Extraordinary expenses: what are they and who has to pay?

Determining how much basic child support a parent must pay his or her spouse is relatively easy provided you know the payor spouse’s correct “Guideline income” (which is a whole other topic that will not be addressed in this post). You simply look up the Federal Child Support Guidelines Child Support Table (the “Table”) and input the payor’s income, what province they live in and how many children are being supported.

But the matter of how much child support is owed doesn’t end here as the amount determined by the Table is for day-to-day expenses. In addition, a parent is responsible for his or her share of what are called “special or extraordinary expenses,” and parents rarely agree on what those are.

The government has created a step-by-step guide to child support (the “Guide”) including a list of what can be considered an extraordinary expense (see Step 7). But even if an expense falls within the category of a special or extraordinary expense, the expense must also be determined to be “necessary and reasonable” in light of the parties’ incomes, the circumstances of the child and the special needs or abilities of the child. As each family and each child has its own unique characteristics, what may be considered an extraordinary expense for one family, or even one child within a family, may not be considered an extraordinary expense for another.

While the law is always evolving, one of the leading cases on this issue in British Columbia is Clarke v. Clarke, a case from 2014In that case, the custodial spouse was asking the court to require her ex-husband to pay for their son’s Xbox subscriptions and cell phone bills, and their daughter’s gym membership, yoga lessons and personal trainer, among other things.

The judge said while it was impossible to definitively say what types of expenses would qualify in every case, there were certain expenses that would never qualify because they were ordinary expenses that were covered by the monthly child support amount. These included:

  • Expenses such as entertainment, pets, vacations, school fees, school supplies, a home computer, meals outside the home, personal grooming and clothing; and
  • Recreational sports and similar extracurricular activities such as dance lessons, ski trips, and community sports leagues.

The judge refused to order the father to pay any of the expenses requested as the expenses, in his words, were “perfectly ordinary.”

So when will an expense be considered extraordinary? In an example that is part of the Guide, the $12,000 annual cost of ice-skating lessons for a child who hoped to become a championship skater and had been working towards that goal before her parents’ separation, was an extraordinary expense. As a result, the expense was to be shared by the parents based on their relative incomes. Parents who have equal incomes, for example, would share an extraordinary expense 50-50.

On the other hand, ice-skating lessons for a beginner skater, or a child who shows no promise, but takes lessons solely for enjoyment, would not be considered an extraordinary expense.

Have questions about what may be a special or extraordinary expense? Please contact us!

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