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The Back-to-School Expense Budget

It’s the most wonderful time of the year!

Back to school! Which means it is time for the kids to get some back-to-school supplies.

If you are a parent of school age children, you know the drill of making sure the backpack, lunchbox, art supplies, new shoes and uniforms or new clothes are all ready for the first day of school.  These days, your child may need some new tech for class as well. If you are a separated parent, you may wonder who should foot the bill for the annual pilgrimage to Office Depot.

The answer is, as always, it depends.

Child support consists of regular day-to-day support, as well as special expenses (like braces or sports team fees).  Day-to-day expenses are covered by regular, or “table” child support. Regarding back-to-school supplies, the regular supplies, such as backpacks and new clothes, would be covered by “table” child support.  If there are extraordinary expenses, such as expensive uniforms or a new laptop, these are considered “special” expenses and are shared in addition to regular “table” support.

So, if you are receiving full “table” child support, you must cover most back-to-school expenses, as part of your regular budget. “Special” expenses are supposed to be shared proportionately to both spouse’s incomes and are a top-up payment. But, always remember to obtain the other party’s consent before buying a new Macbook, or anything else you may expect and see as a top up payment.

As always, it is paramount to keep receipts, especially for “special” expenses.

If you have shared parenting, meaning the children live equally with both parents, and you are both paying table child support to the other, this situation assumes that each parent provides for the child’s needs equally.

My experience has shown me that this set-up is the optimal route, as in the long run, it is less expensive to share the costs. This is why it is so important to determine how to share back-to-school expenses.

There are several great and easy ways to do this: Set a budget and one parent can purchase everything and be reimbursed by the other. Or (former) couples can divide who will buy what each year. Another option is to alternate years in taking the responsibility for the purchases (but, “special” expenses come into play here, as hopefully your child will not need a new Macbook every September!)

Remember to give this topic some thought when negotiating the terms of your Separation Agreement.  Figuring out an equitable arrangement that is practical for your family that results in a reasonable sharing of expenses alleviates a lot of stress while gearing up for another school year.

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