By Donald Schumacher, Esq.
If you’re like most parents these days, your kids’ lives are consumed by extracurricular activities. Team sports, gymnastics, karate, music lessons, horseback riding, and school clubs are just a few and the list goes on and on. Parents are shuffling their kids to activities every day after school and there’s often no downtime until bedtime. In the case of divorce, kids’ extracurricular activities is an area that needs to be considered and factored into the agreement from the start.
In our experience, a child’s activity level is a frequent bone of contention for separated and divorced parents. Some parents find it healthy to expose their child to many different activities so that the child has a better chance to experience what life has to offer. Other parents want to limit the activities to just a few, for the sake of time and academics, or to save on costs. Consider what the child enjoys and does not enjoy. You can enroll a child in an activity in order to challenge them, but make sure the child does not see the activity as something forced on them as a punishment.
When it comes to costs, activities can be outrageous. In addition to registration fees, there are uniforms to purchase, equipment to buy or rent, and other added expenses that come up throughout the year. When you add in travel sports, transportation and sometimes housing or hotels make the numbers go up fast. The Court Rules state that the costs for extracurricular activities are included in the child support guideline calculation that the Courts and practitioners frequently use, but it is not unusual for parents to agree that extracurricular activities should be handled as an additional expense that they would contribute toward, so long as they agree to the child participating in the activity and so long as they have the ability to pay.
When the activity takes place usually determines which parent must arrange for transportation to and from the activity. Even if it means arranging for a third person to transport the child or children to their activities, the party with parenting time on that day should be responsible. However, sometimes a parent will want the opportunity to travel with the child to their activities if the other is unavailable. Much like any other issue following a separation and divorce, good communication between the parents is very important.
In general, extracurricular activities are conducted in public. As long as there is no restraining order in place, both parties should be permitted to attend the children’s extracurricular activities, including sports games, gymnastics meets, dance recitals, etc. Yet, when one party refuses to contribute to the expense of an extracurricular activity, that party starts to lose the right to attend in some peoples’ eyes, including some Courts in New Jersey.
Extracurricular activities can be a great way for co-parents to stay involved in their kids’ lives together and on neutral territory. Getting an arrangement in place from the start as far as who pays for, drives to and attends what, makes for a smoother family life for all parties.