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Summer Camp Expenses in Child Support Guidelines

Laura W. Morgan
Family Law Consulting

As the summer season now approaches, this is a good time to address a question of child support guidelines construction that seemed to attract a bit of attention in the last year: are summer camp expenses “child care” expenses for purposes of the child support guidelines? The answer can make a big difference in the child support calculations. If summer camp is child care, then the expense is a mandatory add-on in most states, with the cost split between the parents in proportion to their incomes. The reasoning is that the child care expense is an income-producing expense of the parent. Presumably, if the family remained intact, the parents would treat child care as a necessary cost of the family attributable to the children when both parents work. Therefore, the expense is one that is incurred for the benefit of the child(ren) which the parents should share. If the expense is not “child care,” but rather a discretionary expense, the cost may or may not have to be shared by the non-custodial parent, in the court’s discretion.

The primary factor the courts examine is whether the summer camp is essentially taking the place of necessary child care, i.e., is the custodial parent working or going to school. For example, in the recent case of Herrera v. Herrera, ___ So.2d ___, 2005 WL 357438 (Fla. 3d DCA Feb. 16, 2004) the former husband challenged the award of “child care costs” for items described in the former wife’s financial affidavit, such as babysitters, aftercare, and summer camp. The appellate court held that it was error to include these expenses as child care, where the trial court failed to make the proper statutory findings that these costs were attributable to “employment, job search, or education calculated to result in employment or enhance income of current employment of either parent,” pursuant to section 61.30(7), Florida Statutes (2002). Accord Griffin v. Janik, 185 A.D.2d 635, 586 N.Y.S.2d 49 (4th Dep’t 1992) (court found no error in the Hearing Examiner’s denial of petitioner’s request for contribution toward the expenses of summer camp, where custodial parent failed to prove that summer camp was an appropriate form of child care, rather than an elective luxury).

The courts also examine the necessity of child care. Thus, if a “child” is old enough to go without child care, the cost of summer camp is not considered child care. In MacLafferty v. MacLafferty, 811 N.E.2d 450 (Ind. Ct. App.), transfer granted, opinion vacated, ___ N.E.2d ___, 2004 WL 3197835 (Ind. Sept. 29, 2004), the appellate court upheld the trial court’s determination that summer day camp was no longer child care expense added to father’s child support obligation but, rather, “extracurricular activity.” One child was a pre-teen, and another who was 14 years old, who expressed a desire to actually work at the camp. Since the son was old enough to work at the camp, he didn’t need child care, the court reasoned. Further, even though mother had obtained full-time employment and arguably wanted supervision for the children, the father’s second wife had testified that she could provide care for the children at no cost during summer. Summer camp was thus not a child care expense.

When summer camp is necessary both because of the employment of the custodial parent and the age of the children, then the cost can be considered child care. For example, in Sieratzki v. Sieratzki, 8 A.D.3d 552, 779 N.Y.S.2d 507 (2d Dep’t 2004), the court held that summer camp expenses for the children constituted “child care expenses” for which the ex-husband was required to pay a portion in accordance with his pro rata share of the parties’ income.

Furthermore, under the circumstances of this case, the Supreme Court properly found that summer camp expenses for the children constitute child care expenses within the meaning of Domestic Relations Law § 240(1-b)(c)(4) (see Cohen-Davidson v. Davidson, 255 A.D.2d 414, 680 N.Y.S.2d 564 [2d Dep’t 1998]), and directed the plaintiff to pay a portion of these expenses in accordance with his pro rata share of the parties’ income. Although the plaintiff argues it was error for the Supreme Court to determine his pro rata share of the parties’ income without requiring the submission of current financial information, we note that less than one year had elapsed since entry of the judgment of divorce, and there was no indication that the parties’ financial circumstances had changed significantly in that period.

Accord In re Arabian, 151 N.H. 109, 855 A.2d 560 (2004) (child’s extracurricular and enrichment activities, such as school activities, sports, and school trips, fell into same category of basic support as food, shelter, and recreation, which was include in parties’ total support obligation, while wife’s expenses for child’s full-day kindergarten, after-school child care, and summer camp might qualify as “allowable child care expenses” within meaning of child support guidelines); Greenfield v. Greenfield, 234 A.D.2d 60, 650 N.Y.S.2d 698 (1st Dep’t 1996) (husband was required to pay for 100% of child’s summer camp, child care, and nursery school expenses for two-year period and thereafter for 75% of child-related expenses, given that husband was sole wage earner at end of divorce proceeding and that wife could be expected to resume employment within two years, and child care was necessary for wife to become self-sufficient).See also Jeffcoat v. Jeffcoat, 102 Md. App. 301, 649 A.2d 1137 (1994) (assuming that summer camp expenses are child care expenses without discussion); Trausch-Azar v. Trausch, 983 S.W.2d 199 (Mo. App. E.D. 1998) (evidence consisting of a total expense sheet for $6,343.60, which mother supported with cancelled checks, and father’s testimony that he had paid nothing directly to mother, was sufficient to support finding that mother was owed $3,996 for daycare/summer camp expenses, in postdissolution action for modification).

Of course, even if summer camp is not a “child care” expense, the cost can still be ordered by the court as a necessary added expenditure in the best interests of the children. Mitnick v. Rosenthal, 260 A.D.2d 238, 688 N.Y.S.2d 150 (1st Dep’t 1999) (an award of unspecified or “open-ended” child support for medical expenses and such “extras” as camp, tutoring, school tuition, recreation and transportation, to be fixed on the basis of annual accountings by ex-wife, not to exceed $6000 a month, as well as the exclusion of housekeeping from child care expenses, was warranted; both parties earned significantly more than $80,000 a year).

For the custodial parent, the strategy is clear: Argue (1) summer camp is a replacement for school year child care, necessitated by the custodial parent’s work or education, and the age of the child; or (2) summer camp is an appropriate extra expenditure, given the parties’ marital standard of living and expectations of child costs.

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