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Child support and extracurricular activities: What to know

Divorced parents often have a misconception about child support: it's just for the basics necessities. It isn't.

Sure, regular expenses used to calculate the percentage of support each parent has to provide will include the basics: food, shelter and clothing. However, it's also going to include any extracurricular activities, like gymnastics, ballet or martial arts lessons in which your child is already involved—even if you feel that it shouldn't, especially if you weren't a big fan of the activity in the first place.

You need to understand that child support orders take the income of both parents into account when they divide up financial responsibility for the child's needs precisely because the goal is to minimize the financial impact of the divorce on the child's standard of living.

In other words, if some extracurricular activity was being done by your child prior to the divorce, and it can arguably be in your child's best interest to enrich his or her life that way, your share of the cost of that activity is likely to be included in the support decree. The divorcing parents are expected to make the financial sacrifices and adjustments, not the child.

But what about extracurricular activities that you haven't agreed upon (begrudgingly or not) prior to the divorce? What if, for example, your ex-spouse suddenly wants your preteen to attend a summer-long science and math camp? What if he or she wants to start entering your toddler in beauty pageants but needs money for all the coaching, dresses and talent lessons?

In those situations, you usually have two choices. You can either come to an agreement with your ex-spouse about how much each of you will pay toward the activity or you can take the issue to court and ask a judge to decide if it's reasonable to make you pay (and how much), especially if you aren't in agreement about the benefits of the activity.

Either way, you probably would be wisest to involve your attorney so that whatever agreement you come to is in writing, especially if money changes hands. It's always important to document something like this. If you agree to pay now but disagree later on something you don't feel is a true benefit, it could help convince the court you aren't just trying to avoid the expense.

For more information on child support issues, please see our web pages on the subject. .

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