Last month we saw the promulgation of new support guidelines slated to take effect in January 2022. As one might expect the guideline amounts have increased. But lawyers are often asked what the guidelines contemplate in terms of reasonable child expenses. And that’s a complicated matter. The U.S. Department of Agriculture is tasked with figuring it out what it costs to raise children in 21st century America. The latest data show $13,000 a year on average, but that’s a national statistic and does not incorporate things like economies of scale (3 kids do not cost 3x what a single child costs).
Meanwhile, on September 24, the Pittsburgh Post Gazette published a study by Bankrate.com warning the auto insurance rates for teens often doubled the price of auto coverage. In Pittsburgh, the average auto policy is about $1,600 a year. Add a kid and add $2,200. In Philadelphia, which is notorious for high rates, auto insurance for adults is double at $3,200. Want to add the child? Try adding $4,000 to the cost. Mind you, these are averages. We have seen cases where a child with a “history” of claims was quoted $7,500 for annual coverage to drive a $21,000 car.
For most of us, cars were a right of passage. For a young teenage boy, every waking moment in my day was spent thinking about, dreaming about the sixteenth birthday. Kids today are different. We see a fair number of cases with children who have finished high school without a driver’s license. Yet, navigating the modern world without a car is not an easy task.
Unfortunately, the guidelines don’t speak to this subject. Meanwhile if auto insurance is $250 a month and the car itself costs another $300 to operate, that’s pretty close to half the Agriculture Department’s projection for all child costs. To some degree this is mixing apples with oranges, but the point is not a distant one. In most counties as combined net income rises above the $10,000 per month mark, support courts do become more lenient about tacking on kid activities like sports and lessons. But cars can be a hard sell and the typical argument is that a car connotes a purpose and the purpose should be getting the child to a paying part-time job. Suffice to say, there is no guidance; only angst on the part of parents who dream of discarding their chauffeur caps. Unfortunately, when auto insurance for the kid runs as high as $350 a month, it may make sense to “bring the car around” yourself to get junior to the dance or the soccer field.