At this time of year it feels like wallets are permanently open getting kids ready for another season of sport.
My quick calculation is that getting our 11 year old on the soccer pitch has included:
- Registration fees $190
- New boots $120
- New shorts and socks $67
- New mouth guard for those ever changing teeth $120
Add in the petrol for trips to Castlemaine and Moama during the season, orange duty, snacks, coffee on the sidelines — weekly sport quickly gets expensive.
So how does the law treat these extracurricular expenses for separated families.
Since the establishment of the child support system in the late 1980's the payment of money for the maintenance or support of children and their expenses falls within that system.
Child support has a formula that calculates the payment from one parent to the other based on income and the amount of time the child spends with each parent. The formula was originally based on studies about the costs of raising children incorporating the usual expenses. The safety net if the result of the formula doesn't lead to a just situation is a system of review through the Department of Human Services (formerly the child support agency), the Administrative Review Tribunal and ultimately court. Of course there is also the ability to reach an agreement between yourselves (a child support agreement).
So how does this system work for expenses related to sports, music or other extra-curricular activities?
First it is necessary to consider whether the expenses fall within the usual amount which would be covered in the usual cost of children covered in child support. Is it a usual day-to-day expense something that would be expected for most children. Then it should just fall within child support.
If the costs are extraordinary — equipment or travel or so on, then on the absence of an agreement you would need to be able to establish that those costs fulfill the grounds for varying child support under s117 of the Child Support Act. That section covers the grounds on which a departure from a child support assessment can be obtained and there are a number of provisions that could cover high sporting or extra curriculum costs.
The process involved is to seek a child support review and if unsatisfied with that to appeal to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal. If that doesn't get the desired result in limited circumstances there may be the opportunity for review to the court.
As you can imagine, the grand final would be played before all of this could happen.
What's the message in this then? In my family law experience the best way of resolving who pays what for extra curricular activities is to make a joint decision together. If you are unable to do this between yourselves some timely advice from us and maybe mediation is much more likely to get the right result. The alternative is complex.