Updated Oct 2020
The short answer to how the costs of travel factor into child support is that it varies by state. Further, your individual case might include travel costs in child support in way that is not typical of the state. As long distance parenting arrangements become more common, the costs of travel factor into child support more commonly as well.
In the beginning of my long distance parenting arrangement, my son’s father and I agreed to split air fare in half up to a certain amount. Our long distance parenting plan reflected this. At the time, long distance parenting was not common in the courts. There was not a standard way for costs of travel to factor into child support. Our clause was unique to our case.
However, later, I moved the jurisdiction of the case to California. It was years later and California was a bit more regimented in child support cases. California included the cost of travel as a credit in the child support calculation.
Basically, each parent lists their income, regular living expenses plus any unique expenses they pay for the child. That includes things like child care and travel. Some math happens that combines everything and comes up with a percentage for each parent plus any special expenses. This is bumped up the percent of parenting time for each parent. Parenting time is determined by the annual visitation schedule.
If I come across as being vague about the calculation, that’s because I am! The exact calculation is less the point than how costs of travel factor into child support. Income, day to day expenses, extra expenses for the child and parenting time are pretty ubiquitous ingredients no matter the state you are in.
At the end of the calculation, child support is meant to pay half of the child’s expenses, up to the financial ability of the paying parent. The financial ability of the paying parent is a whole separate ball of wax that I won’t delve into here. Suffice it to say, the paying parent doesn’t always agree with the court about their financial ability.
The Two Ways Costs of Travel Factor Into Child Support
In our case, we continued to split travel, so we both had the same credit amount, making it a wash. In our case, it did not affect child support, which is the first way if can factor in.
But if you are not splitting the cost of travel, one parent will have a credit for travel expenses that the other parent does not have. If the parent with the credit is the long distance parent, child support will be lower than without the credit.
Curious about the California child support calculation? Here’s a calculator they provide publicly.
In summary, there are two ways :
1) Indirectly, a clause in your court order that says that both parents split the expenses evenly. This reduces the overall burden of expenses and makes the affect on child support nil.
2) In a state in which travel expenses are part of the child support calculation, one parent will get a credit on their side of the equation.
The question is basically an example like this : I pay $6000 in child support a year. I pay $1200 a year in travel for the child. Why can I not just pay $5400 a year in child support?
If you have a clause in your court order that you split the costs of travel with your co-parent, that will amount to effectively the above. However, deducting the cost of travel from your child support will cause your child support balance to be off. Your co-parent could take you to court for back child support. With excellent record keeping, you might win the case. There is always the risk that you would not though so it’s better to keep your travel expense balance separate from child support. Consider the expense tracking spreadsheet for tracking travel expenses.
However, if you do not have such a clause, the costs of travel are just one element in the child support calculation. Other factors are how much money you make, your day to day expenses and your parenting time. Similarly, the other factors are how much your co-parent makes, their day to day expenses and their parenting time.
I am not an attorney and nothing here should be construed as legal advice. If you have questions about your specific case, please speak with an attorney.