Who Must Pay for Extracurricular Activities?
The beginning of the school year brings excitement, fun with new and familiar friends, and a steady stream of expenses for parents of active children. But this year is different, because you and your spouse/partner have separated. Before, you simply paid for their sports and clubs and groups and teams from your joint checking account. Now, you each have separate bank accounts.
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Ideally, both parents agree to fairly share the costs of extracurricular activities, and everyone is happy. In real life, parents often disagree over how to pay for their children’s extracurricular activities. Whether you were married or not, the only way to get the court’s help in making a binding determination on who pays how much and for what is by entering a child support order. Parents then have a way to enforce payment as well.
While the Washington State Child Support Order has a section on how day care, education, and long-distance transportation expenses will be shared, many parents are unaware a variety of other expenses may be included.
Excerpt from Washington State Child Support Order form
Common expenses include:
Personal development clubs, such as Scouts
Individual activities, such as music or dance lessons, or martial arts training
Private tutoring, college prep courses or specialty after-school training classes
Most of the above also require special equipment, clothing, or supplies to participate in the activities. All of these expenses can be shared by the parents according to a set percentage, dollar amount, or more commonly, according to the proportional share of income calculated on the child support worksheets. Here are some examples of extracurricular activities to consider.
It is important to note your Parenting Plan may include provisions regarding making decisions about extracurricular activities. A Child Support Order details who must pay, and how much. It does not mean that every extracurricular activity listed on the order, regardless of whether the other parent agreed or not to enroll the child in that activity, is automatically a shared expense.
You should consult your Parenting Plan to determine if both parents are required to agree on the activity for it to be a shared expense. Why? Well, imagine the other parent makes three times as much income as you, and is constantly enrolling your child in expensive activities you may not be able to afford. It it likely unreasonable to expect you to pay for an extracurricular expense you cannot afford if you have not agreed in advance.
For example, your Parenting Plan may call for joint decision making about specialty after-school classes. The other parent decides to enroll your child in an after-school advanced class in computer programming languages, and pays the fee. You then get a message from the other parent, demanding you pay your proportional share. But this is the first you have ever heard of this class, and if asked, you would have let the other parent know you did not agree to share the expense. That would not necessarily mean your child cannot participate in the class - but it could mean it will not be considered a shared expense.
The link between the Parenting Plan and Child Support Order is highly important when determining how extracurricular expenses must be paid. If you have questions about your Parenting Plan and Child Support Order as they relate to extracurricular expenses, you may want to consult a legal professional, such as a legal technician or attorney, for further information.