Educate yourself, coParents. If you are paying or receiving child support, inform yourself about what aspects of your children’s lives, needs and resources are paid for by child support in your state.

This may be different from what you think should be covered, or different from what your coParent thinks should be covered, or different from what your sister’s child support pays for in California. The first place to minimize conflict is to get a clear understanding of what child support covers and what are shared expenses.

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Child support varies from state-to-state. In general, child support is an exchange of funds that facilitates one parent to meet the basic and necessary needs of the children while in his/her residence while creating a somewhat even playing field based on the financial resources available to each parent. This can include contribution to rent/mortgage, utility bills and other indirect costs of raising/housing children as well as direct costs for food and clothing, etc.

Child support rarely covers everything, unless clearly specified in your agreements. Typically, child support doesn’t cover uninsured medical costs, educational costs and extra-curricular activities or what might best be described as extraordinary expenses. Again, educate yourself about child support in your state as well as what’s rejected in your particular legal agreements.

• Even when child support transfers from one parent to another, both parents often contribute additional money to support their children. Understanding that child support is a formula based on incomes, amount of time children spend in each household, and guesstimates of what children need at different ages, recognize that it’s a rough model for a attempting to fairly distribute resources for the care of children across a two-home family. When we look at child support as allowing children to have the benefit of both parents ability to support them while in each household, it’s easy to see that each parent also contributes additional financial resources when caring for the children in their own homes.

• Determining what belongs on the list of shared expenses allows coParents to set expectations up front and minimize surprises. Some of these shared expenses may be outlined in your legal documents. Take time together to flesh out what those categories actually mean to each of you. If you agreed that educational expenses are shared, ask yourselves, “does that mean every marker pen for a school project? Are we talking about sharing the costs involved in the School Readiness List handed out at the beginning of the school year? What about field trips? School lunches? What if Elsa loses her TI-84 calculator?”

Some parents have agreed to no child support transfer payments— and have opted for sharing all extraordinary expenses based on a formula (often percentage of income) while fully covering all other basic and necessary expenses in each of their homes separately. For parents who have this arrangement, establishing a comprehensive list of “shared expenses” prepares the coParent financial officers for the next step: co-designing a plan. 

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About Karen Bonnell

Karen BonnellKaren has over 25 years of experience working with individuals, couples, and families facing transition, loss, stress and change. A graduate of the University of Michigan, Karen has been Board certified and licensed as an Advanced Registered Nurse Practitioner since 1982. She served on the faculty of University of Michigan, Eastern Michigan University & Seattle Pacific University before beginning full-time private practice in 1984. She continues to be a provider of Professional Continuing Education to both health care and legal professionals.

Karen served on the Board of King County Collaborative Law and Collaborative Professionals of Washington. She is a member of the International Academy of Collaborative Professionals and Academy of Professional Family Mediators.

Her work is found through Unhooked Books: https://www.unhookedmedia.com/#home.