HOW ARE THE TRANSPORTATION COSTS WORKED OUT AMONGST PARENTS?
For distances not too far, a parent would have to weigh the costs and time of driving versus flying. However, let us say you have one parent in Kansas and the other parent in New Jersey. In that case, obviously any time the child or the parent is travelling will be via plane. How the courts address that is the Kansas child support guidelines. These guidelines actually have a very specific, very well-litigated section where they talk about long distance parenting costs. As far as the Kansas child support guidelines were promulgated by the Kansas Supreme Court, any court and any judge in Kansas has to abide by those guidelines.
Those guidelines for how a court is supposed to handle long distance parenting time costs vary specifically by state. As far as what the guidelines state is that the court can consider any reasonable cost to travel, and can apportion and credit for that travel cost in whatever manner it sees fit. The reality is, that leaves a very grey area. You would start at the long distance parenting time section of the Kansas child support guidelines. Section 4E says that “Any substantial and reasonable long-distance transportation communication costs directly associated with parenting time shall be considered by the court”. The amount allowed, if any, should be entered on line E1 which refers to a line on the worksheet where that credit would go in. I want to reiterate that because notice how it goes on to say the amount allowed, meaning the courts have a wide discretion as to how much of that cost it actually credits.
Traditionally, you are looking at somewhere probably between a thirty-three and fifty percent credit against your child support amount of whatever it is you have to pay. Some people find that very fair, some people find that very unreasonable. That is one way the courts can do it, and that is off the guideline approach. I have seen other situations where instead of putting an adjustment on the worksheet and adjusting the child support figure, the parties either agree or a court orders that the parties handle that different ways off the worksheet.
Traditionally, if a court is going to order it, they usually stick within the guidelines of the worksheet. There are situations where there can be a settlement agreement reached where the parties agree to split everything fifty-fifty, or sixty-forty, and not even include it in the calculation of child support. When it comes to those costs, there are really two different ways you can handle it. Those would include formally within your child support worksheet, or informally within or outside of your child support calculation. Usually, when you do not see it directly on the worksheet, it is because there has been a settlement agreement of how to address it. If you have to go into court and argue that issue, the courts will literally just refer to the guidelines and figure out a way to put that credit in the worksheet, unless you do the traditional worksheet route. For example, say it costs $900 a month for long distance traveling costs for plane tickets, rental cars and things like that. Say a court says, “Every month, I’m going to give you credit for a third of that on the worksheet.” On the worksheet, you would see a $300 credit, but that does not mean it is going to reduce the child support by $300. It is usually close with the long distance cost credit, but it is not always dollar for dollar.
You may be able to see why some people think it is unfair that they only receive partial credit, because then they do not even receive the full part of that. That is the way it works, and that all the more reason why courts look at that very hard question of, should the parents move with the kids or not? Here is another example, say one parent is wanting to try to get the kids to move to New Jersey. If I am the parent contesting the move, I am saying, “Look, if we move these kids to New Jersey, there’s going to have to be multiple times a year where we’re having to pay for air fare and travel expenses to get kids from New Jersey back to me, here in Kansas.” That is one of the factors the court would weigh and consider. In a situation like that, you might see a different analysis by the court on how much credit you get. If it is a situation where the court eventually decides to ratify the move with the kids, what the court could say as part of its ratification is, “I’m going to allow whatever parent to move with the kids to New Jersey, but here’s the deal. If you want to move,” and since I had apprehension about it, because of the cost, “I’m going to give maybe 100 percent credit to the other parent.”
It could be a situation where the court says, “I’m going to do this outside of the guidelines.” The judge may give an ultimatum to the side, where the judge says, “Here’s the deal. I’m considering allowing this move, but I’m stuck up on the issue of cost. So, I’m going to give you a choice. If you want to move, I’m willing to potentially allow that to happen, but you need to know that if you elect to move, I’m going to make it my order that you yourself, out of your own pocket, pay for 75 percent of all the long-distance parenting time costs.” Meaning, “Every time those kids need to fly from New Jersey to Kansas, you’re going to have to pay 75 percent of that”.
Contrast that with a situation where you had two people living in Kansas, had a child out of wedlock, one parent moves out of state far away, and then two years down the road, they just did things amicably, but after a while they actually realized they need to go to court and get court orders on things like child support and long-distance parenting costs.
Say the parent in Kansas files a paternity action in Kansas to establish child support and long distance parenting time. In that situation, the judge probably would not be as generous with the credit to the long distance parent, because the parent who is in Kansas would say, “They decided to move away. They didn’t have to move away, judge.” It is one of the factors the courts will look at. Which party has necessitated the need for the long distance cost? It is not in the statute, but it is in the Kansas case law.