How to Handle Parenting Expenses After Divorce
There are several reasons that parents come in for mediation after a divorce is over. A big one is parenting expenses. The reality is if you get divorced when your children are young, it's hard to know what kind of extracurricular activities they will become involved with over the years or even if they will develop chronic health issues.
Strategies to Handle Parenting Expenses After Divorce
It's really impossible to negotiate every possible scenario. However, it is crucial to discuss at least a baseline for how you’ll divide those parenting expenses after divorce and effectively communicate as well.
Step 1: Discuss how parenting expenses will be handled prior to finalizing your divorce
Add parenting expenses to the divorce agreement. Under the best-case scenario, you will have thoroughly discussed the division of expenses, so both of you know what to expect. You’ll want to be aware of expenses including school tuition, lunches, medical bills and insurance, clothing, books, shoes, toys, and other items. As much as it’s possible, take the time to determine who will cover each expense ahead of time and how much of each expense will be covered.
Once you have the items that need to be covered, figure out how you will communicate about those expenses as they arise.
- If your child is older, will he or she be responsible for mentioning when they need new clothing or shoes?
- Will all of the medical bills be sent directly to the person responsible?
- Will a phone call be necessary to communicate the need for school supplies or books?
By knowing these details ahead of time, you’ll save yourself a lot of frustration when the need arises.
Step 2: Communicate with your ex
Being a parent is a life-long commitment that doesn’t end after divorce. Divorce can make communication with your former partner a challenge, but it’s important to communicate with your ex about parenting expenses to ensure that your children continue to receive the care they need.
If communication between you and your ex is a struggle, keep the following in mind:
Decide You'll Be Successful
Co-parenting isn't always easy, but having kids makes it a necessity. Acknowledge that, despite your difference, you will be in this journey together until the kids are grown, and even beyond. If possible, take the time to address what your new relationship will look like with your former spouse and then make the best effort to stick to it.
Set and Stick to Your Boundaries
Uncomfortable with your former spouse in your home? Struggling with the constant scheduling changes on the part of your ex? By taking the time to set boundaries of your own, including those of a financial nature, you’ll be a lot more likely to stick to them when the situation arises.
Finally, it’s critical that you know yourself and your own tendencies. If you struggle to hold your tongue when you are tired or in a rush, make it a point not to initiate conversations with your ex during those times, or to plan ahead so you have more leeway in your schedule. Don’t exasperate yourself or your ex by not taking into account your own weaknesses, but rather, plan ahead to prevent further complicating the situation.
Step 3: Create a system for emergency expenses
Emergency parenting expenses can appear at any time whether you're married or divorced. Did your children suddenly remember they need extra money for summer camp? What about emergency medical visits that aren’t fully covered by insurance? Carefully consider what will constitute as an emergency, then, plan ahead of time which one of you will take care of the expenses, or if you’ll split them evenly. By having a system in place ahead of time, you’ll be able to handle the emergency expenses with ease.
Step 4: Start an expense fund to cover extras
If you create an expense fund and contribute whatever you can each week, even if it’s a small amount, you’ll be more likely to be able to cover small expenses that come up. Determine ahead of time what that fund will be used for and then keep it for those reasons only. It’s likely this expense fund will be for use by you, and not in combination with your ex, so you may prefer to keep it for incidentals needed around your home, when the kids are in your care.
Step 5: Understand the extra costs of a separate household
Be prepared for the extra costs when children are living in two homes. Children who have to split their time between two households need items in both of them. Your expenses might include a new bed, desk, chairs, and other furniture for your child. You may also need to purchase toys and other items to make the child feel at home in the new location. Expect hidden expenses from time to time, such as the need for new lamps or pencils.
Step 6: Stop the competition
Avoid trying to outdo the other parent. You can’t buy your child’s love, so it’s a waste of time and money to try to outdo your ex when it comes to gifts. Your children can still appreciate boundaries and the occasional present. Avoid creating competition with your former partner by buying expensive gifts for the children. Instead, design a parenting budget of your own that includes gifts and stick with whatever amount works for you.
Step 7: Keep a Clear Schedule
Scheduling the logistics of two different households can be challenging but is necessary for the sake of the children. If you and your ex are struggling to keep all of the kid-related details straight, you may want to consider using an app to help you do so.
Our Family Wizard offers many options to help you stay on track: a calendar view of all of the scheduled activities; a message board for family communication that doesn’t allow messages to be edited, deleted, or retracted; an expense log to help families manage their shared expenses; and an info bank to help keep medical information, insurance details, emergency contacts and much more close at hand.
SupportPay, and Cozi (the free version of Our Family Wizard) are other great options to get you started, so make sure to do your research and find the best tool for your own family needs.
Plan Ahead for Parenting Expenses after Divorce
Children are expensive at all stages and ages, and divorce can add a great deal of stress to the financial situation. Planning for your parenting expenses ahead of time can save you a lot of grief.
If you are considering the mediation process for your divorce and would like to learn more, schedule a phone consultation. We offer mediation locally in the Cleveland-area and virtually nationwide.
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