A single parent often has special challenges when caring for their child and handling finances.  This is especially true when it is time for back-to-school.  When a divorce occurs, the costs of caring for the child are often shared by the parents and determined by a court. When one parent has custody, this is often done by the non-custodial parent paying child support.  This is usually a fixed amount that the parent pays monthly to the custodial parent.  Except for a few specific expenses, this fixed monthly amount generally fulfills the non-custodial parent’s obligation to financially support their child.  When parents are sharing joint physical custody, then neither parent is the non-custodial parent.

Often the child support is less or non-existent and the parents are paying most of their share of the costs directly as each parent has the child for about the same amount of time.  When school rolls around, the parents may have a reprieve if additional child care was needed in the summer.  However, a new challenge faces parents with the costs and logistics of back-to-school and the upcoming school year.

How to Share Back-To-School Expenses after Divorce

Can Sharing Expenses Be Maintained After Divorce?

A successful split of expenses is highly dependent on the manner in which the divorce process unfolded. Spiteful individuals could make it harder for the other parent whether it’s emotionally or financially. Harmony is possible, but it requires effective communication and maturity from both parties, as well as evidence of how the expenses are incurred. Who has the responsibility for the back-to-school and school year expenses is also often dependent on the type of custody of the child.

When one parent has sole physical custody, the burden of these extra expenses generally falls primarily or solely on the custodial parent.  The non-custodial parent generally doesn’t have to pay anything additional to the monthly child support amount despite the additional costs associated with back-to-school.  The custodial parent will need to budget throughout the year to have funds for the extra expenses that come with back-to-school.

If both parents share joint physical custody, you may have fewer concerns about budgeting for back-to-school but splitting the costs can be more complicated.  There is often more cooperation and coordination needed to make sure the parents aren’t buying duplicates or missing items from the school supplies lists.  Further, you have to keep track of your expenses and receipts to prove that your purchases were for the reasonable expenses of your child.  Both parents generally need to be able to provide receipts and an explanation when reconciling their share of expenses with the other parent.

Tip 1:  Shop Early

For most schools, school supplies lists are posted at least a month before school starts.  Also, sales for school supplies and clothes generally start about a month or more before the first day.  If you are sharing expenses with the other parent, the best time to purchase school supplies and back-to-school clothes is also about a month or more before school.  You won’t be stuck with an angry parent on the side when you had to pay extra money for items because the affordable options sold out weeks ago.  Further, if the wrong option or an item that is too cheap or too expensive for the child’s use is purchased, the parents have time to discuss it and potentially return it and go with another option before the first day of school.

Don’t forget that back to school is often stressful for a child as well.  If your children know that back-to-school expenses create additional conflict between their parents, this may create additional stress for your child besides the normal fears that may come with returning to school.  Especially if your child is starting a new school or is especially anxious about the new school year, purchasing the school supplies lists and clothes early give the child one less thing to worry about as school gets nearer.

In fact, many of the local school supplies lists are already posted:

School Supplies Lists

Tip 2:  Divide and Conquer

If you foresee there may be conflict when figuring out back-to-school expenses, it is often best to divide and conquer.  Even if one parent normally handled the back-to-school shopping when the parents were together, it usually makes sense to divide and conquer if you expect conflict with the sharing of back-to-school expenses.  Communicate with the other parent ahead of time as to who will purchase what and as to each parent’s expectations and financial values when purchasing back-to-school items.  When a parent is going to be hesitant to want to pay their portion when reconciling expenses, it often makes sense to try to equalize who is going to purchase what as much as possible.

In these situations, both parents may feel better about the back-to-school expenses when they purchased items directly for their child rather than having to pay a larger share for the shopping choices of the other parent.  For some parents, this means having one parent purchase the school supplies list items while the other purchases the new school clothes.  For other parents with multiple children, this may mean that one parent purchases the clothes and items for one child and the other parent does so for the other child.  You will need to do what works best in your own situation, keeping your children’s wants and feelings in mind.  Understand that what the other parent purchases isn’t likely going to be exactly the same as what you would have bought.  Especially if your child doesn’t care, don’t make a big deal out of it.

