Kids & Divorce: Who Pays For Summer Camp?

With the school year winding down across New Jersey, summer camp season is just around the corner. If you went to camp as a kid and now have kids of your own, you know how much summer fun awaits. But when you are a parent in the midst of a divorce, warm feelings about camp may need to be put aside until you can answer the burning question: who is going to pay?

Under New Jersey’s current child support guidelines, summer camp for children is looked at as a necessity — and therefore a cost to be shared by parents — when the camp functions as day care for the child while the custodial parent is at work. For families where this is the case, a share of summer camp costs is then calculated as part of the basic child support award. This amount can be based on tuition rates associated with the camp the child currently attends or the type of camp the child will attend in the future.

However, there are other circumstances where the rules regarding who pays for summer camp are not so clear. What if one parent wants to send the child to an expensive overnight camp, but the other parent thinks this is a waste of money — who gets to decide which camp the child goes to? And what about in cases where the custodial parent is not working during the summer (for example, one parent is a school teacher on summer vacation), does the other parent still have to pay for camp?

In circumstances such as these, where camp is viewed as a supplemental care expense, here are some tips for managing camp costs and still getting what you want for your child:

1. Treat camp as an item to negotiate. If camp is not a necessity, but you still want your child to have the experience of camp — or you really want your child to attend a particular camp that costs more — put these items on the table during divorce negotiations. Is there something your former spouse really wants that you can use as a bargaining chip? Your divorce attorney can help you position these desires in the best light possible, but what’s of critical importance here is to make camp costs part of the divorce discussion. After the divorce is final, it can be very difficult to get a reluctant parent on board with camp when no agreement is in place — get it in writing now.

2. Be willing to compromise. You may have your heart set on sending your child to the same sleepaway camp in Maine you attended as a child, but your spouse may think that day camp at the community rec center is just fine. There is no easy solution to this divergence of opinion, but you can try to make your case by politely asking your former spouse to read more about the camp you prefer, staying focused on the distinct benefits it offers your child, not how happy it made you way back when. On your part, realize that it may just not be possible for your child to attend the same camp, so come up with some other options should the stalemate continue. Look into YMCA overnight camps a little closer to home or perhaps attending camp for only part of the summer as a way to reduce costs.

3. Seek other forms of assistance. If summer camp was not included in your divorce settlement, and your former spouse won’t budge on the issue, there are other ways to get assistance with camp costs. First, talk to the camp director. Some camps offer sliding scale rates or outright scholarships to families who meet certain requirements. According to the American Camp Association, about 90 percent of resident camps and 89 percent of day camps offer scholarships. In other words, help is probably available — you just need to ask.

For special needs children, you may want to explore camp scholarships granted by community groups like Kiwanis Club or the Lion’s Club. Businesses may also offer “camperships” to children from needy or disadvantaged homes, urban kids, or kids with health issues. For example, a large pharmaceutical company regularly donates funds to support scholarships for children with diabetes. Contact a camp that interests you and see what is offered. You may end up a happy camper after all!