By Sari M. Friedman, General Counsel
FRALI and FRANYS
I am asked very often about whether the custodial parent is required to contribute to a child's extracurricular activities. What are some of these activities? Piano lessons, dance, sports, organizations such as the scouts, religious school, etc. Does the non-custodial parent have to contribute to the cost of equipment and/or special clothing for sports or other activities?
The answer is usually no. There is nothing specifically stated in the Child Support Standards Act, Section 240 of the Domestic Relations Law. Nor is there anything stated in the Family Court Act, Section 413 that would require such payments.
A simple reading of case law that interprets the "Act" in the courts of New York shows that typically the courts do not require a special payment toward these expenses. Instead, they expect that these costs would be covered by the Basic Child Support Award.
Exceptions to the Rule
Aspecial exception to the rule might be if a child is extremely gifted or talented in a particular area and the parents, prior to the divorce or separation, had provided expensive lessons or activities. Then the Court may direct that separate and apart from Basic Child Support, each parent contribute to the costs of the lessons or activity in proportion to their respective incomes.
An example of this is found in Wacholder v. Wacholder, 188 A.D. ld. 1300, 593 NYS 2d 896 (3 rd dept, 1993). In this case, the 3 rd Judicial Department held that it would deviate from the Child Support Standards Act, and require both parents to contribute to the child's figure skating expenses on the basis of the special needs and aptitudes of the child and the pre-separation standard of living. In that case, the child was a nationally ranked competitive figure skater who had been encouraged to skate by both parents, at a very young age.
For most situations, the ruling in this case means that the Courts may order the parents to do what they have already been doing for a child of special aptitude at an expensive cost. For the typical parent, however, the Courts will not make a special provision for extracurricular expenses. The custodial parent would be expected to pay for these activities from Basic Child Support.
What Does This Mean To You?
When negotiating a settlement, be aware of this law and thus recognize that the non-custodial parent need not agree to put a clause in the agreement that obligates him/her to pay for these expenses. If such a clause is in your agreement, then as the non-custodial parent you will have obligated yourself to pay for the same regardless of the fact that New York State Law would not otherwise require it.
If as a non-custodial parent you choose to obligate yourself this way, you may want to put a clause in the agreement that requires your consent to the activity or, at the very least, places a limit on the number of activities a semester. Otherwise you may find that you have given the other parent an open checkbook over which you have given away control
Expenses that are usually ordered by the Court as add-ons to Basic Child Support, include:
- Out-of-pocket costs for medical and dental insurance
- Non-reimbursed costs of medical, dental, prescription drugs and prescription optical expenses
- Child care costs relating to the non-custodial parent's employment, efforts to obtain employment, or schooling to obtain employment to be paid pro rata to the parents' respective incomes
What About Religion and Associated Costs?
Generally speaking, it is apparent at the time of a divorce or support agreement that both parents intended to raise the child in a particular faith. Then the reasonable educational costs associated with that can be apportioned by the Courts.
In Laitman v. Laitman, The Family Court of Rockland County, in 1984 requested the father to contribute $1,000 for a Bar Mitzvah ceremony and luncheon for their son. In their request, the Court stated, "We take into consideration the fact that preliminary religious instruction has already been given to him to prepare for this event.The Court is not seeking to impose anything upon the parties hereto which they would not have done themselves under happier circumstances." The Court denied, however, the mother's request to have the father pay for a more involved party celebration.
Be very careful about what you commit to pay for in an agreement. You may be agreeing to pay for much more than a Court would order. At the same time, you will retain little if any control over how the money is to be spent.