Cassity B Gies
By law, a child in Oklahoma is entitled to financial support from both parents. This cornerstone belief stems from the legal theory that children are dependent on adults for the necessities in life and deserve to be financially supported by the parents who brought them into the world. Child support is intended to assist with expenses incurred for “housing, food, transportation, public education, clothing, and entertainment”, which will vary according to the family’s circumstances. 43 OS § 118.
The statutory guidelines for child support create a rebuttable assumption that the monthly child support calculation resulting from application of the statutory schedule is the correct amount. Beyond determining a child support amount, family lawyers often hear questions about the duration and nature of support as children grow older.
Minor’s age not a factor
Child support calculations do not account for a child’s age. This can be a frustrating to parents of children aging into junior high and high school experiencing increased costs for food, clothing and miscellaneous expenses such as extracurricular activities or team sports. These activities may clearly benefit a child’s temporal and moral development and very often serve the best interest of the child. But, these costs are not included as an input figure in child support calculations. Arguably, the statute intends these things to be provided for by the calculations under the term “entertainment” expenses, and typically courts will not order an obligor to pay for these activities if he does not desire to do so. In that case, one parent may end up footing the entire bill, which can easily be as much or more than the basic child support award itself.
Aging out of the child support system
Children are considered minors until they reach 18, and, if a child is still enrolled in high school, he is entitled to post-minority child support until graduation or age 20, whichever occurs first. Often, post-majority children still live at home or receive financial support from a parent, but once they graduate high school, no legal child support obligation exists. This comes up frequently in practice when one parent, for example, pays for a child’s college expenses and realizes the other parent has no obligation to reciprocate.
Child support obligations terminate automatically. An obligor has no need to file anything with the courts, unless the child support orders entitle younger siblings to support. In that case, when one child ages out, the obliging parent should file a motion for modification to re-evaluate the child support obligations owed for any remaining children under the court’s jurisdiction.
The value of long-term advance planning
When drafting a joint custody plan, clients and attorneys are wise to include provisions that deal with items beyond the basic parameters of the statutory requirement for child support. Advise clients to think long-term. A well-drafted divorce decree and accompanying custody orders could address extracurricular expenses, college and “big ticket” items such as buying a first car. Outlining each parent’s expectations and specifically providing for the growing financial needs of older children reduces family stress and litigation expenses and provides a comprehensive plan for the future.
Cassity B. Gies is a family law attorney at the law firm of Phillips Murrah.