When Spending On Children Gets Out of Control

When Spending On Children Gets Out of Control

Kids cost money, an undeniable fact. While it is impossible to know from the start just how much those little bundles of joy will cost you, experts predict a total cost of almost $250,000 on average. In the most recent estimates from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), the annual amount of spending on children ranged from $9,330 to $23,380. Costs varied, of course, depending on household income, the age of the child, and family composition.

The USDA’s Expenditures on Children by Families annual report aids family court systems and government agencies in determining child support expenses. It provides estimates for significant budget items in the cost of raising children from birth through age 17. The budgetary components include food, housing, transportation, healthcare, clothing, childcare, and education. The report also provides estimates for miscellaneous goods and services. Included are things such as non-school reading materials, haircuts, entertainment, and personal care items.

Child-Rearing Expenses

Child support and overall spending on children for that matter is an extremely sensitive topic in divorce and parent custodial matters. To begin understanding what is right or fair for child support we should start by looking at what costs typically arise when providing for a child. Listed below are some very common expenses.

Necessities Such as Food, Clothing, Shelter

  • groceries, snacks, beverages, and other food items
  • boots, shoes, jackets, and appropriate clothing
  • housing shelter costs, such as mortgage or rent, utilities, telephone, and water

Medical Care Insurance

  • medical, dental, and vision insurance

Uninsured Medical Expenses

  • out-of-pocket medical costs that exceed the cost of a basic health care insurance plan
    • including co-pays, deductibles
    • accident or emergency services costs
  • dental braces
  • eyeglasses
  • special health care costs

Educational Fees

  • school clothes/uniforms
  • school photos
  • yearbooks
  • tuition fees
  • textbooks
  • lunch money
  • private tutors, if necessary

Childcare

  • daycare services
  • babysitters
  • nannies
  • childcare during summer months, spring break, and some holidays

Transportation/Travel

  • basic transportation and travel cost
    • gas fees
    • car payments
    • registration
    • insurance
  • bus fare or other forms of transportation
  • child’s travel to visit the noncustodial parent

Entertainment

  • access to computers
  • television programs
  • games
  • Internet
  • movie theatre
  • amusement parks
  • camping trips and other outings

Extracurricular Activities

  • after-school programs/classes
  • summer camp
  • sports activities
  • clubs – ex. Girl Scouts or Boy Scouts
  • music, dance, or other private lessons

While this list is not exhaustive, it gives a good indication of what costs might come up over the course of your child’s life. When considering what is enough spending on children, it is important to know basic child support payments may not (and probably won’t) provide your child with more than their minimal needs. If you want them to enjoy an enriched life too, you may end up spending a bit more.

What Am I Paying For?

State laws, which vary from state to state, regulate what expenses are included in direct child support calculations. All 50 states create and utilize child support guidelines to determine amounts one parent may be required to pay to the other for child-related expenses. A variety of factors are taken into consideration to decide what is ultimately the amount of support needed to maintain a child’s standard of living as close to what it was in a two-parent home. Income and the ability to pay support are primary factors in these calculations.

Be sure and check the child support guidelines in your state, as the laws vary greatly.

Once the court factors the essential financial and support needs of a child, a child support order is issued to reflect the determined amount one parent must pay. Should there be a change in the child’s needs, or if a significant difference develops in one parent’s circumstances,, a request for change may be filed.

While childcare, uninsured medical expenses and extracurricular activities are typical expenses in raising a child, they are not always routinely calculated in child support amounts ordered by the courts. These costs may be included in the divorce settlement agreement, however, upon request.

To avoid questions and potential disagreements with your ex-wife in the future, lay out as many of these additional child-rearing expenses as possible in your divorce agreement. If you did not outline these other costs, daycare or uninsured dental care as an example, in your initial child support agreement, you might wish to do so now. 

Don’t underestimate the value an experienced divorce lawyer can provide to help ensure the best outcome for both you and your child.

While courts may not command the parent paying child support to provide additional monies to cover dance recitals and traveling sports, when it’s important to your kid, you might want to go ahead and budget a little extra for upcoming events.

As you evaluate the needs for your lifestyle as a single man and work to determine a budget for your post-divorce life, be realistic about what child support covers and what it does not. There may be times you are asked to pay for things that are not basic needs but will enhance your child’s life. Responding to these money inquiries may require setting aside personal feelings of your ex. This is why detailing what supporting your child after a divorce entails, as precisely as possible, in your initial divorce discussions should help you navigate when these times come.

