which child support is supposed to cover are becoming more expensive and increasingly numerous. Any parent with school aged children knows this to be true!
Where do the aforementioned exceptions come into play for extracurricular expenses? Paragraph 9 of Appendix IX-A states “[b]ecause some child-related expenses represent large or variable expenditures … it is not appropriate to include them in the Appendix IX-F basic child support awards…. If incurred in a particular case, these expenses should be added to the basic support obligation” as extraordinary expenses.
So which extracurricular expenses qualify as “extraordinary” expenses? Subparagraph (d) of Paragraph 9 of the Appendix tell us that extraordinary expenses include “private elementary or secondary education, special needs of gifted or disabled children and NCP/PAR time transportation expenses.”
Other expenses may also be deemed “extraordinary” in high income cases, since the Courts generally believe children of high income earners should not be deprived of that elevated lifestyle per the factors contained in N.J.S.A. 2A:34-23 (See Isaacson, supra, 348 N.J.Super. at 580-81, 792 A.2d 525). Determining whether the expense itself is “predictable” and “reoccurring” is key. However, Appendix IX-B, line 11, states “[e]xtraordinary expenses for a child that are not predictable and recurring should be shared between the parents in proportion to their relative incomes as incurred.”
Confused? Don’t feel bad. As you can see, whether a non-custodial parent is obligation to help pay for an extracurricular expense can turn on a highly-factual inquiry by the family judge, especially when a particular expense wasn’t addressed in the parents’ divorce settlement agreement or in a prior court order or consent agreement. The Court will place always give the most weight to the best interests of the child(ren) and the parties’ ability to pay. You and your attorneys’ first job is to demonstrate why YOUR plan is in the children’s best interest.
Examples abound. When the parents’ combined income is $50,000 and the custodial parent wants to sign the child up for a sport every season in addition to karate, violin lessons and private art classes, the Court is unlikely to compel an additional contribution. The parties simply can’t afford it, and depending on the child’s academic ability, such an intense extracurricular schedule may not be in the child’s best interest. This analysis could easily change if the parents’ combined income is $150,000, or if the child is an advanced black belt with a viable chance at a full scholarship owing to his or her karate skills. Most fact patterns fall somewhere in between these relatively clean-cut examples.
The extracurricular expense inquiry is often no less complicated when the parties have already agreed to a monetary arrangement for extracurricular expenses. The recent “unpublished” (and therefore non-precedential or non-binding) appellate decision in R.C. v. P.J.C., a Monmouth County case, addressed a number of issues including extracurricular expenses:
[…] defendant argues that the trial court erred by ordering him to pay a share of the costs for the children’s extracurricular activities. The PSA states that defendant shall pay fifty percent of “all mutually agreeable extracurricular activity costs for the minor children of the marriage[.]” The PSA additionally states that neither party shall unreasonably withhold his or her consent to such activities. The PSA notes 12 A-3597-11T2 that the children were then enrolled in basketball, soccer and dance and that these activities may change from time to time.
Defendant argues that plaintiff did not consult him regarding the expenses for extracurricular activities. Defendant correctly notes that the PSA states that such activities must be “mutually agreeable.” However, the record shows that the activities for which plaintiff sought reimbursement were of the sort mentioned in the PSA, and any decision to withhold consent for the children’s participation in those activities would have been unreasonable. Therefore, the court did not err by requiring defendant to pay his share of these costs.
The R.C. decision illustrates why parents concerned about extracurricular expenses should plan for them whenever possible. Divorcing parents should include language addressing extracurricular expenses in their property settlement agreement. If you’re currently negotiating with your child’s other parent or plan to fight it out in court due to an impasse, putting your financial ducks in a row is hugely important. There are no shortcuts. The parent seeking payment needs to produce important information for the Court’s determination including receipts, expense information as well as personal financial information in the form of an updated case information statement. Parents disputing contributions need to be prepared to scrutinize all of those proofs as well as submit their own. It’s a time intensive process and mistakes matter.
Don’t feel overwhelmed to the point of inaction… we can help. If you or a loved one has questions regarding child support, extracurricular expenses or any other family law matter, please contact the child support attorneys at DeMichele and DeMichele. Our Team will thoroughly evaluate your case, explain the applicable legal principles, discuss the probable outcomes, and walk you through the process of preparing the necessary financial information and other proofs required to prevail before a New Jersey Family Judge. Preparation and experience are the keys to success, and our plan for your family matter will place a heavy emphasis on both of these important guideposts.
Don’t hesitate: the legal assistance you need is literally one mouse click away. For a confidential consultation to discuss your situation, call (856) 546-1350 or click here to email us directly.