As family law attorneys, we frequently encounter questions about child support, especially in cases where parties share equal residential responsibility (“physical custody.”)  Shared custody raises a lot of questions.  Who pays for daycare?  Who pays for sports or camps?  What about health insurance and prescriptions?

In North Dakota, when one parent has primary residential responsibility, the answers to these questions are straightforward.  The custodial parent would receive a child support obligation from the non-custodial parent.  Typically, the non-custodial parent is also obligated to provide health insurance and to contribute to a portion of uninsured health care costs for the child, too.  However, the rest of the expenses—food, daycare, school supplies, school lunches, sports, band, choir, etc.—are the financial responsibility of the custodial parent.  Parents can always agree to a different cost-sharing arrangement for some or all of these items.  It is sometimes a hotbed of contention between divorcing or separating parents.

That can be even more true for parents who share equal residential responsibility.  In North Dakota, if two parents earn nearly the same income and share equal time, that may mean that neither parent will have a formal child support obligation to the other.   That sounds great, in theory, but we all know it’s very expensive to raise children.  If they are spending half of their time in each parent’s home, consideration should be given to determine how their needs (and wants) will be met.

What’s the solution?  Often, if parents share equal time, they can strike a deal to equally share some of the major expenses for their kids, especially things like daycare and extra-curricular activities.

Mediation and other alternative dispute resolution methods give parents a lot of flexibility when it comes to determining financial contributions for their children.  At PLM, we always encourage creative thinking, especially in equal custody arrangements, to figure out reasonable solutions that still allow children to have various opportunities.  That doesn’t mean every penny or dollar has to be counted, but it is wise to think about these expenses when your parenting plan is created.  Getting ahead of this issue can help everyone feel a sense of control over how funds are used and avoid needless battles down the road.