4 ways to manage co-parenting expenses

Even if you’re on good terms with your ex, a separation or divorce is going to be tough on the kids and cause a strain on finances—but there are ways to make it work for the sake of the kids.

The feet of a child and parent walking to school

Whether you’re separated or already divorced—or you think it might happen—you know you’ll face ongoing challenges, particularly if you have a family. Even if you’re on good terms with your ex, a separation or divorce is going to be tough on the kids and cause a strain on finances—but there are ways to make it work for the sake of the kids.

Co-parenting isn’t easy, but you’ll need to make important financial decisions that affect your kids, even if you’re feeling resentful towards your ex or worn down by conflict. This is even more challenging if your kids will be splitting their time between two homes with different sets of extended family.

If you’re separated, you may still choose to live in the same household. But in most cases, whether separating or divorcing, one spouse will move out and the kids will have to navigate between two households. So you’ll need to find strategies that work for the sake of your children—and your pocketbook. Here are some tips that can help you gain control of co-parenting expenses after you split:

1. Make a budget for activities

Having a child these days is expensive. It can cost upwards of $1,120 per child each year just to pay for extracurriculars such as sports teams, music lessons and field trips. Make a list of the activities your kids are currently involved in—or will be, in the future—and come up with a budget.

2. Figure out who pays for what

Work with your legal counsel to make sure all of the details are clearly spelled out in your separation agreement, which may include written approval from both parents before any new shared expenditures are taken on for the kids.

3. Then track it

You can use a shared Google doc, a spreadsheet or even an app where you schedule and coordinate payments for the kids’ activities. Using an app with automated reminders when payments are due or pending can be helpful in avoiding awkward or angry conversations with your ex. It also provides a record of who paid what and when, in case you need to reference your separation agreement.

4. Keep an eye out for other challenges

It’s not just financial challenges ahead—your kids could also be dealing with emotional stress, personality shifts and mental health issues related to the divorce. Learn how to spot changes in behaviour and proactively address any concerns. Sticking to routines and providing a consistent experience in both households (such as ensuring both parents take the same approach to discipline) can help to provide a sense of stability.

Still having trouble?

If you are having trouble budgeting for the kids’ activities, it may be helpful to see a financial advisor. If you can’t come to an agreement, it may be time to seek legal counsel. And if you’re not on speaking terms with your ex, then you may need to go through an intermediary, such as a mediator or lawyer, to come up with a plan for shared expenses.

By following a plan, you’ll make the transition as easy as possible for the sake of your children and whole family. Getting as much laid out upfront in a separation agreement can keep things simpler in the long term with less ambiguity.

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