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Tips for handling unexpected co-parenting costs after divorce

There is a wealth of information available on the Internet that discusses the issue of child support. Minnesota law specifically recognizes that children have the right to receive financial support from both parents. Child support generally involves three components, including:

  • Basic support to cover costs associated with food, housing, educational opportunities and similar basic needs
  • Medical support to cover dental and medical expenses for the child
  • Child care support to cover day care expenses for the child when parents are in school or at work

Life never seems as simple as the guidance courts use to arrive at a solution to a legal problem. When it comes to co-parenting after divorce, a child support agreement may work well to define the obligations parents have to provide for their children. However, that may not always mean that parents will not face extraordinary expenses that child support does not fully address.

As kids grow and mature, their interests, needs, and opportunities may change. Married parents often have detailed discussions about finding ways to finance social opportunities, extracurricular activities, and similar unexpected costs that may open doors for their children. Divorce frequently complicates these discussions as each parent may see the expense as the other parent's problem.

Planning can help you avoid conflict if unexpected expenses arise in the future. You can work with your divorce lawyer to devise a system for handling unexpected expenses that are not part of the child support order. Here are some things to think about when building a solid co-parenting plan for the future:

Create a co-parenting plan and stick to it

You do not have to address every potential opportunity and decide if you and your ex should both pay. If you want to take your child to a specific event, that may not be a necessary and reasonable expense that you should expect your ex to help finance. However, it may be reasonable for parents to agree to work together to provide opportunities for their children. You can create a parenting plan that provides a formula for how reimbursements should be handled, which may be based on the income of each parent.

Do not put the children in the middle of the financial dispute

If you do not have the money to cover a particular expense, do not blame your ex for failing to pay enough child support, or for taking all of your money. Your child will understand that the opportunity exceeds your budget. At the same time, it is important to communicate honestly with your ex about what may be a necessary and reasonable expense. This is not the time to settle the score with your ex, or to use passive-aggressive tactics hoping to manipulate your ex into giving you what you want. Keep your child as the focus when communicating with your ex.

Keep nickel-and-dime disputes out of court

Try to resolve any disputes amicably, and choose your battles. Going to court will raise overall costs. It may be tempting to threaten to return to family court to obtain reimbursement for the costs of summer camp, but the expense of winning the battle may be more than the reimbursement. If you avoid court costs, you may actually have more money to spend on your child.

Most divorce decrees include some sort of provision to resolve disputes through some form of alternative dispute resolution (ADR) process. Using a mediator, parenting consultant, or another trusted neutral third party may help you and your ex to resolve problems concerning unexpected expenses without involving the court.

Working out the details may seem difficult, but divorce is never easy. Looking to the future and creating a flexible agreement can go a long way in relieving future stress. Committing to work out differences amicably will provide strong benefits for your child.

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