The Michigan Child Support Guidelines were modified in 2008 in order to create a more graduated decrease in child support as the payor’s parenting time increased. Prior to 2008, there was essentially a cliff where if the payor reached 128 overnights, the child support dropped dramatically. This tainted many divorce and custody negotiations because the negotiations centered on money and not what was in the best interests of the minor children. So, the new formula took care of that. Unfortunately however, the guidelines do not tell us exactly what the child support is used for.
According to MCL 552.602 “support” is defined as “the payment of money for a child or a spouse ordered by the circuit court, whether the order is embodied in an interim, temporary, permanent, or modified order or judgment. Support may include payment of the expenses of medical, dental, and other health care, child care expenses, and educational expenses”. In addition, generally speaking, expenses like clothing, food, haircuts, shelter (i.e. mortgage/rent, utilities, etc.) etc. are intended to be covered by child support. Also, there are provisions in every child support order to account for uncovered or extraordinary medical bills and each party pays his/her percentage of such expenses (i.e. braces, co-pays, deductibles, etc.).
Unfortunately, Michigan law doesn’t specifically tell us whether expenses for extra-curricular activities like sports, dance, clubs, etc. are covered by child support. For that reason, many divorce judgments will include a provision that defines how the parties will pay for extra-curricular activities particularly if the children are involved in such activities at the time of the divorce. These costs may be split in some fashion or born by one party. If there is no provision in the judgment and the custodial parent can’t afford to sign a child up for a certain activity (i.e. the child support is not enough), then he/she would have to get an agreement with the other parent to split the cost. Also, since most parents have joint legal custody, both parents must agree that the activity is appropriate for the child.
Even when there is no specific provision in the judgment of divorce for items beyond child support like sports, common sense should prevail. In other words, keep the focus on what is best for your children. If you are paying child support and your ex-spouse can’t quite afford to pay for an activity, your kids will certainly appreciate you helping out. When asked by a male client if he should pay for his teenager daughter’s clothes even though he pays child support, I told him “take your daughter shopping. . . that’s what teenage girls like to do”. Again, use common sense. Yes, we all have limits but just be reasonable and keep the best interests of your children in mind. If you do that, you will make good choices.