On television>, Jon & Kate Plus 8 has been a ratings bonanza. But as any divorce lawyer will tell you, Jon Minus Kate could be a complex financial maze with college tuition alone posing a million-dollar dilemma.
As the media spectacle of Jon and Kate Gosselin s separation disclosed in Monday night s episode of their reality show unfolds, much of the focus will be on what went awry in their marriage, the emotional impact on the couple s eight kids and how their divorce procedings unfold.
But as with any divorce, financial questions can present complications. In the case of an unusually large family, such as the Gosselins, those complications can be particularly tricky. College costs alone for the eight Gosselin kids could amount to upwards of $1 million, for instance. Though divorcing parents could agree simply to split the future costs of education, for a couple with many children, agreeing now how both spouses contribute to an ongoing savings plan could avoid future strife.
For now, the Gosselins are separating, and no one knows what plot twists might be in store reconciliation or eventual divorce. In terms of their arrangements, so far the Gosselins have divulged only that their children will remain in their house and that Jon and Kate will take turns with them.
Among the big money questions for a big family splitting up:
(1) How Are Child Support Payments Determined?
Generally, child support includes monthly payments for food, shelter, clothing and education. Most states use a model based on income shares, in which children receive the same financial support before and after their parents are divorced. The noncustodial parent s contribution is based in part on the number of children in the family and the gross household income. However, in Pennsylvania, which is where the Gosselins are based, in cases in which both parties' net income exceeds $20,000 a month or the family has more than six children, the courts determine child support payments based on their expenses, says Julia Swain, an attorney at Philadelphia-based Fox Rothschild, which practices family law.
(2) Who Pays Out-of-Pocket Health-Care Expenses?
In most cases, children will remain covered under the health plan of the same parent who covered them prior to the divorce. However, parents may need to split unreimbursed medical expenses or out-of-pocket costs, depending on their income, says Daniel Clement, a family law and matrimonial attorney with offices in New York and New Jersey.
In Pennsylvania, where the Gosselins live, the custodial parent must pay the first $250 of out-of-pocket health expenses per year per child, says Swain. After that, the parents will split the costs in proportion to their income. Those expenses can pile up quickly in big families. For example, the measles vaccine ProQuad costs $128.90 per dose in the private sector, according to the Centers for Disease Control. For a family of eight children, that s $1,031.20 for the first dose. If the family s health-care plan has a high deductible or doesn t cover the vaccine, parents could have to pay these costs out-of-pocket.
If parents can t reach an agreement on these costs, the custodial parent should consider signing up for the health-insurance plan that their employer provides assuming that they have this option.
Typically, parents don t set up an account for these expenses, says Clement. Instead the agreement is laid out in the divorce paperwork. And often, the parent who receives the bill will send their ex an invoice for reimbursement.
Toys, cribs and other items that the couple purchased for their children while married are technically up for grabs in equitable distribution, says Clement. (These items can include the crooked houses that the Gosselins ordered for their children last winter and arrived during Monday s show.) The argument on each parent s side is that they ll need these items when they spend time with their children, says Clement. Big-ticket items, like the Gosselins family car a 2004 Dodge Sprinter 2500 passenger van are also on the block, but in most cases the custodial parent ends up with most of these items since he or she will be the one spending the most time with the children, says Clement.
Of course, arrangements can be made for each of the parents to use these items when they re with the children, says Clement. This could be a likely outcome in Jon and Kate s case, as the children will remain in their home and each parent will be staying there during their designated time with the kids. The Gosselins would be a unique case, but in most states, including Pennsylvania, figuring out which parent gets what falls under equitable distribution laws.
(4) Pay for College Now or Later?
As part of a divorce, ex-spouses should agree to continue contributing to their child s college education fund even if the child is a decade away from graduating high school, says Clement.
The average cost of college tuition, including room and board, is $14,333 per year for in-state students at public four-year colleges and $25,200 for out-of-state students as of 2007-08, according to the College Board s latest data. The average cost at a private university is $34,132 for 2008-09. That means that the Gosselins could pay as much as $1.1 million for all eight of their children to attend college (not including the annual inflation on tuition).
What s more, the Gosselins will probably encounter these astronomical expenses over a relatively short period; their eldest twins Cara and Madelyn are 8 years old and their sextuplets are five.
This behooves them to deal with the ticking time bomb, Clement says. That is, sooner or later, your kids will go to college, and the cost will be apportioned in some way between the two parties.
In the case in which an ex refuses to contribute but has the means to do so, the other parent can drag them into court. With 529 plans, both exes can contribute to a single plan for each child or separately if need be, says Rick Kahler, a fee-only certified financial planner in Rapid City, S.D.
The riskiest thing to do, however, is to agree to split Junior s costs evenly once they start college, Kahler says. There s no guarantee that both parents will be financially sound that far down the road, he says.
(5) How Much Allowance to Give?
Deciding how much allowance to give your child each week may seem insignificant, but it should be laid out in the divorce paperwork, says Kahler. Parents need to decide how often and how much they ll give their kids and whether the kids will have to work to earn their allowance or not.
You don t want it to be where one parent has a more strict view of allowance and the other one has a liberal view, and the kid starts playing that against each parent, says Kahler.