Am I required to pay for my kids extracurricular activities?

Categories: Child Support, Podcasts
Scott Stewart:The question is: are you aware of, or does Arizona have a law that exists, that says that a court can address a child’s extracurricular expenses, and how each parent must pay for those?
Jennifer:I don’t believe there is a specific statute that deals with extracurricular activities. I think that there is a common practice. A similar obligation would be unreimbursed medical expenses, which follows parents’ proportionate share of income. If both parents make $10 an hour, they’re both 50% responsible. They would each be 50% responsible for uninsured medical expenses. A lot of, or almost all, courts have extrapolated that to include extracurricular activities. However, the actual definition of child support in Arizona does not include extracurricular activities. It does include unreimbursed medical expenses. I’m not aware of any cases that have been decided by the Court of Appeals or the Supreme Court that references how or when a court should divide extracurricular activities.
Scott Stewart:You worked for the Attorney General’s office for a real long time, and I know that you’re very familiar with are the Arizona child support guidelines. Now, do the guidelines say anything that you recall? Do they use the word ‘extracurricular activity’?
Jennifer:They do not.
Scott Stewart:One of the things I know we get asked a lot, as attorneys working in family law, divorce, child custody, are how they’re going to pay for certain things. How they’re going to pay for travel soccer, travel baseball, or gymnastics, or things along those lines. What I’m hearing you say, essentially, is you want to take a look at how things like medical expenses are being allocated. That’s probably a good insight into what a court would do with other types of child rearing expense.
Jennifer:

Generally speaking, yes. In my historical experience, there have been exceptions to that with people with large disparity in income. Where you have one parent that makes substantially more than another parent, unlike the unreimbursed medical expenses that’s specifically based on a statute, and that the court must follow, I think that will look to an analogous thing like unreimbursed medical expense for a starting point, but they don’t have to end there like they do with unreimbursed medical expenses.

Some of those sports that you mentioned are very expensive. Thousands and thousands of dollars. If you have situations where, historically, one parent has been the working parent, and arguably, that parent has paid those expenses historically, I have seen some success in the Court ordering that person to continue with 100% of that financial responsibility.

In the absence of that very rare circumstance where the parties have an extreme disparity of income, I think that the Court utilizes the guidelines and uses it as a model for other circumstances that aren’t specifically addressed.

Scott Stewart:Have you ever seen a situation where maybe one of the parents wants the child to participate and do something, and the other parent doesn’t agree with that particular activity, for whatever reason, whether it takes time out of their parenting time, or whether they just don’t think it’s an activity that their son or daughter should engage in, do you have any idea what the Court might do in a situation like that?
Jennifer:

Well, I think the first thing they look to is the historical participation. To use one of your examples, say club level, or traveling soccer. It takes a lot of time. Even just gas money to drive, because you have tournaments all over the state and sometimes outside of the state. If a child has historically participated in that, and now that the parties’ divorced, or when they split up, one parent’s saying, “Nope. I changed my mind. I don’ think that’s a good idea,” the Court, generally, isn’t going to agree with that. They’re going to want to keep, as much as they possibly can, the children from being affected by the divorce.

That’s handling it a little bit differently than a situation where you’re introducing the child to a new activity that they haven’t done before. If the parties have joint legal decision making, then that’s going to be a function of their decision making. If they would need to clear any new activities, the cost of it, and the impact on parenting time with the other parent. If they don’t do that, then the Court is libel to order that they withdraw the child from that particular activity.

Scott Stewart:The big thing that I’m hearing from you, and I think this holds true with a lot of areas of family law, especially where there may not be something directly on point, is that the court does have some discretion in this area in terms of what they’re going to do with the extracurricular activities. They’re going to look at the historical practices of the parents and the child, agree?
Jennifer:Agree.
Scott Stewart:One final question that I think would come up in this area would be, so if we have a current parenting plan in place, and child support in place, and one of the parents modifies child support for whatever reason, will this automatically get reassessed according to the new ratios of income and expenses, or is this something that a parent should specifically ask the Court to do?
Jennifer:It will not happen automatically unless the wording of their divorce or prior custody order is generic enough to allow it to happen automatically. What I mean by that is, if their divorce or parenting time agreement says that extracurricular activities will be split in proportion to the parties’ income, then yes, it will happen automatically. If their decree is more specific and says, for example, that extracurricular activities shall be split 50/50 between the parties, then no, it will not happen automatically.
Speaker 1:Thank you for listening to Arizona Family Talk Radio. If you have a family law question, please call us at 602-548-3400.

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