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Do You Have to Pay Extracurricular Expenses on Top of Child Support in Illinois?

Extracurricular Expenses

Are extracurricular expenses on top of child support assessed in Illinois? Possibly. The Illinois child support laws in this area changed significantly in 2016. Now, the relevant portion of 750 ILCS 5/505 says a judge “may order” either or both spouses to pay for music lessons, sports teams, and other such extracurricular activities.

Frequently, these expenses are nominal. But if a child gets music lessons from a famous composer or is on an AAU basketball team, these expenses could be astronomical. Before making such an order, the judge usually examines several factors, which are listed below.

These payment orders are now rather common in Illinois. In the before times, custodial parents were usually expected to pay for extracurricular activities. The child support guidelines accounted for these expenses, especially as the children got older. Today, however, child support is only designed to cover basic daily living expenses. Since extracurriculars are no longer part of the financial package, the money to pay for them has to come from somewhere.

Many parents do not think about such details in the middle of a divorce. That’s especially true if the children are young at the time. So, a Naperville child support lawyer needs to be very proactive in this area. Largely because of the way the law is written, it’s rather difficult to insert extracurricular activity payment provisions later. It’s much easier to include them in the divorce decree, assuming they conform with legal requirements.

Judicial Discretion

Subsection 3.6, the extracurricular activities language, mentions judicial discretion twice. So, we should examine this requirement closely.

Usually, judicial discretion pertains to appeals. Higher courts typically only overturn lower court orders if judges abuse their discretion. Balls and strikes in a baseball game are a good example. If a pitch is almost right down the middle and the umpire says it’s a ball, the call might be clearly wrong, but a replay official probably wouldn’t overturn it. But if the pitch was in the dirt and the umpire says “strike three,” that call might be overturned.

In other words, it’s very difficult to successfully challenge court orders on appeal, even if the directives are clearly incorrect. That’s why it is very important to get family law orders right the first time. It’s almost impossible to reopen a closed matter.

However, in the extracurricular payment context, judicial discretion could have an additional meaning. Judges often hesitate to order additional child support payments over the objection of one spouse, especially if that objection is rooted in reasonableness or necessity, as outlined below.

Therefore, mediation on these points is often very useful. Instead of a court battle that could go either way, the parties present an agreed order to the judge. Most judges approve most marital settlement agreements, even if they involve some give and take.

Necessary and Reasonable

These two concepts are the central ideas of payments for extracurricular activities. Both are quite subjective.

According to the law, an activity is necessary if it is “intended to enhance the educational, athletic, social, or cultural development of the child.” Initially, note that the child’s participation in the activity need not fulfill the necessity requirement. In the above AAUU example, if junior never gets off the bench, his participation in the activity probably doesn’t enhance him in any way. But the activity itself is clearly enhancing.

So, the necessary requirement is almost always present. However, as mentioned, this requirement is also subjective. A rec center pickup game enhances the child’s athletic and social development. The enhancement simply isn’t as significant.

A few words about direct and indirect costs. Many times, the extracurricular activity fees are only the tip of the iceberg. Many organizations have “optional” fees which are essentially mandatory. Moreover, there are necessary non-activity costs, mostly travel costs, associated with many programs.

Generally, Subsection 3.6 only applies to direct costs. If junior’s AAU team has an out-of-town tournament during a father’s parenting time allotment, the father is normally responsible for getting junior there. A father is also obviously responsible for his own travel costs, and any other such expenses.

Furthermore, the “school and extracurricular activity expenses” must be “reasonable.” The difference between reasonable and unreasonable often depends largely on the child. Let’s continue with the AAU example.

The Amateur Athletic Union has been around since the 1800s. AAU teams are usually much more selective than school, church, or community teams. So, the leagues are much more competitive. For older teens, many AAU leagues are comparable to college leagues.

AAU teams are also quite costly. A single summer league could cost as much as $6,000 per child. That sum includes travel expenses and other costs which, as mentioned above, the extracurricular payment order likely does not cover.

If a child could be the next LeBron James, the AAU expense is arguably reasonable. However, if a child’s basketball skills are average at best, a select basketball team is probably an unreasonable expense.

