As the school year winds down, parents are starting to plan summer activities for their children. However, camps, sports, youth groups, and pool memberships can be quite expensive. For some divorced parents, financing summer fun is a source of conflict.
Guidelines for financing summer camps and other activities depend on how they are viewed under the law. Child support generally covers necessities but not extracurricular activities. Younger children may need to go to camp if both parents work, making it a necessity. If older children attend summer camp for fun, the camp might be seen as an extracurricular activity. If summer activities are part of the parenting plan, it is important to establish who pays for them in the divorce agreement. Once the divorce is finalized, persuading a reluctant parent to help pay the expenses may be difficult.
Custodial parents who work full-time often depend on summer camps and programs for child care when the children are out of school. In most states, this makes camp a necessity under the law. Since it is considered a necessity, it falls under the expenses covered by child support.
When calculating child support, the lawyers and the courts will arrive at a number based on tuition costs for specific camps and activities for the current year. Also, parents may agree to a certain dollar amount that seems reasonable for camps and programs in the area. That amount is included in the final child support award.
Older Children and Summer Activities
While older children may not necessarily need child care, they certainly still want to have fun and socialize. Summer activities for older children who can supervise themselves are considered extracurricular activities and are not automatically included in child support awards.
Sports, camps, and music lessons are viewed as entertainment-related costs, which are not mandatory under family law. That means the non-custodial parent is not required to help pay these entertainment-related expenses.
How can Parents Work Together?
If summer programs are not considered necessary and excluded from mandatory child support, co-parents need to work out a plan to pay for them. Those who agree to send the child to summer camp can either split the costs in half, split them according to each parent’s income, or decide which parent will pay for them entirely. If they cannot agree on summer activities, the parent who wants the child to go has to pay.
However it works out, it is essential to include provisions for extracurricular activities in the divorce or parenting agreements. These costs add up quickly, and knowing where the money is coming from will make budgeting for these activities much easier.
Children look forward to summer fun. Whether it is a church youth group, a local baseball team, or an outdoors summer camp, children like to stay busy and spend time with friends in summer. Listed below are some tips for parents to negotiate the costs of these summer activities.
Treat Summer Camp as a Negotiable Item
It is a mistake to put the topic of extracurricular activities aside and assume they will somehow be paid for. Some parents feel the costs are too excessive or just do not see the value of structured summer activities. To eliminate last minute disputes, it is important to negotiate these details during the divorce process. Ideally, parents are able to resolve matters in mediation. If not, the parent pushing for summer camp must justify to the courts that camp is in the child’s best interests and the other parent should help pay for it.
Be Open to Compromise
Even when co-parents agree that summer activities are a good idea, they may not always agree on which camps and programs make the most sense. If the other parent is reasonable and open to discussion, then compromise is possible.
If an ex-spouse agrees the child should attend summer camp but does not feel the specific overnight camp makes sense financially, the other parent should try to meet them halfway. Parents should find the middle ground and choose a local camp offering some of the child’s favorite activities.
Sometimes, parents are on the same page and want the children to go to summer camp, but it is just not in the budget. Think outside the box and look into creative ways to provide child care or pay for summer activities. There are a lot of resources available to help single parents offset these costs. Start by contacting local churches and schools to ask about low-cost summer programs or financial aid for families in need.
Contact a Lawyer
When co-parents cannot agree on decisions regarding the children, it is time to contact a lawyer. The lawyer can step in when the negotiation process breaks down or when a parent stops honoring the terms of the parental agreement. A lawyer can also handle child support modifications and reductions when a family dynamic shifts.
How can Parents Offset Camp Costs?
According to the American Camp Association (ACA), summer camp fees can range anywhere from $100 to $1,500 per child per week. However, these costs do not have to be prohibitive for low-income families. Listed below are some ways to help offset the costs of summer camp activities.
Inquire About Camp Discounts
Most camps offer some sort of discount for early registration, siblings, or based on need. Some offer flexible scheduling where children can go half-days or every other day at a lower cost. Other camps allow children to attend anywhere from one to eight weeks, depending on a parent’s budget. This option is especially good for older children who do not need full-time child care but still want to enjoy the camping experience.
Apply for Scholarships
Ask camp directors about scholarships based on need or merit. Parents may be surprised just how eager they are to work with families and meet their needs. To get started, research summer programs as soon as the new school year begins.
Look into a Tax Credit
Parents who are either attending school, working, or seeking employment at the time camp is in session may qualify for a tax credit to offset camp fees. The exact amount depends on income. A financial planner can assist in this area.
Financial Assistance Resources for Parents
Here are two additional resources to get assistance with child care and summer camp activities:
New Jersey Cares for Kids Program: The New Jersey Cares for Kids program assists with child care costs for parents who are working or going to school. Several programs fall under the program’s umbrella, including the Child Care Assistance Program (CCAP) and the Community Care Voucher Centers (CCVC), which saves a certain number of slots in approved day care centers for families across the state.
New Jersey Child Care Subsidy Program: Parents participating in certain state programs can apply for a child care subsidy through the state of New Jersey to alleviate some or all of the costs of child care with a licensed, approved provider.
Summer camp is a contentious topic for many parents. One parent sees summer camp as a rite of passage, while the other sees it as a frivolous expense. To avoid further issues, it is best to negotiate who is responsible for child care and extracurricular activities during the divorce. If post-divorce modifications need to be made, a lawyer can help.
Morristown Divorce Lawyers at Lyons & Associates, P.C. Help Clients Resolve Summer Camp Child Support Disputes
Summer camp is important for many children, but divorced parents may feel hesitant about who pays for the costs. The Morristown divorce lawyers at Lyons & Associates, P.C. are ready to help you negotiate the terms and costs for summer activities and other child-related expenses. To learn more about our legal services and to schedule an initial consultation, call us at 908-575-9777 or contact us online. We are located in Somerville and Morristown, New Jersey, and we proudly serve clients throughout Somerset, Woodbridge, Morristown, Parsippany, Rockaway, Short Hills, Chatham, Randolph, Madison, and Morris Plains.