Everyone knows raising a child is expensive. According to a February 2020 article published by Fox Business, the cost ranges from ~$200k to ~$264k for a child’s first 17 years of life depending on where you live in the U.S. And by the way, that doesn’t include college. This is why co-parent financial planning is so important.
But wait… Fighting about money is over after divorce, right? Sorry but no! When you have a child together, your finances are inextricably bound to one another for the long term, even after divorce. Whatever each parent achieves or doesn’t achieve financially will impact the child. And even if you don’t fight about money, your ex-spouse’s financial standing influences the choices you have when it comes to your children. So planning ahead may be a good way to head off future conflicts.
Co-parent financial planning should cover these three areas:
- The child’s living conditions including health care
- Childcare, education, and extracurricular expenses
- All the other stuff that comes up
A Child’s Standard of Living After Divorce
Have you thought about whether or not your child’s standard of living will be similar at mom’s and dad’s place? If the answer is no, will the difference be made up by alimony or child support? If not, how are you going to manage any disparities? You could say that it isn’t your problem and this may even be what the courts declared in your divorce proceedings. But how does that work for your child?
While you may not have to provide funds for your spouse to have a similar residence as you, you may want to agree on some basic accommodations that you jointly fund for your child. Some examples include home safety, internet access, clothing, access to healthy food, and a comfortable bed to sleep in. This covers the most basic human needs of safety, shelter, food, and clothing. But it may not solve all inequities. So depending on your personal financial situations and level of desire to provide the same experience for your child, you could decide to go further than this. Either of you could provide the other with supplemental funding that would enable your spouse to for example, live in a better neighborhood or buy better home furnishings. Just because the court didn’t order it doesn’t mean you can’t set something up to do this anyway.
Childcare, Education and Extracurricular Expenses
The first thing that might come to mind for you on the topic of education is who is going to pay for college? And this is certainly something that should be discussed and planned. It most likely came up during the divorce proceedings and you may have already settled this. Either your spouse or you may be on the hook to pay for college. But this is not the only educational expense you’ll face.
In families where both parents work, there will be childcare expenses whether its preschool, a nanny, or another childcare option. Once the kids are in school, your children may attend private schools. You should expect to contribute to private school tuition either through child support or supplemental support if it wasn’t addressed in the divorce settlement. If you can’t afford it, you need to discuss the options with your co-parent and come to an agreement.
Even if your child attends public school, there are school fees every year that you each should be prepared to fund – everything from workbooks to lab fees, extra testing fees, pay-to-play sports and performing arts fees. And let’s not forget about all the little stuff that can add up over the years such as school supplies, contributions to parties, and fund raisers.
And speaking of sports and performing arts, there may be a whole list of hobby-related expenses that will need to be funded for your child. This includes everthing from music lessons and instruments to sports equipment and league fees. I’ve seen travel team expenses run into the thousands for my stepkids. Financing these choices should be jointly discussed.
All the Other Stuff
So we’ve covered basic living accommodations, education and extracurricular expense. What else is there? Well let me see. There are summer camps, vacations with friends, bikes, trampolines, gaming consoles, computers, phones, large Christmas gifts your child may ask for, expenses related to special events such as proms, graduations, class rings, formal photography, and pets. One of you may decide to provide Junior with a car some day. I’m not suggesting that you both must contribute equally to all of these items. Only you can decide what is reasonable for your finances and what you believe should be provided to your child. But these are items that will probably come up. And having a general understanding for how such items will be funded can lay the foundation for more positive co-parenting in the future. It won’t alleviate the need to discuss finances with your spouse entirely. But it should create a framework for future discussions.
Our Happily Divorced Finances
To keep track of all of our son’s expenses over the years so that Bob and I could jointly fund them, I created a spreadsheet online where we each logged expenses as we incurred them. Each month, if there was a difference, we settled up with a check or cash to the other party. You can still take this simple route using the Google spreadsheet function stored out on Google Drive. There are also some excellent co-parenting apps which I’ll review in an upcoming article. You can easily find these through a quick app search on your iPhone or Android device.
You can read the full story of how Bob and I managed our co-parent financial planning in my book, Happily Divorced, available on Amazon.
Want more co-parenting advice? Check out other articles in the Happily Divorced blog here.
Until next week… choose happiness!