Counting the Dollars and Cents: Keys to Child Support Add-Ons

If you are a single parent you are probably familiar with the concept of child support. Child support is calculated using statewide guidelines and while the court has discretion to deviate from the guideline calculation, the guideline amount is presumptively correct in all cases.

However, no family is the same. Perhaps one of your children is a preemie (or is accident prone) and has increased healthcare expenses or your child attends private school and has higher than average educational costs. Or, on the other side of the coin, maybe your ex’s close family member is being paid three times as much as the average nanny to watch your toddler. In these cases, guideline amount can seem unfair and not realistic of your family’s needs.

Fortunately, California provides for mandatory (the Court must order them!) and discretionary additional child support often called “add-ons”. Caution: Just because these ‘add-ons’ are mandatory, doesn’t mean the court has a crystal ball. In other words, if you forget to tell the court about your child care costs and health care expenses, you might not receive them!

So in addition to guideline child support, what else is your child entitled to receive? There are currently two mandatory add-ons.

1. Reasonable Uninsured Health Care Expenses.

Additional help with reasonable uninsured health care expenses (medical, dental, and vision) can greatly assist your monthly budget, however, the issue is often not as straightforward as one would hope.

What often creates conflict is the term “reasonable”. What is reasonable to one parent (like braces) may not be reasonable to another? How will the Court decide this issue? How are these costs allocated between the parents?

Generally, there is a rebuttable presumption that amounts actually paid for the children’s uninsured healthcare needs are reasonable. Based on the presumption of reasonableness, parents should think twice before refusing to share in a cost. This is especially so in light of the fact a parent may obtain an award for lawyer fees and costs if the Court finds a party acted without reasonable cause regarding their obligations for the children’s uninsured health care costs.

How are expenses paid as between the parties? Generally, these costs are shared 50/50 unless either parent requests a different apportionment and presents documentation demonstrating a different apportionment would be more appropriate. If there is great disparity between the parties’ net disposable incomes the lesser earning party should consider asking for an alternate allocation.

2. Child Care Costs.

Your child is also entitled to additional support for child care related to employment or reasonably necessary to education or training for employment skills. It should be noted that there is no requirement for reasonableness regarding child care costs related to employment. Thus, actual costs may be ordered.

Regarding allocation, generally the costs are divided 50/50 between the parties. However, like health care costs, if there is a large disparity in the parties’ incomes the lesser earning party should consider asking for a different allocation.

There are also two types of discretionary add-ons. The Court is not required to order the parties to share these costs, however, parents should absolutely ask for them.

1. Costs related to the educational or other special needs of the children

What does “educational” and “special needs” mean? “Educational” costs are those “above-average” costs. If you child is “exceptional” (gifted and/or handicapped) and requires private school or if you child has always attended private school based on your marital standard of living, this should be added on, consistent with each parties’ ability to pay.

“Special needs” is a broad category. It is not limited to education costs and can include those costs necessary to mitigate a decline in the children’s standard of living post-dissolution (ballet, soccer, or other extracurricular activities). If your child has additional ongoing costs that do not fit in the other categories, you may have better luck here. However, keep in mind that these costs are subject to each parent’s ability to pay.

2. Travel expenses for visitation

Travel expenses for visitation may be awarded as additional support to the child support payee, and may not be used to reduce the child support otherwise ordered to be paid by the payer. This is an important distinction. While the payor spouse may also incur expenses for visitation, these costs do not reduce your child support. Since travel expenses are in addition to child support, one may want to consider asking for a “travel trust fund” especially in move-away cases.

If you need help figuring out what add-ons you are entitled to or how you can defend against unreasonable requests for additional child support, consider meeting with a family law lawyer.

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