My Ex Won’t Account for the Money

Courts do not require the parents who receive child support to prove the child support payments go toward specific expenses or activities. It is assumed by the courts that custodial parents of children are spending on children as required to adequately raise the child. Thus, they will not monitor the expenses and spending habits of a custodial parent unless there is compelling evidence to indicate misuse of support payments.

Continually being asked to send additional money or receiving numerous requests to purchase essential items like underwear, socks, and toothpaste may indicate your ex-spouse is not using the support funds correctly.

Before getting too pissed off, see if a change in circumstances is causing these requests. Maybe her car broke down, and she needs extra money for repairs. You can give her some slack, or help her out a little bit, or you can laugh in her face and tell her to ride the damn bus. But don’t shoot yourself in the foot. You never know when circumstances may be reversed, and you may be the one in a financial pinch.

However, if you are convinced your ex-wife is not utilizing the support payments to provide for your kids, start taking notes. Record the requests she makes for extras, as well as any spending you are doing during your parenting time if you end up purchasing necessities for your child. Keep receipts of what you buy and request reimbursement for amounts you think are reasonable.

If your reimbursement requests go ignored, or the pleas for more money from you do not stop, consider consulting an attorney.

Spending on Children, the Bottom Line

It is highly unlikely the amount set for child support by the courts will cover all the needs of your children all through their childhood years to age 18. The more you can prepare yourself (and any future spouse) for covering some additional expenses the better off your child, and all parental parties will be.

Discuss with your child’s mother early on how you will split extra costs for your kids to avoid potentially ugly discussions down the line. It is better to deal with the issues now than to disappoint your child later because you disagree with their mom on who will pay for piano lessons or hockey skates.

Spending on children is something every parent must do, whether married or divorced. While child support payment and money for extras is for the care and benefit of your child, you aren’t a bad dad if you draw the line at excessive spending.

 


(c) Can Stock Photo / nastia1983

Fathers Rights When Dad’s Incarcerated

Fathers Rights When Dad’s Incarcerated

Fathers Rights advocates understand that a man who is incarcerated does not bear the weight of his punishment alone. His family—especially those most dependent and vulnerable, his children—also suffer. Kids of imprisoned fathers face well documented adverse effects. Having a dad in jail or prison puts his kids at higher risk to experience poverty, suffer from addiction, or end up behind bars themselves. These children often live with trauma, shame, social stigmatization, guilt, and financial hardship. As if the picture is not bleak enough, incarceration leads to generational institutionalization. Growing up fatherless is the number one predictor of criminal behavior in a child’s future. In fact, most dads in prison are fatherless. It’s a tragic cycle.

This is not just a family problem. With 1.5 million kids in this country separated from their fathers as a result of state or federal incarceration, it is a societal issue. Add inmates imprisoned in jails, and the number jumps to 1 out of 28 U.S. children. And the problem is growing. The number of children with a father in prison has skyrocketed by 79% since 1991. To help these children, we all have a stake in helping these fathers. In fact, dads who have a relationship with their kids are less likely to re-offend. That’s a huge benefit to these children, who are our country’s future, and to society as a whole, since two-thirds of prisoners end up committing crimes which land them back in prison within three years of their release. 

Barriers to Parenthood in Prison

As an incarcerated father, you face unique parenting challenges. It can be difficult to see your children if you are imprisoned. There may be no one willing to bring your children to visit you. If you lack the means to pay support, it can affect your kids and your custody rights once you get out, and simple communication via phone and mail can be unaffordable while inside. Private phone companies are making a killing exploiting those who have the least money to pay, holding their relationships with their loved-ones hostage for up to $24.95 for a fifteen minute, in-state phone conversation.

Free, in-person visits are the newest area targeted by private companies for profit. There is a trend to replace in-person connection with video visitation technology that charges up to $1.50 a minute for low quality, offsite video conferencing.

Distance presents another hurdle for fathers behind bars. Proximity to family members is not always taken into account in determining where a prisoner will be sent to serve his time. Fathers rights take a back seat to considerations of overcrowding and other issues. As the distance loved ones must traverse to visit incarcerated family members increases, the likelihood of getting a visit, and the number of visits, decreases.

What are Fathers Rights in Prison?

From the inside, it can be difficult to find information on fathers’ rights or to access legal resources. The feeling of powerlessness and the struggle to stay in touch add to the strain of prison life for dads that are serving time. It may not be easy, but it is vital to stay in touch with your children, for their benefit as well as for yours. Children who have a relationship with their father have a better shot at a brighter future, and inmates who maintain healthy relationships with their loved ones are less likely to return to prison.

