When Separated Parents Can’t Agree on the Children’s Activities

By: Annette T. Burns
Last Update: October 31, 2016

A New York Times article about children’s activities noted that parents are exhausted and harassed by their kids’ sports schedules. Calling the sports system the “youth sports juggernaut” is pretty accurate; the schedules are demanding and constant, and getting the kids to the required activities interferes with family time. Divorced and separated parents who don’t get along particularly well at the best of times find themselves truly challenged when the time and energy requirements of sports, hobbies, games, competitions, teams, tournaments, and practices are added to the mix. 

Every family attorney, judge, parenting coordinator and custody evaluator knows that one of the most common disputes between separated parents is the extent of the kids’ extracurricular activities.  A common situation is one parent who fully supports the child’s sport or activity, but the other parent feels that the child is overscheduled or overworked. The parents may make accusations about the other being too lazy or self-centered to put the children’s interests first.   

How does the situation resolve? If the parents have agreed at some point that a child can participate in an activity, and the child then seems to like it (and may even be good at it), the parents probably should do everything possible to support the child in the activity, including going to great lengths to provide funding and transportation. When the argument against an activity is that a child is overscheduled or exhausted, or that the child’s grades are falling, those concerns should be fully explored by obtaining opinions from physicians, coaches, and teachers who are familiar with the child’s daily functioning. 

Another complication is when one parent has limited (less than half) parenting time with the child.  A parent may not be expected to give up much of his limited time to activities. A Father who only has his children on Thursday evenings but finds the child scheduled for dance each and every Thursday may have a compelling argument that he should not have to engage in that activity.  

There are solutions to this problem: sometimes the activity can be done on more than one evening during the week; sometimes the parenting time evening can be temporarily switched to another night; and the parents can possibly agree to expand the limited parenting time in exchange for an agreement to mutually support the activity.  

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