Authored By: Christopher Pearsall, RI Divorce Attorney
a.k.a. " The Rhode Island Divorce Coach ℠ "
Often times payors of child support don't know what is covered and what is not covered by their child support payments.
The truth be told, there is no exact list as to what child support covers. Yet there is one thing that seems clear. Expenses for extracurricular activities that involve items that are separate and distinct from basic items that you would think would be covered by child support re not covered by child support payments.
The statute that creates theRI Family Court gives it among other things ... the power to handle issues relating to the support of minor children. The statute does not explicitly say "child support" and because of this their are cases that have been brought before the Rhode Island Supreme Court such as Chiappone v. Chiappone, 984 A2d 32 (R.I. 2009) that mention orders of both child support and separate orders for extracurricular activities. Even though the case was not before the Rhode Island Supreme Court on the challenge of an order of extracurricular activities, it is implicit that such orders are within the power of the court because one would expect someone on the Supreme Court panel to comment in the very least if it were outside the power of the family court to issue such orders.
Therefore, child support and extracurriculars are separate and distinct costs and expenses and that is precisely why most family law attorneys deal with each of these issues separately in Marital Settlement Agreements between parties.
However, an issue still remains. What happens in the absence of lanugage about the extracurriculars? Many child support recipient parents and guardians believe that it is the duty of the child support paying parent to pay all or at least 50% of these extracurricular expenses.
This is incorrect. Extracurricular expenses are not an entitlement of any person or child. A child may receive them if and only if the parties agree to these expenses in their marital or property settlement agreement, or if the court issues an order requiring a parent to pay a portion of those expenses, usually those expenses that are both reasonable and agreed upon by both parents in advance of incurring the extracurricular expense or signing the child up for the activity that involves the extracurricular expense.
A parent who makes payment of extracurricular expenses may do so because they love their child and they have the extra money to do so at the time. However, no parent should take that as a commitment that they are required to continue to do so in the future absent a formal agreement or a court order as stated above. Any parent receiving extracurricular expenses from a parent who has no formal agreement and no order from the court requiring that such payments be made should count himself or herself lucky that a parent cares enough for their child to do so.
There is no "entitlement" to contribute to extracurricular expenses. They are, as the word denotes "extra." They are not essential or necessary and many children go without extracurricular expenses that cost a single dime. Therefore, absent a formal agreement in a divorce or legal separation or a court order, the recipient parent most likely made the choice of enrolling the child in the extracurricular unilaterally. Therefore It is only right that the enrolling parent should expect to pay for that extracurricular himself or herself without expecting contribution from the other parent.
Any contribution by either parent that is without a formal written contractual agreement or a court order is merely gratuitous based upon the love of the child.
Neither parent can reasonably expect that upon demand of the other parent under these circumstances that the other parent contribute to the extracurricular activity of the child, especially if he or she does not have the opportunity to participate in or accompany the child in attending the extracurricular function.
Any parent who enrolls a child in an extracurricular activity without clearing both the extracurricular activitiy AND each expense to be incurred that they would ask the other parent to contribute to has unreasonable expectations and has failed to consider the finances and financial plans of the other parent.
Ultimately any parent who plans in this way should expect that the court is likely to rule that the parent who made the extracurricular plans for the child and expended the funds on behalf of the the child should do so entirely at his or her expense.