Extracurricular Activities are Presumed Part and Parcel of the Calculated Statutory Base Obligation

July 14, 2022

Fox v. Fox, 2022 UT App 88 (Filed July 14, 2022)

Extracurricular Activities

Facts:  The parties married in 1997 and wife filed for divorce in 2018.  The parties had 6 children, 4 of whom were minors at the time of the divorce trial. The trial court listed the children's extracurricular activities as an expense for Wife when calculating alimony.

¶26 [Wife] contends that the court abused its discretion when it included the minor children’s extracurricular activity expenses in its alimony award to [Wife]. Specifically, she argues that the extracurricular expenses should have been included in an increased child support award instead of the alimony award or, alternatively, that the court should have “issued a separate award equitably dividing the expenses.” We disagree.

¶27 Presumptive monthly child support payment amounts are set by statutory schedule, depending on the incomes of the parents and the precise custody arrangement between them. See Utah Code Ann. §§ 78B-12-205, -212, -301 (LexisNexis 2018). These presumptive monthly payments are designed to include nearly all reasonable needs of children, except for items that are statutorily excluded (such as, for instance, medical expenses and work-related childcare expenses). See Davis v. Davis, 2011 UT App 311, ¶ 17, 263 P.3d 520 (noting that medical expenses and work-related childcare expenses have been “singled out” by the legislature as something that “parents are ordered to pay in addition to their regular child support obligations”). “Child-rearing expenses” that are “not statutorily distinguished from regular child support should be considered part and parcel of the child support award.” Id. (quotation simplified). 

¶28 In particular, we have held that “school fees” and “extracurricular activities” are presumed to be included in the “regular child support” payment amount, and ordinarily “must be satisfied, if at all, out of the parties’ combined child support obligations.” Id. ¶¶ 15, 17. Certainly, parties can agree “to share such additional expenses in the interest of their children,” but if they are unable to reach agreement on that score, such expenses “must generally be budgeted as part of child support.” Id. ¶ 15. Thus, in the present case, any expenses associated with the extracurricular activities in which the [] children participate were designed to be budgeted as part of the $9,760 that [Wife] receives in child support each month. 

¶29 Based on Davis, then, the trial court would have been on completely solid ground to decline [Wife]’s request to include a line item of $855 for “extracurricular activities” in her list of monthly expenses for purposes of the alimony calculation. But the court went ahead and included that line item in its computation of [Wife]’s monthly needs for alimony purposes anyway, effectively giving [Wife] an $855 monthly bump in alimony to which she may not have been entitled.

¶30 [Wife] looks this gift horse quite squarely in the mouth and complains that the court should have given her this bonus payment in a different form: by issuing a separate award— consisting of neither child support nor alimony—commanding [Husband] to pay the extracurricular expenses. Apparently, she is concerned that, if she remarries, [Husband]’s obligation to pay these expenses will evaporate along with the other alimony line items. Certainly, the trial court could—within the wide discretion afforded trial courts in such matters—have made such an award, provided it adequately explained its reasons for doing so. See id. ¶ 17 (noting that a court can deviate from the presumptive child support guidelines and order a higher amount designed to include “school fees,” but such an order “must be supported by a specific finding on the record supporting the conclusion that use of the guidelines would be unjust, inappropriate, or not in the best interest of the children” (quotation simplified)). But [Wife] falls far short of persuading us that the court abused its discretion by opting not to do so, especially given that she included this line item in her financial declaration, which was the basis for her alimony request. On this basis, we reject [Wife]’s second challenge to the court’s alimony award.

To read the entire case click HERE.

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