SAN DIEGO – August 2, 2012 – Most Americans are enjoying the Summer Olympic Games, cheering for the athletes and admiring the dedication and hard work it takes to become a world-class athlete.
You may have also seen Debbie Phelps, the divorced single mom of swimmer Michael Phelps, cheering him on poolside for each one of his races at the pool in London. She is nearly as recognizable as her famous son.
Proctor and 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, basketball practice, the list goes one. Each commercial fast-forwards to a triumphant young athlete dedicating his or her win to Mom. A lot of people admit to shedding a tear or two watching them.
l am a divorce attorney and I deal in reality. Sports for children are a great thing, whether or not your child becomes a gold medal winner. They instill discipline and a good work ethic, teach teamwork and responsibility, and they get your kids up and moving to ensure their good health and fitness.
But once you get beyond a casual neighborhood league, participation in organized sports programs by children can take a great deal of time, and become expensive. When parents get divorced, how is the responsibility for keeping your children involved in sports divided? What about the cost? What if one parent is gung ho about their child going to soccer camp every summer and the other wouldn’t care if he went surfing every day?
The potential costs of these activities don’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. Even simple participation in extracurricular activities, not just sports but music lessons, art classes 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?
If your ex-spouse signs the kids up, are you responsible for transportation while the child is in their custody?
Who is responsible for the costs? If you agree to split them equally but the price tag escalates higher than you expected and can afford, are you stuck with the bill?
It is important 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 seem like everyday, routine activities for your children.
You can avoid being stuck for expenses and time commitments you can’t manage if you discuss them in advance. Be sure to consider everything that might come up and get it in writing. Figure out what you can afford and set a pre-determined ceiling for extracurricular expenses. If after-school sports, music, or the arts are much more important to one parent than the other, he or she may need to be the one willing to be on the hook for the lion’s 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 soccer game. Your young athlete doesn’t need the distraction of worrying whether his parents will embarrass him or whether he has to try and keep peace. Agree to your ground rules and do whatever it takes to be cordial and support your child’s activities. 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 childrens’ 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 Gabby Douglas, 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.
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