Back to School: Who Pays for What?

For parents of school-aged children, September can herald a (sometimes welcome) return to routine. However, fall can also bring with it added financial and logistical stresses, as parents adjust to the money and time demands of both school and extra-curricular activities.

And for parents who are divorced, this juggling act tends to become even more complicated:  Who pays for what, and how much?

In Canada, the rules relating to child support are found in the Federal Child Support Guidelines. These include tables which fix the basic amount of monthly support payments, according to the income of the person paying the support and the number of children in the family. This basic support is intended to cover a wide variety of the day-to-day cost of raising children, including:

  • The child’s share of the household rent and utilities bills
  • Clothing and shoes
  • Groceries
  • Haircuts
  • Fees for school hot lunch and field trips, etc.

The Guidelines also cover something called “special and/or extraordinary expenses”, sometimes referred to as “section 7 expenses”, since the rules are found in section 7 of the Guidelines.

Section 7 expenses relate to things which happen less regularly than day-to-day and which often carry with them a significant cost. Examples of section 7 expenses include:

  • Child care
  • Orthodontic work
  • Counselling / psychotherapy
  • Physio, occupational or speech therapy
  • Prescription medication

They also include “extraordinary expenses” for educational or extracurricular programs or activities. Whether such an expense is truly “extraordinary” depends on the income of the spouse requesting money, the nature, number and cost of the programs / activities, and any special needs or talents of your child.

If you and your ex can’t agree on whether something is a section 7 expense, it will be up to a judge to decide. He or she will consider the reasonableness of the expense, based on both parents’ means and your pre-separation spending habits, and the necessity of the expense, based on your child’s best interests.

So, depending on your personal financial circumstances, summer camp and limo rentals for graduation may or may not be “reasonable”, and depending on your child’s athletic ability, sports coaching may or may not be “necessary”. Ultimately, there is a fair amount of discretion as to whether an expense qualifies under section 7.

As for who pays, you and your ex will share the cost of any confirmed section 7 expenses proportionally, based on your income. For example, if your annual salary is $25,000, and your ex makes $75,000, you would pay 25% of the cost, and your ex would pay 75%.

But remember, this is only true if the two of you have agreed to the expense or a judge has agreed to it for you. If you want to enrol your child in an activity and want the cost of this expense to be a shared one, it’s best to discuss the cost with your ex before you incur it, to avoid the possibility of being on the hook for the full fee.

About Leisha Murphy

Partner/Mediator – Vancouver

After being a family lawyer for over 13 years, coupled with my own personal experience with divorce, I have come to understand the difficult transition that comes with the end of a relationship. This experience has put me in the unique position of being able to provide clients with a clear picture of what is to come and how to plan for it. As well as provide clients with guidance and education on how to deal with the day-to-day realities of a separation.