Are Extracurricular Activities Included in Child Support?
When a couple with children divorces, there is almost always an award of child support. The parents are expected to split the costs of raising the children. Usually the non-custodial parent pays the custodial parent some amount to help with the cost of housing, food, clothing and other costs of life. This is based on a formula that includes the “income equation “ of the parents, as well as the timesharing plan – how many overnights the children are actually with one parent or another. If one parent makes 70% of the total income of the couple, they will pay according to that formula.
While it may be that one parent is writing the check to the other, remember that support of the child is the obligation of both parents.
The issue of who pays for the extracurricular activities of children is often a bone of contention between divorced parents. With school starting, we thought it might be a good idea to address this topic.
What do courts consider an extracurricular activity?
Extracurricular activities are those activities outside school that are not required by the child’s school. They can be dance lessons, Girl Scouts or Boy Scouts, Little League, youth soccer, horseback riding lessons – the list is infinite. As we all know, these programs are not free! There are registration fees, uniforms to purchase, special shoes to buy and often, travel expenses. Note – these costs are different from things such as school uniforms or school supplies or required field trips of the child’s school.
Pretty much any club or activity or sport that your child wishes to participate in is considered an extracurricular activity. It has long been recognized that participation in these activities helps promote healthier, more well-rounded individuals, and participation is encouraged.
How does this work in Florida?
In Florida the child support amounts agreed on or mandated by the court often take in to account the extracurricular activities of the child. This is all well and good if you already know that one child takes ballet and plays soccer (or whatever the activity of choice is!) but problems can arise when the children are very young at the time of divorce and there are no activities which need to be considered. Fast forward a few years and now the child wants to do EVERYTHING and the costs of these activities are considerable.
Often the mandatory parenting plan will address the issue of which parent will make the decision regarding extracurricular activities. Very often it is the really the decision of both parents, depending on their respective incomes.
When the costs of extracurricular activities are known, a fairly common solution is to add the total costs up for the year, divide by 12 months and allocate the percentage the parent should pay according to the income equation. This provides a reasonably fair split for the parents and is sometimes calculated into the child support amounts.
Another solution could be the parent who is advocating the particular activity pay for that particular one. “I really want Susy to take violin lessons from the Maestro, he is the best.” It may follow he is also the most costly violin teacher. In this example, the parent who wants that advantage might be willing to pay for it themselves.
If the parents cannot come to agreement, the court will consider issues on a case by case basis, usually in the form of a modification of child support petition from one or the other parties. The courts really, really encourage the parents to consider the best interests of the child in making decisions regarding the child, so they dislike having to rule on whether Johnny should be in Pee Wee Football.
What About Summer Camps?
Generally, the question of whether summer camp is considered an extracurricular activity turns on whether or not the summer camp is in lieu of daycare or other child care. If the camp is a substitute for daycare, then the costs are considered child care expenses rather than extracurricular expenses. The theory is that but for the divorce, the child care would be an ordinary expense of the family, and subject to division.
Impact on Parenting Time
Very often these activities have an impact on parenting time. If you think about it, “parenting time” is a rather artificial concept imposed by the circumstances of divorce. Families who have remained intact don’t really separate out “parenting time” as such. Sometimes divorced parents feel that the activity is keeping them from having quality time with their child, and balk at the idea or refuse to let them attend something in which the child is very interested. Sometimes one parent will keep the child from the activity if they disagreed with the child’s participation in the first place. (“I don’t want my son playing football, it’s too rough!)
One might argue that the time spent driving the children to and from the activity, rooting them on from the sidelines or attending the recitals is the most normal “parenting time” they could have, and it should be encouraged.
Too much? Too costly?
There have been situations where the paying parent has felt the other was taking advantage of the arrangement regarding extracurricular activities, asking for money for things that were either already paid for or unnecessary. If you feel this is your situation, and you are wondering what you can do about it, contact an attorney experienced in family law. They will carefully explain your rights and obligations regarding this particular issue.