One issue that seems to be coming up more frequently of late is the enrollment of children in extracurricular activities. It seems that now, more than ever, kids are enrolled in several activities as a standard part of their growth and development. As a dad to three boys (one of whom is still crawling his way through life and multitasks by drooling, eating and sleeping), my two older boys are enrolled in any combination of activities at once including baseball, hockey, karate, basketball, football, soccer, art, and more – even a class devoted solely to legos! Gone, for a variety of reasons both positive and negative, are the days when kids really just play outside after school with their friends.
In the divorce world, which parent gets to decide what activities the kids are involved in? Generally this is an issue of “legal custody” (major decisions), and, as most cases involve “joint legal custody”, both parents will have a say. This does not mean, however, that both parents are going to be reasonable.
In many of our cases, extracurricular activities are an issue of dispute between parents for any one of a number of reasons. These may include but, as always, are not limited to:
Signing up a child for an activity without the other parent’s consent – When this happens, an analysis has to occur to see if the other parent has a history of saying “no” to activities, the reasons for saying “yes or no” (are the reasons reasonable?), and what is ultimately in the child’s best interest, which, as always, is the guiding principle here. For instance, does the child want to do a particular activity, but dad will only consent to something else?
The activity only falls during one parent’s parenting time – Again, an analysis has to occur regarding the facts surrounding the activity, enrolling the child in the activity (did it deliberately occur to interfere with the other parent’s parenting time?), and the like. We recently had a case where mom continued to enroll the kids in activities that interfered with dad’s parenting time even though the settlement agreement expressly precluded her from doing so. Not only was the activity scheduling itself in dispute, but also who would pay for it, which brings me to…
Cost – What is a reasonable cost for an activity? What was the history for this sort of expense during the marriage? It is typical for such expenses to increase as a child gets older and has more, and more expensive, activities.
There is no denying that our kids need activities to help them develop their social, physical and emotional skills. Confidence, problem solving, and simple fun are all benefits to any number of activities. Unfortunately, however, they all too often become an issue in divorce because of parents’ different views as to what is in the best interests of their child, and costly litigation results.