Kids, sports and divorce: bringing up the next Olympic star

Even if you're convinced your child is the next Simone Biles or Michael Phelps, divorced parents must agree on a parenting plan when their child is a serious athlete.

Parents and supporters cheer on the gymnastic team at the Rio Summer Olympics. Photo: John Cheng, USA Gymnastics
Parents and supporters cheer on the gymnastic team at the Rio Summer Olympics. Photo: John Cheng, USA Gymnastics

SAN DIEGO, Aug. 13, 2016 – Many Americans are enjoying the 2016 Rio Summer Olympic Games, cheering for the athletes and admiring the dedication and hard work it takes to become a world-class athlete.

Media coverage helps us get to know our American athletes as personalities, and we often get to know their families too, especially the devoted parents cheering on their famous kids.

Simone Biles and Aly Raisman hug after finding out they won gold and silver

As it has since 2007, Proctor & Gamble is airing commercials featuring the dedicated moms getting their kids out of bed in the dark, spending hour after hour taking them to gymnastics practice, swim practice, the list goes on. The stories end with the triumphant young athlete dedicating his or her win to Mom. A lot of people admit to shedding a tear or two watching them. The current version has more than 21 million views on YouTube alone.

Warmhearted stories are wonderful. Sports for children are a positive thing, whether or not your child becomes a gold medal winner. Sports instill discipline and a good work ethic, teach teamwork and responsibility, and get your kids up and moving to ensure their good health and fitness.

But a recent report showed 70 percent of kids quit organized sports by the time they are 13 years old. It’s not because they don’t have the time or the drive. It’s because they stop being fun and start becoming work.

There seem to be few purely recreational leagues left once kids get to a certain age. Participation in organized sports programs with more serious intentions about developing young competitive athletes can take a lot of time and become expensive.

Many families have another difficult reality: divorce. When parents get divorced, they must talk about their parenting plan and the division of responsibility for keeping children involved in sports. What about the cost? What if one parent is gung-ho about the child going to swim camp every summer and the other wouldn’t care if he went surfing every day?

The investment in your kids’ athletic activities doesn’t always cross the minds of parents who are getting divorced. It can be overlooked as part of your settlement. Don’t make this mistake. Participation in any kind of extracurricular activities, not just sports but also music lessons, science camp and the like can be expensive.

Even when parents generally agree that these activities are positive for their kids, problems can arise. For example, can one parent sign a child up for an activity without the other’s consent?

Read also: Divorcing or divorced parents: Kids come first

If your ex-spouse signs the kids up, do you remain responsible for transportation while the child is in your custody?

If you agree to split the costs of your kids’ activities equally but the price tag increases and ends up higher than you expected and can afford, are you stuck with the bill?

You need to set the ground rules for extracurricular activities with your kids as part of your divorce settlement. Even if you have joint legal custody, decision-making authority doesn’t always take into account complications from what were normally routine activities for your children.

Discuss expenses and time commitments in advance. Set the goal of “no surprises.” This is a good goal for divorce in general. Try to work through everything that might come up and get it in writing. Figure out what you can afford and set a ceiling for extracurricular expenses. If after-school sports, music, or academic enrichment activities are much more important to one parent than the other, he or she may need to be the one willing to shoulder a greater share of the costs and the investment of time.

Think ahead too how you will handle the discomfort you might feel both showing up at the swim meet or the recital. Your young athlete or performer doesn’t need the distraction of worrying whether his parents will embarrass him or whether he has to try to keep peace. Come up with some ground rules for civil behavior, agree on them and do whatever it takes to support your child’s activities. Try to make it about them, NOT about you. If you can’t get along, take turns attending.

Keep in mind that your soon-to-be-ex-spouse may be arguing with you over your children’s activities because he or she wants the best for them. But no family should go into debt or cram an unreasonable amount of commitments into any schedule. Even if you are convinced you are raising the next Michael Phelps or Simone Biles, be smart, be practical and think carefully about what it is the best interests of your children. You can’t go wrong if you do.

Myra Chack Fleischer serves as Lead Counsel for Fleischer & Ravreby in Carlsbad, California, with a focus on divorce, property, custody and support, settlement agreements, mediation, asset division and family law appeals. Read more Legally Speaking in Communities Digital News. Follow Myra on Twitter: @LawyerMyra. Fleischer can be reached via Google +.

Copyright © 2016 by Fleischer & Ravreby

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