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Guidelines for special expenses in child support: Chaiton-Murray

A detailed separation agreement that clearly lays out any special expenses required for children could help avoid conflict down the road, says Toronto family lawyer Erin Chaiton-Murray.

Often referred to as Section 7 expenses, they could include the cost of child care, medical and dental bills that aren’t covered by insurance, private school or school-related activities and any extracurricular activities of significant cost, she tells AdvocateDaily.com.

They are considered to be above and beyond what can reasonably be covered on the parent’s own income, says Chaiton-Murray, a senior associate with Fogelman Law.

“The idea is that while you may have one parent receiving child support payments from the other, there are costs that go beyond what is reasonably expected to be covered by that monthly amount,” she explains. “So in these cases, requests can be made that the other parent pays a portion of those extra expenses.”

If those costs are determined to be an extraordinary expense, it’s usually shared proportionate to income, Chaiton-Murray says.

The question that arises is whether the expense is necessary and reasonable. Some are easier to determine, such as the uninsured portion of medical and dental costs, while others, like extracurricular lessons and activities may be less so, she adds.

“I typically tell clients that childcare expenses, such as the cost of daycare or a nanny which is required because both parents work, tend to be easy ones,” Chaiton-Murray says.

More contentious issues might include private schools, specialized lessons and expensive summer camps. Post-secondary education is generally considered reasonable, but may not be if the school is overseas or the program is extremely expensive, she says.

A number of factors are taken into account, including if the expense is reasonable based on the means of the parents, if it’s in the child’s best interest and if it is necessary.

“There’s a huge range of potential issues that can arise out of these situations,” Chaiton-Murray says.

Chaiton-Murray points to cases where multiple children in one family play high-level competitive sports that cost tens of thousands of dollars every year.

There is plenty of case law addressing these types of situations, and often it involves looking at the means of the parents and whether the children participated in the activities, or the parties incurred the costs prior to separation, she says.

“If you’re the parent seeking additional contribution from the other parent towards an expense, the starting point is to itemize the various expenses that go above and beyond what should be covered by the monthly child support amount,” Chaiton-Murray says. “There may be more support for activities a child has always participated in; it may be reasonable to request that continues post separation.

“And also looking at what the total amount of those expenses are in relation to each parents’ income to figure out how those might be classified.”

In finalizing the child support provisions of a separation agreement, it is a good idea to identify the specific Section 7 expenses as clearly as possible, she advises.

“The more specificity there is a final agreement or court order, hopefully, the less conflict there will be in the future about these expenses,” Chaiton-Murray says.

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