Divorce law vague on visitation costs

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Dear John,

I live in Portland. My son and ex-wife live in Walla Walla. She moved there after our divorce. I drive to Walla Walla every other Saturday morning, see my son, stay the night with him in a hotel room and then drive home Sunday evening after spending Sunday with him. I pay child support and half of the daycare expenses. She and I split the cost of gas for my visitations. I think she should split the cost of the hotel with me, too. After all, I would not have to get a hotel room except on visits with my son. Can I make her pay for half the lodging cost?

Sincerely,

Lodged Larry


Dear Lodged,

Child support is intended to provide for the child’s basic needs, such as food, clothing and housing (with utilities). In addition, parents are required to split medical expenses proportionally to their income.

Other so-called “special expenses” related to the raising of the child are also split proportionally.

The problem with the term “special expenses” is that the statute does not say what is included. Additionally, litigation of this topic provides limited guidance.

The statute is of little help. It states that tuition, daycare and transportation are included in the category, but this creates other problems. For example, are piano lesson fees included in “tuition”? Does the cost of a babysitter so the custodial parent can have an evening out get split?

In your case, you want to know what to include in “transportation expenses.” Some people say that gasoline is the only thing to be included. Others say that wear and tear on the vehicle and even a portion of the monthly insurance premium should be factored in. The IRS publishes a “mileage reimbursement” rate that some people use.

I think that there are some instances where it makes sense to split the cost of mileage. Your statement about not needing lodging except for your visitation persuades me. After all, you need to stay somewhere.

You could drive home with your son, provided your visitation allows that. You and your ex could meet halfway between your houses and share the cost of gas and time driving.

In my opinion, anytime the cost of gas needed to get to and from a residence for visitation is more than the cost of getting a room, the cost of a room should be split. It makes economic sense.

There are other benefits of getting a room. First, you and your son can have a quiet and private place you hang out during your visits.

You can play a board game, chat, read a book or wrestle on the floor. These are things you cannot do easily in public, especially when the weather is cold.

Unfortunately, I don’t make the ultimate decisions regarding this issue. This is something that the parties must either reach agreement or present to the judge.

There are some activist judges who, sadly, think that the dollar amounts in the support tables are too low. Rather than rely upon the support tables adopted by the legislature, they use their “discretion” to make the non-custodial parent pay more than his or her fair share.

I hope this uncertainty in the law is resolved. Until then, we are at the mercy of the courts and the whims of judges.

Regards,

John

John Hartzell is a practicing Walla Walla attorney. No attorney-client relationship is established via this column, which is for educational purposes only. Have a question? Ask John at askjohn@wwub.com.

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