Child Care Costs and the Connecticut Child Support Guidelines

In a decision rendered earlier this year, the Connecticut Appellate Court explained the definition of “child care costs” as set forth in the Connecticut Child Support Guidelines.  In that particular case, the parties were married for approximately five years and were the parents of two minor children.  In 2003, they entered into a custody stipulation which was subsequently incorporated into a comprehensive separation agreement.  The separation agreement provided that the husband would pay the wife $2,500 per month in unallocated alimony and child support for a period of five years, followed by straight child support.

At the expiration of five years following the parties divorce, the wife filed a motion with the court seeking a new child support order.  Litigation ensued before the parties finally reached an agreement.  As part of that agreement, the parties stipulated that they would share in the costs of child care expenses with the defendant paying 59% and the wife paying 41%.

Approximately one year later, the wife filed a motion for contempt, claiming that, among other things, the husband refused to reimburse his share of the child care costs she had incurred.  Unable to reach an agreement on that particular issue, the court conducted a hearing.  The mother, who was working full time as a personal assistant, testified that she had enlisted three different individuals to watch the children either after school while she was at work, when the children were home from school (either because they were sick or because they had a snow day), or when the children were on vacation or otherwise had a day off.  The husband admitted that he was responsible for 59% of child care costs, but claimed that the wife failed to consult with him before obtaining the services, that she never gave him an opportunity to approve the service providers and that the services may not have been necessary.  The husband also claimed that he believed the parties’ stipulation was limited to times when the mother needed to be away overnight, and did not apply to after school care.

When the trial court ruled in the mother’s favor, the father appealed, claiming the wife failed to establish that the child care costs at issue satisfied the criteria set forth in the Connecticut Child Support Guidelines.  In its decision, the Connecticut Appellate Court explained that according to the Guidelines, “Child care costs shall qualify for a contribution from the noncustodial parent only when they are, a) reasonable; b) necessary to allow a parent to maintain employment, c) not otherwise reimbursed or subsidized, and d) do not exceed the level required to provide quality care from a licensed source.”  Curtis v. Curtis, 134 Conn. App. 833 (2012).  Interestingly, the court never reached the issue as to whether the aforementioned factors had been met.  Rather, it explained that in prosecuting a motion for contempt, the moving party does not have an evidentiary burden to satisfy the criteria set forth in the Guidelines.  Although a court must take the Guidelines into consideration when fashioning support orders (e.g., in the context of establishing or modifying a child support order), they are “not an evidentiary burden to be born by the parties.” Curtis at 844.

Should you have any questions regarding child support or divorce matters in general, please feel free to contact Attorney Joseph Maya.  He can be reached in the firm’s Westport office at (203) 221-3100 or by e-mail at jmaya@mayalaw.com.