When separating from your spouse or getting a divorce, one of the biggest questions my clients have is about child support and paying for the expenses of the children. In Texas, at least, child support is pretty easy to calculate based on the non-custodial parent’s income and how many children they need to support. In addition to child support, many couples identify certain agreed upon extra-curricular activities they intend to enroll the kids in, while splitting the cost. While this is a common practice, it gets people to thinking about future expenses as well. For example, what about a car when the child turns 16, or a wedding, or a prom dress? Some people even want it written in the divorce decree about who will pay for college and how much.
I always steer my clients toward making agreements that benefit everyone in the family, while at the same time are very similar to what a judge would order if the case ever made it to court. In my experience, the rule of thumb is those obligations to the children end at 18 years old, or whenever they get out of high school, whichever is last. In other words, no judge is going to order that one spouse or the other pay for college expenses, even if those expenses are incurred while the child is under 18 in the form of contributions to a college savings plan, like a 529 account.
The next thought to keep in mind is this. The more items you identify such as braces, clothes, special event expenses, etc., the more you are undermining the idea of child support to begin with. In other words, if the custodial spouse is asking for all of these different expenses to be split, then what is the child support actually for?
Whenever, you are going through a divorce, it’s always best to have an attorney review your specific situation. It may cost more in the short term, but you’ll protect yourself from unforeseen issues in the future. If your estate is more complex, then you may want to enlist a financial advisor who specializes in divorce. Be sure to look for an advisor who has the CDFA™ or Certified Divorce Financial Advisor™ designation, and ideally also has the CFP® or Certified Financial Planner designation as well.