School supplies: who pays when parents are separated or divorced?

Your kids are probably not excited about summer ending and going back to school – and there is a good chance you are not thrilled about the new school year either. Back to school season brings on several stressors for parents; from new activities, scheduling issues, supplies and new financial burdens.

According to a Zulily survey, 52 percent of parents are stressed out during back to school season. The most significant contributor to this stress is the cost of shopping for new clothes, accessories and school supplies. With average costs ranging from $200 to $600 (or more), it can be a substantial dip into already-tight monthly budgets.

Handling costs after a divorce or separation

A recent separation or divorce can make the new school year an emotionally draining time. Figuring out finances, new schedules and school drop-offs and pickups can require more communication with your ex than you have the energy for – especially when emotions are high.

In some cases, your court order may dictate which parent handles specific financial issues, such as school supplies. However, having a specific provision about school supplies is relatively rare during divorce proceedings but can be a helpful consideration. It may be wise to plan ahead for costs like this if you are considering a divorce or the midst of a divorce.

The default of most court orders is that the primary custodial parent is responsible for necessary items. This means if you are the primary parent with more parenting time, the burden falls on you. Courts in North Carolina tend to follow this general rule because the primary parent is the one receiving child support from the parent with less parenting time. The thought is that the financial support is enough to cover extra back to school costs as well.

Is your child support enough?

If you are feeling the pinch of extra costs even after child support, it is possible you are not receiving enough overall or enough for special seasonal needs, such as school or the holidays.

The state-wide guidelines for child support use a formula to determine how much financial support you need. These calculations are not perfect, however. Job losses, higher costs of care, inaccurate net income and special circumstances can alter the amount you truly need on a day-to-day basis.

An attorney can help you re-calculate these guidelines and review whether the amount of child support is still appropriate. They can also help you facilitate a discussion with your ex about money for this month or future special costs.

De-stress your back to school season

Have you talked to your ex-partner about clothing and supply costs for the new school year? If not, you should do so as soon as possible to save yourself a headache later.

The last thing you need during these busy last days of summer is financial stress on top of everything else. As the stores stock up on new clothing trends, 90s-style sneakers and cartoon-covered supplies, make sure you have the financial support to address the extra costs. Then sit back and enjoy these last few weeks of summer fun.

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