Tips for Protecting Fathers Rights While Incarcerated

1. Maintain Visitation

If your children are unable to visit because of financial hardship, distance, or other reasons, then keep in touch by phone. Lack of interest can be used as grounds to terminate a fathers’ rights and clear the path for adoption by your ex’s new husband, by your child’s caregivers, or the foster parents.

The onus is on you, as a father, to research and know the laws of your state. Seek legal counsel if necessary. Time is one resource that is abundant in prison; invest it wisely into nurturing meaningful contact with your kids and educating yourself on how your state’s laws function.

2. Document your Progress

Make a record of the positive steps you have taken while in prison to be a good father and to prepare yourself for success once you get out. Upon your release, you will have to prove to the judge that you can safely care for your kids. These records will show your efforts to visit and contact your children, as well as classes and certifications you have earned from rehabilitation programs. Be detailed; write down the time and date of everything you do for your child. A documented list of your interactions with your kids and others involved in their care will go a long way in convincing a judge you are serious about being a good parent. 

How to make a record:

  • Use a notebook or piece of paper to keep track of all visits and calls with your child and anyone connected to your case. Be sure to write down the date and time. Add any additional notes you feel were important to remember about the call or meeting.
  • Include calls and visits from your child, your child’s caregiver, your lawyer and the social worker.
  • Write down dates of letters or pictures you send your child and keep a copy.
  • Attend programs and meetings offered by your institution. Keep a record of these and any copies of certificates of completion. Some detention facilities offer classes on parenting, be sure to attend these if offered. Do not only take classes or participate in programs that are mandatory; take the initiative by taking advantage of resources that are voluntary.
  • Ask the teachers and counselors of any programs you complete if they can write a letter about your performance.

Tips to stay actively involved in your child’s life:

  • Ask about their education. Ask to see report cards, inquire about their favorite classes and any challenges they may be having.
  • Be supportive and understanding of their daily achievements and struggles.
  • Stay focused on your kids and their needs. Try not to add to their burden by placing your problems or issues on them. Keep visits positive, so your children leave with a good feeling.
  • Be patient and let the relationship grow slowly and steadily. Trying to force things will likely have the opposite effect of making your child more closed off and resistant. Nurturing a relationship takes time.

3. Stay on Top of Child Support

Father’s rights, when incarcerated with a Child Support Order, vary by state, but whichever jurisdiction your judgment falls under, you must be informed to avoid the risk of leaving prison with a mountain of debt. On average, an incarcerated parent with a Child Support Order can potentially leave prison with nearly $20,000 in child support debt, having entered detention with around half that amount owed.

Laws regarding Child Support and incarceration:

Whether incarcerated or not, a material and substantial change in circumstances is required to modify child support orders in most states. Two situations that may be treated as a material and substantial change in circumstances are incarceration and unemployment. State policies regarding modification of child support during incarceration vary and depend on a number of factors.

A significant reduction in income due to a job loss or job change is generally considered a material and substantial change for modifying child support if the job loss or reduction in earnings was involuntary (usually meaning you were fired or laid off). If a parent tries to avoid child support payments by voluntarily losing their job (such as quitting work or refusing to work), it is not considered a material and substantial change of circumstances and would not qualify for modifying child support.  

Currently, there is a federal rule in place that makes it illegal for state child support programs to treat incarceration as voluntary unemployment, which means you can request a modification of your child support to take into account that you are no longer able to work in the same capacity you did on the outside.

Be aware: most states require you to be proactive in making that request. You must familiarize yourself with the process to file a modification and to do so within the mandated time limit. In a couple of states, the responsibility is not on the incarcerated father to file, but these are the rare exceptions. Recent California law requires the Child Support Order to be automatically suspended in the cases of incarceration or involuntarily institutionalized. Vermont and Wisconsin allow the child support agency to file a motion to modify the Child Support Orders on behalf of those fathers that are incarcerated. The key is to seek legal counsel or do your research, so you are informed. The burden of filing falls on the father.

The consequences of falling behind on child support are not merely added debt. Non-payment can be used against you in custody judgments and can result in revocation of privileges once you are released, such as an industry licenses, business licenses or your driver’s license.

To find out the laws that apply to your case, check the federal Office of Child Support Enforcement State-by-State-How to Change a Child Support Order page and the Modification Laws and Policies for Incarcerated Noncustodial Parents facts sheet.

4. Access Free Resources

Here are a few online resources for information, support and more.

The Prison Fellowship offers resources that tackle everything from how to avoid “visiting room sabotage” to offering interactive activities for visiting day.

The National Resource Center on Children and Families of the Incarcerated is “the oldest and largest organization in the U.S. focused on children and families of the incarcerated and programs that serve them.”