The child’s interest level sometimes comes into play as well. At the risk of getting too psychological, some parents push their children into competitive sports or other activities to address their own feelings of inadequacy. Furthermore, some parents enroll their children in expensive programs they do not particularly want to attend, so the other parent must pay the bill.

Relative Income of the Spouses

Assuming the proposed activity is necessary and reasonable, the judge must then divide the cost between the parents. Their relative ability to pay for the program is perhaps the most important factor.

In this context, income usually means total income, including any money the party earns from the nonmarital property, like a rent house the person bought prior to the marriage. Hidden or indirect income is not just a problem in this context. These issues often affect other child support matters as well.

Income determinations are normally straightforward if the person paying or receiving support only has W-2 income. Allowable and non-allowable deductions are about the only exception. Intentional over-withholding is perhaps the best example.

For example, Rex might voluntarily over-withhold $1,000 per month to reduce his net income. Then, he gets that money back in the spring. For this reason, tax charts for employed and self-employed persons are usually available.

Self-employment income is even easier to conceal. For example, if he is self-employed, Rex could incorporate and become Rex LLC. Rex’s overall income would not change, but his individual income could immediately drop to almost nothing.

When it comes to extracurricular payment and other child support issues, especially in an income share state like Illinois, proportional income is more important than individual income. So, in the Prairie State, income determination problems are often doubly hard for a Naperville child support lawyer to solve.

Parental Preference

Frequently, children ask their parents to add an extracurricular activity to their schedules. Sometimes, however, parents ask their children if they want to be on a team, perform in a play, or whatever. As mentioned above, the parent’s motive could be less than noble. Much more often, however, the parent sees potential talent in the child or someone recommends a particular activity.

In either case, the parent requesting money for an extracurricular activity often pays a disproportionate amount of the cost. That’s especially true if the aforementioned proportional income determination does not clearly point in the other direction. So, if you want Sally to take expensive music lessons from the best private teacher in Naperville, it’s best to think twice about payment issues before you bring up the subject with your ex-spouse.

Parenting Time Division

Illinois has a co-parenting law that presumes that children benefit the most when they consistently spend a meaningful amount of time with each parent. So, in many situations, the timesharing division is roughly equal. In payment situations, the judge often compares the number of overnight visits over a block of time, such as a month or a quarter.

However, that’s certainly not always the case, even in post-2016 divorces. The traditional every other weekend and every other holiday division results in about a 70-30 timeshare split. Furthermore, if one parent has a disability, like a substance abuse problem, the judge may sharply limit parent-child contact.

So, the parenting time allocation could be very one-sided in many cases. When it comes to extracurricular activity payment, this factor could go either way. If Father does not see his children very much, he could balk at the prospect of paying more money for their optional activities. Mother could just as easily use the unequal time division to request payment. She might argue that she already shoulders an unfair percentage of the costs of raising the children.

Practical Considerations

When it comes to extracurricular activities and financial responsibility for these activities, family law orders should usually be as specific as possible. That includes:

  • Specific information about the program, such as the name, address, and provider.
  • A percentage division of costs, such as 50-50 or 60-40, as opposed to an amount division, like $100 and $100. The amount could change for various reasons, but the percentage division never changes unless the judge modifies the order.

Speaking of modifications, it’s often tempting to resolve everyday disputes, like extracurricular activity payments, with informal side agreements. Normally, it’s a good idea to work out such things without getting a Naperville child support lawyer involved.

But such side agreements are unenforceable in court. That goes for both the activity itself and the payment. Unless the official court orders are modified and the money is paid in exact accordance therewith, it’s like the person never paid a nickel.

Fortunately, most modifications are agreed upon and therefore not very time-consuming. Frequently, a family law mediator can resolve lingering disputes before filing, so the judge only sees a proposed joint order.

Contact a Dedicated DuPage County Attorney

Extracurricular payment arrangements usually depend on several factors. For a free consultation with an experienced child support lawyer in Naperville, contact Keller Legal Services at 630-505-1515. Convenient payment plans are available.