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'Jon & Kate': A big-family breakup © Vino/Splash News

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Divorce lessons from 'Jon & Kate'

The marital strife -- played out on TV -- of the Pennsylvania parents of 8 shows how the dilemmas of a breakup are compounded when there are multiple kids.

By SmartMoney

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 Jon and Kate Gosselin's separation -- disclosed in the last 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 proceedings 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 upward 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. The couple are staying mum (except for photos of the family celebrating July Fourth together), and the show is on hiatus until Aug. 3. 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?

Kate's divorce filing did not ask the court to order Jon to pay child support. But 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, where the Gosselins live, 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 incomes, says Daniel Clement, a family law and matrimonial attorney with offices in New York and New Jersey.

In Pennsylvania, 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 national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 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 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.

Continued: Do the kids need 2 of everything?

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