For fathers of young children, Sesame Street offers a wonderful Incarceration Toolkit that uses the characters in the show to introduce the idea of a father’s incarceration to young kids in an entertaining way that they can understand.

When fathers rights are used to promote a healthy, ongoing relationship with their children, we all profit as a society. Benefits include a reduction in recidivism for incarcerated dads, a more promising future for their children, a decrease in taxpayer-funded detention facilities, and healthier communities for us all. All that is needed to break the cycle of the damaging effects of fatherlessness is for fathers to assert their legal rights to pursue positive father-child involvement.


(c) Can Stock Photo / fuzzbones

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Stop Child Support and Go Directly To Jail

Stop Child Support and Go Directly To Jail

Why A lot of dads don’t understand the importance of paying child support consistently. More often than not, in fact, it’s hard to do so without harboring resentment towards the other parent.

Court Ordered Child Support Is Frustrating 

It can be a frustrating experience to be court ordered to fork over 18 percent of your annual pay to an ex. It’s harder still to do so without wondering if your hard earned money is actually being spent to better the life of your child.

Nevertheless, the overall well being of your child rests upon your willingness to contribute monetarily to their upbringing. Even if you view your ex as the enemy, try to remember that the money you pay towards child support is, in fact, given to provide for the child.

I may be a woman, but I’ve been fortunate enough to view this topic from both sides of the fence.

Is The Ex Blowing Your Money on Herself? 

I have plenty of male friends who have voiced their concerns on this topic. My dear friend Jesse, for example, was ordered to pay nearly $700 per month after a less than  harmonious split from his wife of nearly 15 years. “How do I know she’s not using my money to buy new boobs?” he once asked me. “I have no proof she’s using my money to better the life of my kid, and I have no way of holding her accountable.”

That’s a real and legitimate concern. I understand his frustration. “Let me put your mind at ease,” I told him. “The majority of moms aren’t using child support money to support their lifestyles.” I mean, let’s be honest here: the typical y monthly support payment, even saved over a number of years, isn’t going to fund a lavish yacht or car.

Raising Kids is Expensive 

Raising a kid is expensive. When you add up all of the basics, a parent is fundamentally required to provide for a child–food, shelter, warm clothing–the typical child support payment barely makes  a dent. Add in piano lessons, ballet, math tutoring, the occasional trip to a movie theater or a birthday party for eight kids, and you can see how assuming that your ex is using your money for anything other than meeting your child’s needs can get a little ridiculous. I’m not saying that abuse never occurs. I’m just saying that it’s rare. I speak from experience.

I’m the mother of a beautiful eight-year-old girl. Her father and I divorced when she was only 16 months old. He was ordered to pay $450 per month. Until recently, he rarely, if ever, paid anything. How did he avoid being fined or jailed? Simple. He took jobs that paid him under the table and he moved around a lot, from state to state.

As a young single mother, that money would have gone really far for me and my daughter. She missed out on things that would have made her life more enjoyable because I couldn’t afford the extras. I was keeping a roof over our heads. Tumbling lessons were out of the questions. That trip to the theater wasn’t going to happen. Fortunately, things haven’t been so tight over the past several years. But I’ve watched my daughter suffer because her father, the man who helped bring her into existence, was being selfish and saw paying his child support as a choice and not a priority.

Don’t do that to your kids. They really are the ones who suffer.

You Could End Up In Jail 

But if you need additional motivation, one of the primary reasons that you should never stop paying your child support is really for your own well-being. Negligent fathers are thrown in jail for failure to meet their obligation every single day. That’s a very real thing. Your ex could drag you back to family court where you will be forced to stand before a judge and explain your unwillingness to contribute to the monetary rearing of your child. You may get one or two chances to prove that you can pay regularly and on time, but beyond that, expect to serve some time.

If the reason for not making your support payments is a financial inability to meet your obligation, communicate that to both your ex and your court designated case worker.

If you live so far from your kids that you’re unable to interact with them on a regular basis, you should still pay your monthly obligation. If you can’t be there for them physically or emotionally, be there for them monetarily.

Do It For Your Child 

There are a million scenarios that can play out between parents and in your own life that might make meeting this obligation a struggle, but remember, court ordered child support payments are enforceable by many unpleasant means. But it shouldn’t take the threat of being jailed to motivate you. Love for your child should do that.

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You Can Modify a Parenting Plan Without Going to Court

You Can Modify a Parenting Plan Without Going to Court

You’re divorced, child custody was settled, and there is a working parenting plan in place. Life goes on, then changing circumstances affect you and your kids. The good news is that you can modify a parenting plan without going back to court.

