Most teenagers today have cellular telephones of their own, and not just any cell phones, but smart phones for them to text, tweet, pin, browse, buy, listen to music and take photos. With so many folks getting rid of their landlines, it has almost become a requirement to equip your teen with a means of communication of their own when you’re not home. So who pays for the cell phone? That is not an easy answer.
Cellular telephone expenses are not part of the “controlled expenses” that a parent who receives child support is required to pay. Controlled expenses include things such as clothing, school fees and lunches, a first portion of uninsured medical expenses, haircuts and personal care items. Parents are required to provide for a child’s basic needs such as shelter, food, clothing, medical treatment and education. Beyond that, everything else is optional. This includes things like cell phones, cars, and even extracurricular activities.
Cell phone expenses, like extracurricular activities, are considered an extraordinary expense which should be divided between the parties, either equally or pursuant to their respective income percentages. Parents can either select a pre-paid phone and then share the monthly costs, or one parent may decide to add a phone to his or her previously existing plan and pay the additional costs of the line and/or phone.
Regardless of which parent provides the phone, both parents should be on the same page regarding the rules of use in each parent’s household. For example, one parent may have a rule that the phone needs to be turned off and not in the child’s bedroom after 9:00 P.M. so that the child isn’t texting friends or posting on Instagram all night. If this is the rule in one parent’s household, the other parent should not expect to be able to reach the child on that cell phone after 9:00 P.M.
Both parents should have access to the child’s phone during their respective parenting times so as to ensure that the child is not sexting, bullying, is where he or she claims to be, and is not posting inappropriate pictures online. This does not mean that each parent should comb through the other parent’s texts with the child so as to dig up dirt or other incriminating information. Each parent should have a right of reasonable privacy in their communications with the child, and should give the same courtesy to the other parent. Communications between the child and her friends, however, are never private and should be monitored so as to head off any problems before they start.
Above all, talk to your co-parent before you make the decision to allow your teenager to have a cell phone. This is a decision that should not be unilaterally made by one parent, as it can cause major issues for the child in the other parent’s home. Get on the same page regarding access to the phone in both households, and both parents can enjoy access to the child, regardless of where the child may be.