Common Custody Issues: Extracurricular Activities

Posted on Feb 23, 2024 by Katie Carter

Kids keep you busy.  If it’s not one season, it’s another.  And between the after-school events, social activities, birthday parties, sports, summer camps, classes, and other activities, it can be overwhelming shuttling the kids to and from all of it.

Keeping up with the calendar alone can be challenging enough, but for separated and divorced parents who are trying to adjust to their new coparenting dynamic, it’s even more challenging.  Extracurricular activities are often a source of tension between parents for a number of reasons and we’ll talk about it in more detail today.

Extracurricular activities and child support

I’ll just address the elephant in the room: child support.  It is not generous.  It does not seem like it bears any resemblance to what it actually costs to keep and raise children and yet it is infrequently increased.  Not only that, but upward deviations are rarely granted, so things like extracurricular activities and private school tuition often fall by the wayside once parents decide to separate and, eventually, divorce.

It all comes down to money.

Frankly, everyone on both sides – moms and dads – have less of it.  So what a family could easily afford while they were together isn’t necessarily as easy, or even possible, once the parties are maintaining two separate homes and trying to keep the lights on.

Who pays for extracurricular activities?

Theoretically, child support is child support and it’s supposed to cover all the things – with the exception of unreimbursed medical expenses – that the child needs.  This includes extracurriculars.  Generally speaking, we do not get upward deviations for extremely expensive extracurricular activities.

So, the long and the short of it is that, in most cases, child support is designed to cover all those expenses – including extracurriculars.

(“But it doesn’t!” is what I am sure you’re saying at this point.)

Yeah, there’s no way.  The math definitely isn’t mathing – either that or judges and policymakers have no idea what kids cost these days.  It’s supposed to come out of child support.  But the fact remains: child support is not sufficient.

Many parents put a provision in their separation agreement that says they’ll mutually agree on extracurricular activities and then specify how they’ll share costs.  This can be problematic for a number of different reasons, but the biggest is that parents often disagree on whether to enroll kids in activities and then, if so, which ones.

He won’t agree to enroll the children in any activities!

I have not seen agreements that specify exactly which activities the kids will partake in; in any case, this kind of provision is not likely to be that helpful because what the kids like and want to do can change over time.  Most agreements have some sort of provision that says the parties will agree.  So, what if he doesn’t?

There’s not much you can do.  If he says no, then you have either the choice of paying for it yourself and doing it on your parenting time, or not doing it at all.

You may not be able to pay for it yourself.  You almost certainly feel as though you shouldn’t have to.  And, once you DO pay for it yourself, you certainly believe that your child’s father should take the child to games, meets, scrimmages, camps, practices, meetings, parties, awards ceremonies, or other events associated with that activity even if it falls on his parenting time.

You can’t really make him, though.  It’s crappy, I know.  But you can’t force him to pay and you also can’t force him to take the child to the activity on his parenting time.

What kind of a monster doesn’t take the child to his regularly scheduled activities?

I mean, it really all depends.  I don’t necessarily think he’s a monster – but maybe he is and he’s just doing it because he knows it’ll get your goat.  That’s possible.  But I see parents disagree for all sorts of reasons.  I’ve seen cases where the activity in question is one that the other parent doesn’t agree with.  I’ve seen cases where a child was enrolled on a team that is deliberately far from where the child’s other parent lives or works in an attempt to make it difficult for that parent to go to games or practices.  I’ve seen all sorts of crappy things happen.

Sometimes, he says no because he can.  Because he either doesn’t have the money or doesn’t want to spend any more of it.  It may be because it makes you angry.

It may be that he has some other disagreement, like the location, the timing, or a question with respect to the specific activity.  Maybe he won’t agree to have his son enrolled in ballet, for example.  Many men struggle with that sort of thing.

You don’t have a lot of options, especially if he has joint legal custody.  He’s probably not likely to throw a fit (or get anywhere with it) just because you enroll the child – at your cost – anyway, but you’re probably also not likely to have a court force him to share those costs with you or make him take the child to any activities scheduled on his parenting time.

This can be a major source of frustration.  It can be a big problem.  Most parents want their children to be well-rounded and to have interests outside of school.  Affording specific activities can be difficult for some families, so it’s entirely possible that there’s a significant financial component.  But it’s also possible that it’s something else.

This is a big reason why it’s important to work towards developing a positive coparenting relationship wherever possible.  It can feel gratifying, in some ways, to continue to fight with each other, but establishing a more businesslike relationship with clear, defined boundaries can go a long way towards helping you both see a way forward.  In an ideal world, you’d be able to work together for the child’s best interests – including agreeing on (and continuing to attend on BOTH parent’s parenting time) whether to enroll the child in extracurriculars and, if so, which ones.

A conversation can go a long way towards resolving these issues, especially if the tension in your coparenting relationship has ebbed a bit.  The stickiness of extracurricular activities is just one of the reasons why you’ll want to demonstrate flexibility and maturity in your dealings with your soon-to-be ex.

For more information or to schedule a consultation, give our office a call at 757-425-5200.