Mom Was Moving Out of State

I had the opportunity to help an already divorced couple re-negotiate their parenting plan without having to go back to court and shell out thousands of dollars for litigation.  Here’s how it went down:   The couple, “Ruth” and “Justin” had been divorced for 11 years, sharing custody of their now 13-year-old daughter, “Lexi”.   Their co-parenting of Lexi had its issues; however, Ruth and Justin had been able to compromise most of the time. 

But Ruth recently remarried, and received a job promotion which necessitated relocation across the country.  Both Ruth and her daughter were excited to move to Atlanta.  It was happening just as Lexi was about to start high school and, although she was sad about leaving her friends, she had a good attitude about her new adventure.  So, most of the big decisions had been made:  new house, moving date, school enrollment.  The final remaining stumbling block was obtaining Justin’s permission to move his daughter out of state.

Dad Didn’t Want to Lose Visitation

Understandably, Justin was not immediately on board to consent to his daughter moving 2,500 miles away from him.  His divorce decree and parenting plan prohibited Ruth from taking their minor daughter away from the state for more than seven consecutive days, and Justin was quite adamant about sticking to the plan.   He was also very clear that he was unwilling to lose any of his visitation days with Lexi.

Start by Nailing Down the Issues

When they came to my office for their first mediation session, we quickly identified that there were three issues that needed to be resolved:  permission to move the minor child out of state; modifying the visitation schedule to accommodate the relocation; and who was going to pay for the travel expenses.  Permission to move the minor child required very little discussion.  Although Justin didn’t want his daughter to move across the country, he understood that she would benefit by being in a better school district and, as it turned out, being closer to other members of her extended family.  Permission granted, and onto the next issue:  scheduling.

Baby Steps in Mediation

Everyone took out calendars, and we started talking about school schedules, holidays, vacations, and the complications of air travel.  It was evident to me, as the Mediator, that the parents were becoming overwhelmed.  So, I suggested that we only discuss the upcoming school year.  By limiting the scheduling to nine months rather than five years, both Justin and Ruth visibly relaxed.  After that, it was like trading players on a fantasy football team.  “I’ll take the first week of the winter break and you can have her the second week.”  Or, “I’d prefer that Lexi spend her birthday with me, so she can be with her grandparents.”  You get the picture.

By taking a baby step in mediation, Justin and Ruth were able to focus on establishing a temporary plan, leaving room for flexibility, instead of being forced to follow a Court Order.  Mediation allowed these two parents to focus on the needs of their daughter instead of on their own interests.

Once these two hurdles were overcome, the final issue of who pays for airfare turned out to be relatively easy.  Justin started the negotiation process by offering to pay zero dollars for Lexi’s airfare.  I let them argue for a moment, and then asked Ruth how much she was willing to pay.  Ruth said 50%.  Justin countered back at 1/3, and it was as though the bell signaling the end of the round in a heavyweight fight had been heard.  Ruth agreed to pay 2/3 and they went back to their neutral corners.  The bout had ended, not by knock-out, but by unanimous decision.

A Winning Way to Modify a Parenting Plan

Three issues, three resolutions, two hours total.   I wrote up a document to modify their parenting plan incorporating their decisions; they signed it in front of my Notary, and everyone left feeling like they won.

Mediation Empowers the Parents

You can only imagine how long this might have taken through litigation, not to mention the expense.  And most significant, imagine the risk involved in allowing a Judge to determine what’s best for the family.  A Judge who, although well-intended, has no real knowledge of the family’s dynamic.   By opting to modify a parenting plan through the process of mediation, Justin and Ruth were empowered to craft their own resolution and, in this particular instance, by making a temporary agreement to be revisited later, if necessary.

Naturally, not every divorced couple is a candidate for mediation.  They must come into the process carrying a spirit of cooperation in their pockets.

Mediation After a Bitter Divorce

In another example, “Ben” and “Sara” went through a bitter divorce when their two kids were toddlers.  They each ran up tens of thousands of dollars in attorneys’ fees because Ben wanted the divorce and Sara intended to “make him pay.”  And he sure did!

Not only did Ben get his shirt handed to him in Court, but he had minimal visitation with his children and paid the maximum in child support.  They came to me literally 10 years later because circumstances had changed considerably over the decade since their divorce.  The two kids were now teenagers, and were proving to be more than Sara was willing or able to handle.  Not only did Ben want more time with his kids, the kids wanted to live with their dad permanently.

Modify a Parenting Plan to Change Primary Custody

Through the process of mediation, it came out that neither of the teenagers liked Sara’s live-in boyfriend.  And the boyfriend was, evidently, jealous of the attention Sara gave to her own children.  The living situation in Sara’s home was full of conflict, and neither of the kids was happy.   Enough time had passed for Sara to get over her bitterness towards Ben, and both parents were ready to make some changes.  So, they hammered out a new parenting plan, modifying everything including primary physical custody, and child support.  Again, I prepared a written document for them to sign which set forth all of the modifications.

