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How do you handle the “add-on” expenses of having children? You know, all those little things that are so important: Lessons, sports, back-to-school expenses, etc.

Back to school means new clothes, shoes, backpacks, supplies, fees, lunch money, hair cuts and specialty sports apparel. On the average, you can expect to spend about $750 per child in back-to-school expenses.

There is a lot of pressure on both kids and parents to have the latest technology and fashion. The amount spent to outfit a school-age child these days can be astronomical. You write checks for dancing lessons, soccer dues, hockey equipment, and field trips. You may also be dealing with a co-parent who likes to one-up you on these purchases, or a co-parent who spends too little on these things.

Ideally, you and your co-parent communicate well about expenses for your children and how they will be covered. If you are lucky enough to have an amicable relationship with your co-parent when it comes to money, you can pool together as a healthy bi-nuclear family to try to save money on back-to-school expenses.

Some of our Peace Talks mediation clients create a “kid bank account” with checks and an ATM card for each parent so that when these expenses come up, a check can just be written. A budget is established and each parent contributes his or her share at the beginning of the month, and keeps track of what s/he has spent. If the budget needs adjustment, you can do that periodically. If you’ve over-accumulated money in the account, you can splurge on a special camp in the summer or save for your child’s college education.

Sometimes, however, the responsibility for these expenses is not clear in a couple’s financial agreement. Spouses become embittered because they feel like the expenses are lopsided. Each spouse blames the other and both grouse about their finances. Resentments build. Perhaps you are feeling the crunch and think this fall is the time to re-negotiate with your former spouse.

First and foremost, it’s important that you understand your legal rights when it comes to your financial settlement regarding child support and child support “add-ons”, and under what circumstances you can change it. The legal standard is generally that you must have a life change that is “material and substantial,” for a court to hear your modification request.

One of the ways you can protect your children from the negative impacts of divorce is to provide for them in the best way you can. Undoubtedly, you want them to have the best that you and your co-parent can afford, and all of the opportunities they would have had if you had remained married. Don’t let your resentment about money and your divorce settlement interfere with what your children need and what they deserve.

Each state has child support guidelines which mandate how much support each parent must contribute toward supporting the children. These “guidelines” are actually very specific laws with specific calculations. Each state’s calculations are different, but they take into account what both parents earn and some of the children’s basic expenses.

Child support often doesn’t include extra-curricular activities. If there are specific known extra expenses, they can be included in the divorce agreement. If expenses come up unexpectedly, it is best that the adults try to cover them as best they can.

Fall is a good time to make changes and start fresh. Is your children’s support payment enough to cover their needs now and in the near future? Are your children being short-changed in any way? Can you cut back on extras you buy your children out of a sense of guilt over your divorce? Are you open with your kids about money so they can learn about it? Are you careful not to involve them in money disputes with your former spouse?

The more you can do to promote financial awareness and responsibility, the better prepared your children will be for school and life in general.

Showing your unity with your former spouse over money issues helps your children understand you love them enough to put their financial wellbeing first.

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