Answer: When child support guidelines were introduced in the mid-1990s, they were intended to be the starting point in the calculation of how separated parents divide up responsibility for expenses related to their children. In the years since, there has been much discussion and disagreement about what expenses can be added to the base amount provided for in the guidelines. Those disagreements have settled to some extent, and there are now a number of expenses that are generally considered to be additional to what is covered by the figures provided in the guidelines.
Of course, as with everything in family law, the specific situation of each family is a significant factor in determining what constitutes “extraordinary expenses.”
The most readily accepted extraordinary expense is the cost of child care. Other common extraordinary expenses are summer camp, sports, dance and music lessons, swimming lessons, medical related expenses not covered by OHIP or benefit packages either parent may have, special education expenses such as tutoring or technological equipment a child requires and orthodontal work.
While these expenses are often accepted by the court, there is no guarantee that they will be. The parent seeking payment of the expense needs to satisfy the court that the expense is legitimate and in the best interests of the child. For instance, if the mother wants the father to contribute to the cost of summer camp and he does not want to, she will need to convince the court that the camp is for the benefit of the child.
It will help her argument if the child or older siblings attended camp before the parents separated. In fact, the court often asks whether the child engaged in a proposed activity while the parents were together to assist in the decision of whether or not an expense should be considered extraordinary. Of course, there are some exceptions to this approach – child care, for instance, may not have been needed while the parents were together.
The designation of something as an extraordinary expense does not mean the payer parent is responsible for paying that entire cost. Rather, if the expense is accepted by the court, the parents will most commonly share it in a manner that is proportional to their income. In other words, if the father earns twice what the mother earns, he will contribute twice as much to the extraordinary expense.
Both parties must file financial statements with income tax returns for the previous three years as well as notices of assessment to confirm their incomes. Based on this information, the court will decide whether the expense is one the parties can afford, given their present incomes and expenses, and how it should be apportioned between them.