Cassity B. Gies
By law, a child in Oklahoma is entitled to financial support from both parents. This fundamental belief stems from the legal theory that children are dependent on adults for the necessities of life and deserve to be financially supported by the parents who gave birth to them. Child support is intended to help with expenses incurred for “housing, food, transportation, public education, clothing, and entertainment,” which will vary depending on the family’s circumstances. 43 OS § 118.
The statutory child support guidelines create a rebuttable presumption that the monthly child support calculation resulting from the application of the statutory schedule is the correct amount. Beyond determining the amount of child support, family lawyers often hear questions about the duration and nature of child support as children grow.
The age of the minor is not a factor
Child support calculations do not take into account the age of the child. This can be frustrating for parents of children entering middle school and high school who experience increased costs for food, clothing, and miscellaneous expenses such as extracurricular activities or team sports. These activities can clearly benefit a child’s temporal and moral development and very often serve the best interests of the child. But, these costs are not included as an input figure in child support calculations. Arguably, the law intends these things to be covered by the calculations under the term “entertainment” expenses, and generally the courts will not order a debtor to pay for these activities if they do not wish to. In this case, a parent may end up paying the entire bill, which can easily be as much or more than the basic child support itself.
Getting out of the child support system
Children are considered minors until they reach the age of 18, and if a child is still enrolled in high school, they are entitled to post-minority child support until graduation or until age 20, whichever comes first. Often, post-majority children still live at home or receive financial support from a parent, but once they graduate from high school, no legal child support obligations exist. This frequently happens in practice when one parent, for example, pays a child’s school fees and realizes that the other parent has no obligation to reciprocate.
Support obligations end automatically. A debtor does not need to file anything with the courts unless child support orders entitle younger siblings to child support. In this case, as a child ages, the obligated parent must file a variation petition to reassess the child support obligations owed for all remaining children in the court’s jurisdiction.
The value of long-term advance planning
When drafting a joint custody plan, clients and attorneys are advised to include provisions that address 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 cover extracurricular expenses, college, and big expenses like buying a first car. Outlining each parent’s expectations and specifically addressing the growing financial needs of older children reduces family stress and litigation costs and provides a comprehensive plan for the future.
Cassity B. Gies is a family law attorney with the law firm of Phillips Murrah.