Mediation Reduced Court Appearances and Costs

In Ben and Sara’s instance, a brief amount of attorney involvement was necessary.  Once they signed the agreement I prepared after mediation, Ben’s attorney drafted the necessary paperwork to submit to the Court showing that the parties changed the prior Court Order through the process of mediation.  The fact that a Mediator prepared an agreement reflecting the desires of the parties, and that agreement bore the parties’ signatures, all but guaranteed that the Judge would approve the modification.  In less than a month, Ben and Sara received the Court’s blessing by way of an Order modifying their divorce decree to afford Ben primary physical custody of their teenagers, and considerably reducing the child support payments.

How Mediation Can Work For You

There are many more examples of how mediation can be an effective way of modifying prior Court Orders without the need for expensive and time-consuming litigation.  The one common thread in every such situation is the spirit of compromise.  If you aren’t willing to be flexible, mediation is not for you.  But, if enough time has passed, if you’re willing to put the greater good ahead of your need to be right, if you value your future more than you need to validate your past, I highly urge you to consider mediation.

How to suggest mediation to your ex?  Easy.  Just tell her that you’ve been looking into mediation as an alternative method to litigation, and that mediation is confidential, expedient, and costs a fraction of what attorneys charge.

Finding a Capable Mediator

There are many places to look for a capable Mediator.  When doing so, it’s important to keep in mind that not all Mediators are attorneys, and not all attorneys are Mediators.  I’d suggest that you and your ex interview at least two candidates, check for reviews on Yelp (yes, Yelp), sniff around LinkedIn, and go to subscription services such as Mediate.com.  Most Mediators will offer an initial consultation at no charge.  Then, trust your instincts.  You won’t be disappointed.

Nancy Gabriel is the principal and managing partner of Mediation Around The Table, LLC., a Las Vegas-based private mediation company.  Ms. Gabriel is a founding director of Nevada Mediation Group, a non-profit corporation focusing on the education and training of mediators, a volunteer for the Neighborhood Justice Center of Clark County, Nevada, a member of the divorce panel for MWI, a Boston, Massachusetts firm specializing in alternative dispute resolutions, and a volunteer at Three Square Food Bank.  She is a graduate of UCLA, an avid gourmet cook and NFL fan. She may be contacted through the firm website at www.MediationAroundTheTable.com

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Who Should Pay for College After Divorce?

Who Should Pay for College After Divorce?

You’ve seen the headlines. The cost of a college education is staggering and expected to continue to rise. Some of the latest numbers suggest that tuition, room, and board are estimated at around $13,500 per year for a public university, and averaging around $34,500 at private non-profit and for-profit institutions. While most parents are concerned about how to afford to pay for their children’s education, for divorcing parents, the issue is often not only how, but who will pay for college after divorce.

Paying for a child’s education is strictly voluntary for intact families. But it’s not necessarily so for divorced parents. Some states, including Utah, Washington, and New York, allow a judge to force non-custodial parents to chip in. In other states, including Alaska and New Hampshire, parents aren’t legally obligated to pay for a child’s college education and few judges will order a parent to for higher education expenses unless the parents had a previous agreement.

Still, most parents who are financially able to help their children go to college want to do so. For that reason, no matter how young your children are when you divorce, you should consider higher education expenses in the negotiations.

Written College Support Agreement

Your divorce settlement should include a written college support agreement that includes details such as what percent of higher education expenses each parent is responsible for and limits on payments. Since more than half of kids today take more than four years to finish an undergraduate degree, you may also consider setting a cap on the length of time you are on the hook.

With the rising cost of a college degree, it makes sense to set an appropriate cap for expenses.

For example, you could agree to pay 50% of all tuition, room, and board up to $15,000 per year.

You can also use your state university as a guide for establishing an upper limit for expenses, agreeing to pay 50% of the maximum amount charged by your state university, including room and board expenses. That way, even if your child chooses to go to a very expensive college, your maximum contribution is limited even if actual expenses are much higher.

Even with a written agreement in place, you may need to revisit the issue down the road as your kids get older, and your finances change, but having an agreement in place will, at least, establish a baseline going forward.

While you are working out the details of the agreement, it’s a good idea to also require life and disability insurance to cover college obligations. Any agreement about sharing costs is not worth the paper it’s written on if one parent can’t work or dies prematurely.

