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The Controlled Expense Component in the Child Support Calculation

The Controlled Expense Component in the Child Support Calculation: What it Means to You in Joint (Equal Time) Physical Custody

A common trend we notice in domestic litigation at Ciyou & Dixon, P.C. is the ever-closing gap in parenting time parents seek to spend with their children post-divorce. In some cases, this may be driven by the desire to pay less child support. However, this is far too simplistic to explain what is at hand more broadly.

We believe the traditional Clever family, where the mother stays home with the kids and out of the workforce, while dad works a 40 hour job and a nearby business or factory, is fading into the past. And joint parenting is a reflection of what occurs during the marriage itself in many cases.

It is indeed foreseeable that joint parenting may well become the presumption under the fundamental right to raise a family at some point in time in the not-to-distant future, at least as it relates to older children where primary bonding has occurred.

Nevertheless, it is not the current state of the law at this time, and as such, the mathematical model the child support calculation is based upon does not specifically anticipate or account for this situation. Specifically, an inherent part of the model presupposes one parent will be the custodial parent.

However, many custody agreements are entered into (by agreement) and set up so that each parent gets equal shares of the parenting time of the child or children. Parenting time is considered equally shared when each parent has 181 to 183 overnights per year.

Therefore, because (physical) custody is joint or equal, there must be a determination of which parent will be designated the custodial (or residential parent) and which parent will receive parenting time. In other words, where there is day-for-day or week-for-week co-parenting, one parent must still be designated custodial parent for the controlled expenses and the other as receiving parenting time.

The parent who receives the title of custodial parent, and is used in that designation under the child support computation, receives a financial credit for controlled expenses and is then responsible for payment of those expenses. If you have studied the Indiana Child Support Rules and Guidelines, you will observe they do not offer much in the explanation of what constitutes controlled expenses.

The Commentary, however, explores more of the definition and the logistical components of the expenses. Controlled expenses are still difficult to pin down, but ultimately account for 15% of the costs of raising a child. Thus, the designation as the custodial parent for child support purposes, other than a label some parents covet, has real financial impact.

Generally speaking, controlled expenses are those everyday expenses that are necessary, but not always easily planned for ahead of time. For example, school supplies and winter coats would both be considered controlled expenses. If your child has a project for school and needs new craft supplies, those supplies fall under controlled expenses and will be paid for by the custodial parent.

As this example in the Commentary suggests, if the custodial parent purchases a winter coat for the child during their custody time, it is unnecessary for the non-custodial parent to purchase a second winter coat-that expense is the responsibility of the custodial parent. In trying to rap your mind about controlled expenses, think of items like school books, clothes, and uninsured health and personal care for the child or children.

This will get you started.

When in dispute, Courts typically decide which parent to designate the custodial parent by evaluating several factors in order to determine which parent is the de facto custodial parent or who should be and will pay these controlled expenses. These factors include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Which parent has traditionally paid these expenses;
  • Which parent takes the child more frequently to the health care provider; and
  • Which parent has been more involved in the child or children’s school activities.

These factors allow the Court to meaningfully assess the factual background of who has traditionally been responsible for these expenses for the child, and hopefully, allows the Court to continue the status quo, not disrupting a pattern that is already working, at least more or less so. Where there is disagreement about the child’s lifestyle, this may be a battle ground, and it may be used a method to control one spouse.

Ultimately, the assignment of controlled expenses means that you-- the custodial parent-- are responsible for providing those expenses for the day-to-day needs of your child or children. However, to ensure that supplies and clothes are not being purchased twice by each parent, if possible, keep communication open.

If you are the custodial parent, try to remind the other parent that you just bought your child a new pair of jeans. Or, if you are the non-custodial parent, and know that your child is in need of something, communicate that to the custodial parent who can then take care of the need. If this fails to work, that may be a basis to adjust the designation (although there is no caselaw on this point).

The concept of controlled expenses is rooted in the concept that children are always in need of something for school or activities, and these expenses usually fall under the controlled expenses. By knowing which parent is responsible for those expenses, it allows for more focused communication and fewer arguments over who is going to pay. It also allows the child to have what he or she needs without having to worry about parental responsibilities.

None of this is easy in practical terms, and as applied, in a real situation. However, Ciyou & Dixon, P.C. advocates firmly believe the more you understand about the general legal concepts impacting your case, including this child support component consideration, the more tools you are armed with to maintain less acrimonious parent-parent interaction in parenting.

In the worst case scenario, if this is not possible, a firm command of this material will make you more able to articulate what you need from your counsel to manage the family dynamics through the legal system. If this information has helped in some small way, this blog post has met it goal. This blog post was written by Bryan L. Ciyou, Ciyou & Dixon, P.C., who practice throughout the State of Indiana.

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