This blog entry is the final post in a six-part series on child support in New York State. The purpose of this series of blog posts is to guide you through the basics of calculating child support and to leave you feeling comfortable and confident in your understanding of New York child support law.
Most parents going through a separation or divorce, whether they’re in mediation , Collaborative Law or in a court-based litigation process, are aware that some form of child support payments will be warranted in their case – if they have children under 21. But the details of exactly what amount of child support to expect can get confusing.
In the first three posts in this series, I explained how to calculate the basic child support obligation, which is the initial part of a child support award. The last three posts in this series, including this one, will help you understand how to calculate the second part of a child support award, the “add-on” categories.
Additional (“Add-On”) Categories of Child Support
Under New York law, the basic child support obligation is not expected to cover every expense in a child’s life. There are three special areas of expenses that the law individually breaks out and accounts for in a child support calculation. They are child care, health and education. This post will explore the child support rules concerning educational expenses.
The cost of a child’s education – be it for private school, college, tutoring, extracurricular activities or other expenses – may be the single most daunting category of expenses facing most parents. New York law leaves courts a lot of room to do as they see fit in each case, to apportion educational expenses if, as and when it serves the best interests of the children.
This level of discretion makes it hard to predict with certainty how the educational expenses in any particular case will be handled. As distinct from health care expenses, for example, the court may but does not have to assign responsibility for college (or any other educational expense) pro rata, in accordance with the parents’ individual incomes. It could assign responsibility 50%-50%, even where the parents are not equal earners. It could assign 100% responsibility to one parent, when he or she is not the only earner. Most importantly, the court does not have to assign responsibility for educational expenses at all, or for the entirety of educational expenses incurred.
This flexibility is meant to allow courts to make child support awards that take into account the uniqueness of each family’s circumstances. Where private schools, sailing lessons, camp, and/or year-round tutors are the status quo for one family, that level of expenditure on the children might be unreasonable and unsustainable for another family. To the extent possible – and in divorce, it is not always possible – the courts will try to protect the lifestyle a child has grown accustomed to during the marriage.