Saving for College

Whether you set aside a lump sum as a part of your divorce settlement or save incrementally in the years leading up to college, funds should be set aside in a trust account or a 529 Plan, a tax-free account for college-only expenses. Unfortunately, even with the best intentions, parents may be tempted to “borrow” from savings accounts that are too easily accessible. You don’t want to reach your child’s college days to find that the money you thought was set aside has been depleted paying for legal bills or living expenses.

The FAFSA

Before anyone pays a dollar of tuition, you’ll want to complete a Free Application for Federal Student Aid to see how much, if any, need-based assistance your child is eligible for. To maximize your eligibility for student aid, the parent with the lower income should have primary custody (and the tax dependency exemption for the child) the year before applying to college.

Your divorce decree may allow one parent to claim the child as a dependent for tax purposes even though the child lives with the other parent 90% of the time, but for financial aid, who the child lives with matters. Federal and private financial aid formulas typically use the custodial parent’s income and assets to determine need.

Even if you think you make too much money to be considered for financial aid, you should complete the FAFSA. The FAFSA is the only way most colleges will consider your child for financial aid. Even students from families earning more than $200,000 per year may qualify for need-based aid from private universities or low-cost, forgivable federal student loans.

Tax Benefits

There are several tax benefits available to help offset the cost of higher education. While both parents may want to take advantage of these benefits, especially if they’re sharing the cost of their kid’s education, only one parent can take advantage of them.

If your child attends college and you pay the tuition, you may be eligible for the American Opportunity Credit or the Lifetime Learning Credit. The American Opportunity Credit is available for the first four years of an undergraduate degree and can take up to $2,500 off your tax bill. The Lifetime Learning Credit is equal to a percentage of the first $10,000 you spend on your child’s tuition and related qualified higher education expenses. Both credits are a dollar-for-dollar reduction in the tax you owe.

Unlike the tax credits, the Tuition and Fees Deduction is not a dollar-for- dollar reduction in the tax you owe, but it can reduce the amount of your income subject to tax by up to $4,000. This deduction may be beneficial if you don’t qualify for the American Opportunity or Lifetime Learning credits.

Whether you take advantage of one of the tax credits or the deduction, only the parent who claims the child as a dependent can take advantage of these tax incentives. To claim the child, she must live with you for more than half the year and not provide more than half her own support.

The IRS allows the parent who is eligible to claim the child as a dependent to waive his right to the exemption so the other parent can claim it. In order to do this, tax law requires that the child receive more than half of her financial support from at least one of the parents, that there be a divorce decree or legal separation agreement, and that the child be in custody of one or both of the parents for at least half the school year. If all conditions are satisfied, the parent who has the legal right to claim the exemption must sign Form 8832 and provide a copy to the other spouse.

All three tax incentives phased out if your Adjusted Gross Income is above certain thresholds.

  • For the American Opportunity Credit, the upper limit for a Single or Head of Household filer is $90,000 for 2015.
  • For the Lifetime Learning Credit, the AGI limit is $65,000.
  • For the Tuition and Fees Deduction, the limit is $80,000.

If one parent’s Adjusted Gross Income is above these amounts, no tax incentives are available to that parent and it makes sense to allow the other parent to claim them.

Talking about finances is challenging at best for couples going through a divorce, but you need to talk about what makes the best financial sense for your family. Getting started early on planning – and saving – for your child’s education makes sense for all parents whether married, single, or divorced.

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The Child Support System

The Child Support System

The Child Support System – Making the Poor Poorer

When Good Intentions Go Awry

Our country makes child support collection a state issue. With each state having full authority over enforcement measures, they’re free to set punishments for default anywhere from a ding on one’s credit all the way up to (and including) incarceration. With single-parent families left holding the bag (when many of them are struggling), it’s a system that forgets whom it’s supposed to be helping.

The latest heated discussion centers on the disproportionate number of single mothers and their children living at or below the poverty level.

The latest heated discussion centers on the disproportionate number of single mothers and their children living at or below the poverty level.

In his 1964 State of the Union address, President Johnson declared war. At the beginning of the ongoing War on Poverty a host of programs designed to economically stimulate underprivileged families were put into effect.

Despite those efforts, the number of single-parent families living at or below the poverty level has risen.

Each of your television’s talking heads offers causes and solutions to the problem. With such an emotionally charged subject, the best way to chart our course through this issue is to follow some sage advice.

Just the facts, ma’am.

-Joe Friday

Point 1: More Single Moms Are Raising Kids than Single Dads

Approximately 28% of all children in the U. S. live with only one parent, their mother. Data shows this is true in five out of six cases.

Other children end up in this single-mom situation because they’re born out of wedlock.

