Divorce Issues Related To Extra-Curricular Activities

For many divorced parents the issue with extra-curricular activities ("EC") is primarily about what percentage does each pay or what financial limits are set for these activities.  However, EC can also cause interference with parenting time, create transportation issues as well as the benefits and risks of the selection.

Typically the parents (if they have moderate or somewhat higher income) will allocate the costs for EC utilizing theincome comparison method (they each pay their pro rata share based on their gross incomes). However, while that may sound fair on first glance it may not always be a good way to do it. If one parent earns $80,000 and the other parent earns $20,000 the pro rata ratio would be 80/20 but that could leave either parent with inadequate money to pay their other monthly expenses. This can be a problem if the parent with the lower income is making the selection of activities because they only pay 20% and may somehow find a way to do so (perhaps a grandparent pays) and saddle the other parent with an 80% expense. Likewise, the parent with the greater income might also receive family assistance and impose on the parent with the lower income a bill that cannot be afforded. Perhaps either parent has other children and the gross income method cuts into monies for that parent's other children.  To set expense guidelines, some parents may agree that the cost of EC cannot exceed a specified amount per child per year.

Therefore, it will be important to have the parties agree upon the selection and cost of EC with consent not to be "unreasonably withheld". Some EC have certain risk factors that the parents should agree upon. Contact sports have risk of injury and while courts will generally allow commonly accepted sports that does not equate to parental agreement. Often EC will necessitate additional expenses for equipment, uniforms, instruments, costumes and private lessons so that the cost for the activity may just be the entry point.

While it is commonly accepted to encourage the children to participate in EC the number of activities can also become an issue. In my law practice I have had cases where there has to be a limitation on the number of EC per child per school quarter. Some parents believe the more activities the better and the other parent may think it is too much for the child with something going on nearly every day of the week and the resulting pressure to do homework, study, take tests, eat, sleep and still be competitive in multiple activities.

The nature of the activity can also be of concern such as travel sports. After school activities will usually reduce both parents' time with the children. Travel teams may completely eliminate a parent's after school time with their child. For example a parent who has scheduled parenting time on Tuesday from 4-7 may not have any time if there is an event that has the child being transported at 3:30 and not getting back in the home area until 6:30 PM. Extra practices and rehearsals might be scheduled as well. When multiple children are involved one child could have practice/meets on Tuesday and Thursday and the other child has their events on Monday and Wednesday. The result is nearly every afternoon is filled up. Weekends can also be interrupted for county, regional and state competitions. Overnight events may need chaperones and then the issue may arise as to which parent "gets to go".

Parents who are in agreement on EC and the cost allocation still need to consider the impact on their respective schedules with the children. The impact on the primary custodial parent is usually less since they will still be with their child after every activity at home. However, the non-custodial parent may not see the child at all because a half hour visit just may not make sense. Therefore, it is important that the parents consider how to do their best to make sure the children spend time with the non-custodial parent beyond just driving them, picking them up and cheering their performances. Perhaps an extra Friday night when the mid-week visits are not taking place or an extension of time on a weekend would help both the children and their non-custodial parent.

Parents that are supportive of their children's activities and also supportive of the need for the children to have two involved parents are on the road to raising happy and healthy children who love both of their parents.