January 27, 2021
When parents separate, in addition to basic expenses covered by child support (such as food, and shelter), parents must determine which additional expenses they will share. These additional expenses are referred to as “special or extraordinary expenses” or “section 7” expenses, families in Vancouver who are separating rarely agree on what these are.
The Federal Child Support Guidelines sets out a list of what can be considered a special or extraordinary expense. They are:
(a) childcare expenses incurred as a result of the custodial parent’s employment, illness, disability or education or training for employment;
(b) that portion of the medical and dental insurance premiums attributable to the child;
(c) health-related expenses that exceed insurance reimbursement by at least $100 annually, including orthodontic treatment, professional counselling provided by a psychologist, social worker, psychiatrist or any other person, physiotherapy, occupational therapy, speech therapy and prescription drugs, hearing aids, glasses, and contact lenses;
(d) extraordinary expenses for primary or secondary school education or for any other educational programs that meet the child’s particular needs;
(e) expenses for post-secondary education; and
(f) extraordinary expenses for extracurricular activities.
If the claimed expense does not fit into any of the above categories, it cannot be a special or extraordinary expense.
Even where an expense fits into one of the listed categories, that is not the end of the story. The expenses must be both “necessary” in relation to the child’s best interests and “reasonable” as measured against the combined financial means of the parents (and, where appropriate, the child) as well as the family’s spending patterns prior to separation. The special or extraordinary expenses must be “necessary and reasonable” in light of the parties’ incomes, the circumstances of the child and the special needs or abilities of the child.
As each family and each child has its own unique characteristics, what may be considered a reasonable special or extraordinary expenses expense for one family, may not be considered an extraordinary expense for another.
Parents often disagree whether extracurricular activities are valid special or extraordinary expenses. For an extracurricular activity to be a special or extraordinary expense, the child must show special skill and the expense must be “extraordinary.” So, for example, regular soccer lessons or music lessons are not special or extraordinary expenses.
There is no straightforward definition for “extraordinary,” although relevant considerations will be the nature and number of activities, any special needs or talents of the child, the overall cost of the activities, and any other similar relevant factors. An exception to an ordinary extracurricular activity having to be “extraordinary” to qualify as a special or extraordinary expense is where an ordinary extracurricular activity is offered as childcare, such as a summer camp or spring break camp.
One of the leading cases in British Columbia on what are not valid special or extraordinary expenses is Clarke v. Clarke. In that case, the mother was asking the court to require the father to pay for their son’s Xbox subscriptions and cell phone bills, and their daughter’s gym membership, yoga lessons and personal trainer, amongst other things.
The judge said while it was impossible to definitively say what types of expenses would qualify in every case, there were certain expenses that would never qualify because they were ordinary expenses that were covered by the monthly child support amount. These included:
- expenses such as entertainment, pets, vacations, school fees, school supplies, meals outside the home, personal grooming and clothing
- a home computer
- recreational sports and similar extracurricular activities such as dance lessons, ski trips, and community sports leagues
The judge refused to order the father to pay any of the expenses requested as the expenses, as the expenses were “perfectly ordinary.”
So, many expenses that parents often believe are valid special or extraordinary expenses are not. It is therefore prudent to first make sure that an expense is a valid special or extraordinary expense before incurring it, or you may not receive compensation from the other parent. If you have doubts about what is valid, you can book a free consultation with me here.
You can read more about child support and special and extraordinary expenses here.
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