Four-million single mothers live below poverty compared to around 400,000 single dads. Translation: for every single dad out there raising his kids, there are 10 women going it alone, too.

Point 2: Single Moms Make 70 Cents on the Dollar Compared to Single Dads

Single moms make a third less than single dads. And around one-third of these women receive regular child support payments. About 15% are working full-time.

Point 3: Gender-Based Discrimination Causes Economic Disparity

I blame Point 2 on Point 3.

A non-biased study found that on average a woman makes 18% less than a man doing her job one year out of college. Furthermore, the stats revealed this gap only increases with time.

At 10 years post-graduation, the wage disparity rises to 31 percent.

Some attempt to counter these facts by attacking the studies and citing the difference in educational and employment choices women make compared to men. As an example, far more women elect to pursue education and employment in generally low-paying fields – teaching for example.

However, even when these differences are normalized and the data corrected, there is still a  7% difference one year after college. The variance reaches twelve percent ten years after college. It cannot be explained or cited to a single cause.

Although career choices make up some of the gap, they do little to explain the problem.

Point 4: Child Support Makes It All Worse

$14-billion are owed in unpaid child support to single moms in this country. That’s not a typo. It really is billion, with a “B.”

Bingo! That must be it, right? Get the deadbeats to pay up and voila! Problem solved!

Not exactly. The total is calculated by rolling up local and state totals into a pile. Like our national debt, the number is thrown out there for shock value.

Yes, there is a large amount of unpaid child support. But here are the facts:

  • Over three-quarters of this bill rests on the shoulders of men making less than ten thousand dollars per year.
  • Only five percent of this bill is owed by fathers making over forty thousand dollars per year.

That’s the real push behind the executive office’s effort to reform the broken child support system.

Our current system puts a burden and continued debt escalation on parents beyond what they can afford. Why, for example, does child support debt continue to grow for parents in prison, where they cannot earn an income?


Our government’s current way of thinking is making financially difficult situations worse, not better.


To Summarize

$14 billion dollars remain unpaid to the child support system. A married household’s bankroll is 75% bigger than that of a divorced person’s household.

Why? Think of a household income as a pie. Some slices go to taxes, some go to house, others to utilities, car payments, clothes, and then finally there are a few slices left over for the adults to use as disposable income.

For most families, these leftover slices are puny at best.

If said pie is made up of all the income going into the house, divide the family into two households. The pie remains the same size. Neither partner received a raise for getting divorced. No prizes were awarded.

If a non-working parent finds employment, the income generally isn’t enough to make enough pie for two households.

In all the complaints about the low income that single parent households have to struggle through, the source of the new, extra money is rarely discussed. Remember there are two households now, instead of one, so more money flows out requiring more money to flow in if the standard of living is not to change.

When it is discussed, the source of the additional money is always from one of two sources; the fathers or the government. The father’s income didn’t change, so how is taking more from them going to make the households better? The facts show that only five percent of the sustainable wage-earning dads in this country are not making their current support obligations. Take more and you’ll see that number grow. The second source is the government. That pie is running on negative slices, but it is an option.

Rather than recommend a solution, like so many other Government programs, that throws money blindly at a problem, this one actually has answers to help focus the help. It is clear now that the real cause of poverty in single parent homes is divorce itself. Two households supported from an income base that previously supported one results in two households operating at a lower standard of living.

The mathematical economic reality makes this fact very easy to follow. If divorce clearly results in a lower standard of living, especially for women, why are the vast majority of divorces initiated by women as no-fault divorces? It must mean that the reality of post-divorce life for them was better than the life they were living while married. In that case, is Government support really necessary? Remember, Government support really means your tax dollars.

  • Supporting and welfare for our neighbors has strong roots in America, long before it received the name welfare.
  • As our country expanded, lending a helping hand to neighbors in need was an underlying principle for centuries.
  • America leads the world in charitable giving today.

Why, though, would we give to those who made the informed choice to alter their lifestyle?

There are plenty of single parents, mostly mothers that are in their present struggling financial situation because of terrible marriages that resulted in fault-based divorces.

In those cases, we should extend the helping hand.

But if a reasonable adult recognized the reality of divorce and the consequences it would have to their standard of living and made the informed decision to divorce, there is no moral call to raise their standard back to pre-divorce levels if the cause of the divorce was unhappiness or irreconcilable differences.

There are other solutions available to these divorcing couples, such as time, savings, education, and employment all prior to divorce to allow for a better start.

The alarming rhetoric should stop and allow adults to live with their decisions while focusing our limited tax dollars on those that truly are in need because of events beyond their control.

 

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