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By Irving H. Zaroff, JD LMFT and Dana Schutz, MA LMFT
Fill what's empty, empty what's full, and scratch where it itches.
~the Duchess of Windsor
In a previous article we explored the development of child support, its purpose, and how it benefits children. This month we look at additional commitments surrounding the needs of children and their parents’ resources.
In California, the laws seek to sustain children in their development and to buffer against the common experience of life style changes that divorce brings. Basic child support addresses the living conditions of children as their parents must provide two separate households with the resources of one. These standards are established in the California Child Support Guidelines that calculate minimum support requirements.
Parents don’t always consider that in addition to these basic support guidelines, the courts are obligated to address two additional (and mandatory) areas of support. One is the uninsured costs of healthcare for children. The other is the provision of child care related to employment or reasonably necessary education or training for employment skills. These additional “child support” requirements are divided equally between the parents unless (i) the parents agree otherwise, or (ii) there are factors that support an unequal division of these expenses. In addition, the courts have discretion to impose additional child support for educational or other special needs and/or the costs of travel for visitation.
The question sometimes arises about the responsibility for the extracurricular activities of the children (soccer, dance or music lessons, etc.). The law has not given express instructions regarding these costs, but judges have the discretion to award so called “entertainment” expenses, although it is not a common award. However, parents, themselves, often want to provide for these activities. In settlement agreements many additional child support commitments can be, and often are, made. Parents may agree to divide such costs when both agree to the activity. Other times, the more affluent parent will volunteer to fund these enterprises.
While California does not provide authority to award support for higher education, many couples agree to such commitments in settlement agreements. It spells out the extent of each parent’s obligation for future planning. A comprehensive plan best serves the hopes for a child’s future.