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Navigating extracurricular activities in your custody case

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“We are apt to forget that children watch examples better than they listen to preaching.” – Roy L. Smith

Separated parents often find themselves fighting over their children’s extra-curricular activities. Disagreements can become heartaches: which activities and programs to choose, how many are too many, whether children may be signed up for activities during the other parent’s custodial time, and what happens when one parent declares an activity too dangerous, too time-consuming, or too expensive. Making decisions about extra-curricular activities is a legal custody issue, and usually that means the court expects parents to work together to figure these things out. When the “together” part turns out to be easier said than done, disagreements can be brought to court.

Often, children will be permitted to continue participating in activities they were already involved in before the court became involved. There are always exceptions, such as if a child no longer wants to participate, if the costs go up drastically, or if the activity itself has changed in a way that makes it objectionable to a parent. Most activity disputes that end up in court have to do with new activities, especially if one parent’s decision to enroll the child commits the other parent to supporting the child’s involvement in the activity during his or her own custody time.

When parental disputes like this do end up in court, judges tend to favor children being permitted to participate in extracurricular activities that appeal to them, and if that is the court’s decision both parents will be expected to ensure that the child is able to participate fully. However, judges know they are poor substitutes for parents when making these decisions, and they will still expect parents to coordinate together directly for the benefit of their children. Coordinating and consulting with your co-parent is not just about checking in and asking permission, but also is about making sure that if you are not inadvertently scheduling a commitment that occurs at the same time as something else your child is already scheduled to attend. Many parental disagreements happen because one parent chose not to check in with the other to confirm there were no timing issues with the activity.

Parents often can more effectively resolve issues arising from extra-curricular activities (and many others) by participating in a program of co-parenting counseling. Having a structured, refereed forum in which each parent is able to raise address his or her concerns is often far more effective – and far less expensive – than going to a judge and letting the court tell you both how you must raise your children. The vast majority of disagreements can be resolved by this type of dialogue in a way that litigation can never do.

Of course, it is not always possible to resolve parental disagreements without court intervention. This is often true when one parent views an activity as being particularly dangerous or morally objectionable, if one parent schedules activities to interfere with the other parent’s time without advance agreement, or if the activity will require substantial travel or a large commitment of money or time. In these situations, the court has the power to give one parent the overriding authority to make such decisions.

If you and your child’s other parent disagree about extra-curricular activities and you are considering taking the matter to court, it is important that you speak with an attorney before you take any action. An experienced attorney can help you to identify whether the disagreement is one that is better addressed in co-parenting counseling or by other means, or whether it is worth the effort to bring it in front of the judge.

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If you need legal assistance with your physical custody case in Pittsburgh’s Southside, Upper St. Clair or Mt. Lebanon, call our office to set up a personal consultation with an experienced Allegheny County child custody attorney and to learn how to get the most out of your co-parent disputePlease do not comment anonymously, and do not post anything that you consider confidential.  We try to be responsive to commentary and questions, but know that posting here will not create an attorney/client relationship and that we will not offer legal advice via the Internet.

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