As your children get older, there are new challenges for co-parenting families. While you once balanced pick-ups and drop-offs at each parent’s house, now you might be discussing how your teenager will drive themselves to and from their parents’ homes. There are plenty of other conversations too, especially when it comes to who is paying for what when it comes to big purchases and on-going expenses.
I’m a co-parenting coach, certified divorce mediator, and collaborative family law attorney who has much more than professional experience with these topics. As a mother of five children under two separate parenting agreements, my husband and I have been navigating the world of co-parenting with our ex-spouses for nearly 15 years. Some of our toughest conversations have surrounded big ticket purchases for our teenagers and young adults. As a way to help you and your co-parent navigate these discussions, here are my suggestions for how to address a few common high-expense items:
This is often the expense of all expenses for your children. However, it’s important to remember that unless it is written in your co-parenting agreement, parents are not contractually obligated to pay for a child’s college education. As with any expense, I recommend that you only agree to pay what you can afford. You certainly don’t want to put yourself in financial peril when there are other means of paying for school through student loans, grants, scholarships, and work-study opportunities. That said, be honest with your co-parent about what you can contribute and keep an open mind with what they can contribute as well.
I also want to mention that parents should educate their children about the cost of college and what other expenses come with it. My husband and I sit down with our kids during their sophomore year of high school to map out the typical cost of college. We explain in-state tuition versus out-of-state and share what we’re planning to cover in terms of tuition, fees, room/board, and textbooks. We make it clear that they’ll need to use their own income for “fun” money, so we recommend that they have a few thousand dollars in their savings account before their freshman year to pay for any extra expenses. Knowing that budgeting is new to them, we help them break down how much they’ll need to save each summer through part-time jobs in order to reach that target savings amount prior to starting college. Click here to read another R2R blog about co-parenting considerations when sending your children to college.
When your child starts driving, it’s often a blessing and a curse. It’s great because they can transport themselves to and from parents’ homes, school, activities, events... and maybe even run a few errands for you too. However, a child that can drive also comes with added expenses such as car insurance and gas. Some families allow their child to have their own car. Whether it’s new or used, a teenager with their own car should be viewed as a luxury. If this is something that is important to you or your parenting partner, have an open and honest discussion. Do not shame a co-parent if they can’t or do not want to contribute financially and vice versa. If you agree to get your child their own car, perhaps one parent can pay for the car and insurance and the other pays for maintenance and gas. Or, maybe one parent covers the car and the other covers insurance while the child is responsible for their own maintenance and gas.
Another added topic along the lines of cars is driving rules. Co-parents should come to an agreement for a basic overview of when and where your child can drive. If you can’t agree on this, then you should create your own rules for when you’re the “on-duty” parent.
If you have a child that’s old enough to travel on their own or on study abroad trips in high school or college, you’ve likely had these conversations already. Trips can be a major expense and they’re not something that co-parents should feel obligated to fund for their child. The costs can certainly add up with airfare or gas, lodging, meals, activities, and souvenirs. That said, if a parent is willing to pay for it in its entirety or even a portion of it, it should be viewed as a gift and celebrated. This is another great opportunity to sit down with your child and discuss what you and your co-parent are able or willing to pay and then map out what your child will need to cover on their own.
There are plenty of big-ticket purchases that may only be a one-time expense. For my family, these are items like laptops, cell phones, sporting equipment, or musical instruments. For these types of purchases, co-parents should discuss how to handle these types of expenses and what each parent is willing or able to contribute. For electronics, especially laptops and cell phones, these items may be deemed more as needs rather than wants. This is especially true in terms of laptops needed for school and cell phones needed for safety purposes. However, if costs are coming up as an issue, perhaps you choose the cheaper laptop option or a cell phone that isn’t the latest and greatest model. For other wish-list items, the scenario may play out differently. If you and your parenting partner are unable to come to an agreement to fund something, then you’ll need to have a conversation about their ability to participate in said activity. For instance, if your child wants to play lacrosse, but you and your co-parent can’t afford the equipment or private lessons associated with it, then your child may need to try another sport or get a part-time job to cover the cost.
R2R is here to help you and your family:
These types of conversations can be difficult and you may not always reach an agreement. If you’re unable to have an open discussion with your parenting partner or come to a resolution, it may be time to bring in a professional. ROAD to RESOLUTION is committed to helping you and your family during your co-parenting journey. As a certified co-parenting coach, mediator, and family law attorney, I can serve as a resource for your co-parenting needs. Through my experience, I can work with you and your parenting partner to create or update a parenting agreement or help mediate co-parenting discussions. To learn more about my co-parenting coaching services, reach out to ROAD to RESOLUTION. My Charlotte-based law firm and experienced legal team would be honored to serve you.
Note: This feature is intended to be informational only and shall not be construed as legal advice.