Child Support: What's Fair?

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Don't Miss a Beat: Taking All Your Expenses into Account

If your child is a toddler, it's difficult to think about what college will cost or who will pay for it years down the road. If a judge is going to try your case and you have young children, you'll probably have to return to court when the child is a junior or senior in high school to have the judge address the issue of who will pay for college. If you want to settle all the issues now, however, a provision that often works is this: you and your spouse simply agree now to pay half of what it would cost to send your child to the most appropriate school in your state's college system. Any excess amounts (say your child gets into Harvard) will be paid by the parent or parents who can afford it. This way, both parents have a minimum obligation.

What about the First Communion, Bar Mitzvah, the Sweet Sixteen party, the first car? If you negotiate an agreement, anything goes. If your case goes to court, judges may or may not address those types of expenses.

If you want to be ready for anything, you'll want to figure some of the following expenses into your agreement now:

  • Babysitter and day care
  • Other tutors as needed
  • Birthday parties
  • Orthodontia
  • Camp
  • Psychotherapy
  • First Communion
  • After-school activities
  • Bar/Bat Mitzvah
  • Sports activities, uniforms, equipment, and fees
  • Sweet Sixteen party
  • Boy Scouts or Girl Scouts
  • Application fees for colleges
  • Car, driving lessons
  • Travel costs to visit prospective colleges
  • Wedding
  • SAT, achievement test fees, and tutoring costs
  • Wait a minute, you might be thinking. If all those items are extras, what am I paying child support for? Answer: food, shelter, clothing, telephone, utilities, and so on. Of course, depending on the amount of child support you are paying, your spouse may use some of the support for these extras.

    Be careful, though. Anything you sign might come back to haunt you. Harvey, for instance, felt so guilty about leaving his wife, Jessie, that he agreed in writing to pay for each of their four daughters' weddings at the Waldorf-Astoria or someplace comparable. The daughters were only teenagers at the time. Unfortunately, Harvey's business took a turn for the worse. Although he could not afford the expensive weddings, he was obligated to pay for them. He went into debt to do so.

    If you have a breakdown in negotiations, you can fall back on your state's child support guidelines, which really should be the floor for any child support award. Remember, that's the base level, and anything beyond is extra. Don't be afraid to seek help from your lawyers or a mediator.

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    Excerpted from The Complete Idiot's Guide to Surviving Divorce © 2002 by BookEnds, LLC. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Alpha Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

    To order this book visit the Idiot's Guide web site or call 1-800-253-6476.

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