Spring is finally here and we have so much to look forward to: warmer weather, a few days off from school, blooming tulips, and Spring-season extracurricular activities! Growing up, my sisters and I weren’t in a lot of extracurricular activities. They were expensive, and my parents worked; they didn’t have the time or the energy to cart us around to various places in the evenings and on weekends. Of course, if we could find a ride and a way to pay for it, we were pretty much given the freedom to join whatever we wanted. We did get pretty involved in the high school marching band when we were older; we could do our own fundraising then and we had part-time jobs to help cover the cost. Plus, we eventually were able to drive ourselves to practice and football games or get a ride with friends.
It wasn’t until I started practicing family law that I realized that my experience with extracurricular activities is not necessarily typical. Either that, or things have really changed over the years. I was surprised at the number of cases I come across where the children are involved in multiple and/or very expensive extracurricular activities.
Despite the benefits that extracurricular activities might have on a child’s development and educational career, they can be a source of conflict for families. For many, the issue is the cost. Some children are involved in numerous activities throughout the year, the monthly cost of which is equivalent or more to what one might pay for a car payment. Some children participate in camps or competitive/traveling sports which can cost several thousands of dollars each year.
Managing to pay for expensive extracurricular activities can cause conflict between an intact family; one can imagine the issues that come up when parents are separated. The question I’m often asked is how does the cost of these activities get divided now that the parents are separated and money is more scarce.
Extracurricular activities are a part of child support, and they are generally addressed at the time the child support order is established. The cost of the activities are apportioned between the parties according to the percentage allocation of their combined net incomes. In other words, if the child support payor earns 60% of the parties’ combined net incomes, then he or she will pay for 60% of the cost of the extracurricular activity. The payor’s portion of the extracurricular activity may be added into the monthly support obligation, or the parties may each pay their share to the organization. The court only allocates the cost of monthly dues, enrollment fees, etc.; smaller expenses for things like socks or cleats are generally considered a part of the monthly child support obligation.
For the court to include extracurricular activities in the child support order, they generally have to have been agreed upon by both parties, but consent cannot be unreasonably withheld. For instance, if little Susan has been in dance the last 4 years, and dad signs her up for the new season as per the status quo, chances are that the court will allocate the cost for the dance between the parties even if mom suddenly and inexplicably doesn’t agree to the child participating in this activity. On the other hand, if dad signs little Susan up for a special two-week dance training camp in Toronto that costs thousands of dollars without mom’s permission, then the court will likely attribute that cost solely to dad.
In some cases, parents agreed to the children(ren) participating in certain extracurricular activities when their marriage was intact, but one of them says that they cannot afford to pay now that they are separated and living on one income. In those cases, the court will take into consideration the cost of the activity in conjunction with the income of the parties to determine whether the cost is reasonable, and whether to allocate any of the cost to the objecting party. This is pretty discretionary.
Some are unpleasantly surprised when the court finds the cost of the activities that were once agreed-upon are unreasonable.
So talk to your lawyer about extracurricular activity expenses when preparing for your child support court date. If possible, talk to your former spouse about it as well. If the cost is excessive and more than what you feel you can pay, maybe you will be able to reach an understanding. Maybe your spouse would be willing to cover a higher portion of the cost, or maybe you should cut back on the activities altogether until your child is old enough to help contribute to the cost.