It's that time of year again! School has started, vacation is over and the mirage of extracurricular activities start flooding in. It may feel like your children are running from one activity to another. What used to be conquered and divided between you and your partner, may now all be on your shoulders from transporting the children to each of their activities to paying for the expenses.
There a number of questions parents should consider:
1. What activities does the child want to be involved in?
2. How many activities should each child participate in? Who is going to provide transportation to and from practices and the events?
3. What is weekly schedule for all your children's activities?
4. Which parent is going to pay for the equipment, the lessons or registration fees?
5. What language is in your current custody order regarding extracurricular activities, including the child's participation, payment of expenses and transportation to and from?
It can be an exciting time for your children to learn and grow in an environment outside of the classroom. Depending on the age of your child, it may be worth exploring one or two activities at a time to decide what they are interested in pursuing. How have the parents chose extracurricular activities for their children in the past? Setting a status quo for each child may remedy future issues.
Two common complaints family law attorneys hear are:
1. "Over-enrolling" the child in extracurricular activities
2. The refusal of a parent to take the child to practices and/or events during their custodial time.
Unfortunately, the direct effect is on the child, from the disappointment of a child missing their football game to being sad that family movie night happened without them. Each case is situational but both parents should remember the child's best interest. Often finding a balance between two extremes is difficult.
A typical follow-up question family law attorneys receive is, "How am I supposed to be in two places at once?" There is no right answer to this question. Children's schedules often overlap. More than likely their schedules did when the parents were together. Blended families often require co-parenting with multiple parents and multiple conflicting schedules. A family calendar may alleviate missing practices or forgetting a child's dance recital. Communication is key especially when both parents want the child to be involved in the extracurricular activity.
I never knew the number of dollars in my pocket until I had a child. The cost of each activity from club fees to the baseball cleats adds up. Add two more kids to the mix and the extracurricular expenses equal a monthly car payment. So who is going to pay what? This controversy repeatedly arises after it is too late.
For example, mom calls her attorney to say the parties agreed for the child to participate in dance. Each party agreed to pay for half (50%) of the child's dance and each parent paid 50% of the dance lesson. Mom claims dad is refusing to pay for 50% of the $200 dance recital costume. Dad claims he had no clue there would be a $200 dance costume and he only agreed to pay for 50% of the child's dance class. The miscommunication about financial expectations lead to an unplanned financial burden for one of the parents. Discuss all expenses associated with the activity or you could be left holding the bag (i.e. the expense).
Don't spend the rest of your dollars litigating these disagreements. Get a handle on extracurricular activities by speaking with your attorney about the specific language to include in your custody orders. It may be important to discuss the traditional activities that the minor child participates in prior to a custody proceeding. A set understanding and/or court order about extracurricular activities minimizes unnecessary drama between parents.
Remember: extracurricular activities give children the ability to explore their interests and build self-confidence - and may give your child an outlet from dealing with the breakup of their family. The best parenting happens when the focus is on the child!