Tip 3:  Keep Receipts and Good Records

When you have an obligation to share back-to-school expenses with the other parent, you need to keep good receipts and records.

  1. Keep receipts and keep them simple. Whenever possible, don’t commingle items on your receipts for back-to-school with other items.  For example, if you go to Target to purchase school supplies, ring up any personal items or groceries purchased at the same time on a separate receipt.
  2. Keep good notes. If the receipt is self-explanatory, then no additional notations are needed.  If the receipt entry doesn’t explain the item, spend a few minutes upon leaving the store to note a description of the items on the receipt.
  3. Store and share your receipts in an organized way. A simple way to store receipts is to take a clear photo of the receipt and your notes upon leaving the store.  Although many parents primarily use text messages to communicate, text messages are often not the best way to share or reconcile expenses.  Often an e-mail chain specific to back-to-school expenses can be an efficient method to share the receipts.  If both parents are prompt about adding their receipts to the e-mail thread, then both parents are looking in one place to see what has been purchased so far and what is still needed.

Tip 4:  Reconcile

When sharing receipts, you should reconcile your expenses, at least monthly.  A good rule of thumb is to reconcile expenses the first week of the month and have reimbursements due to the other parent before the month’s end.  Once the parents agree that all reimbursements have been made, they should also put so in writing.  If you are using an e-mail thread for the expenses, this could be part of the same chain of messages.  Putting in writing an agreement when reimbursements have been accepted as complete helps prevent the change of heart if one parent agreed that the expenses were fair and then later changes their mind when there is an unrelated conflict down the road.

As back-to-school comes with additional expenses, the parents may want to reach an agreement before shopping starts as to when the goal is to provide receipts to the other parent and when the reconciliation and repayment are due.  It may make sense to do this other than the normal timeframe to reimburse depending on the timing of school restarting.

Tip 5:  Method of Payment

When making payments for back-to-school, cash isn’t always king.  If you purchase an item in cash, it will be more difficult to prove the expense if the receipt is later lost. Purchases made with a credit card or check will show the date, purchaser, and amount.  When reconciling with the other parent, you could use a check, Venmo, or another form of money transfer.  This way there will be no question of the amount, date, and sender of the payment if the other parent later questions whether they were reimbursed properly.

For costs that will continue to incur throughout the school year, the parents may want to reach an agreement as to contributions to a shared account.  A common example of this is school lunches.  Each parent agrees to add $30.00 to the school lunch account.  When a warning is received from the school as to a low balance, this triggers each parent’s responsibility to add another $30.00 to the account.  This also works well for certain extracurricular activities where the parents can pre-pay the provider and then they are billed per session or lesson used from their pre-paid account.

What Costs Are Involved with Back-To-School Time?

There are several typical costs that are involved with a child or children going back to school. Don’t forget that there are long-term costs as well as short-term costs.

The short-term costs are usually those that include new school clothes and shoes, the school supplies list, and books or necessary electronic expenses (calculator, school iPad insurance fees, etc.). There is usually a high upfront cost for these items.

Sometimes people forget about the longer-term expenses of back-to-school when budgeting their expenses.  These can include monthly school fees, bus or other transportation costs, extracurricular activities, and costs for school lunches.  This also includes things like winter wear which the child might not need until a few months after school starts.  If your child is growing quickly, this might also mean the child might need multiple pairs of shoes to get through the school year.  Thinking about these costs ahead of time can help you have a more successful share of the expenses.

Law Office of Julie Fowler, PC, LLO | Divorce Lawyers Omaha

Child Custody | Child Support | Divorce Lawyers Omaha

If you are looking for an attorney in a child support case or divorce in Omaha, Nebraska, or the surrounding areas (including Papillion, Bellevue, Gretna, Elkhorn, Lincoln, Nebraska City, Sarpy, and Lancaster), contact our office to set up a consultation.

The information you obtain at this site is not, nor is it intended to be, legal advice. You should consult an attorney for advice regarding your individual situation.