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Extracurricular Acitivites: How Many and Who Pays?

With the Olympics come the sentimental commercials of Olympians thanking their parents for helping them become the athletes they are today. We see images of these young Olympians learning how to walk on a ski slope, falling down over and over, and being woken up in the very early morning hours for practice. 

With the Olympics come the sentimental commercials of Olympians thanking their parents for helping them become the athletes they are today. We see images of these young Olympians learning how to walk on a ski slope, falling down over and over, and being woken up in the very early morning hours for practice. Not every child will become an Olympic athlete, and not every family will even consider the possibility of making such a commitment. So what happens when two divorced or never-married parents have differing opinions on the extracurricular activities that a child will participate in? Who pays for the cost of these activities?

As with many other decisions to be made regarding children, a Judge will determine what is in the child's best interest when deciding whether or not a child should continue or start an activity, and who should be responsible for the cost. In addition to looking at the history of involvement in a certain activity, the court will also consider the impact - if any - that the activity may have on parenting time, as well as the income of the parties and the cost of the activity.
In many situations, the parties include in their agreement language that allows the children to participate in agreed-upon extracurricular activities, with agreement not to be "unreasonably denied." For those activities that are agreed-upon, the parties include language stating that they will share equally the cost of those activities. The question, then, is "what is reasonable?" The answer to this question will vary with each situation, but some good rules of thumb are: A child should be able to participate in extracurricular activities, but those activities should not significantly infringe on parenting time. In addition, if a child had engaged in an activity throughout the parties' relationship, the child should be able to continue doing that activity. With regards to payment, the parties should share the cost of reasonable activities, so long as the parties' incomes have been equitably addressed via child support or alimony. The key is finding balance between these rules. So if a child had always done one sport per season, it would be reasonable for the child to continue to do so. However, if the child had always done three activities at once, and those activities took significant after-school time and weekend-time, it may not be reasonable to keep the child enrolled in all three activities. Further, if the application of child support still results in one party having significantly higher assets than the other, it may not be equitable for the parties to share in the cost of extracurricular activities.
While it is impossible to predict what a child will be interested in (or talented at), adding language into an agreement that sets parameters for the number of and payment for activities can save the parties from future court battles and headaches, Olympic athlete or not!


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