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The Magazine of Illinois Lawyers

September 2017Volume 105Number 9Page 43

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Family Law

From the Discussions - How should you handle parents’ contributions for kids’ extracurricular activities in divorce cases?

Q. How do you usually determine parents' contributions towards extracurricular activities in martial settlement agreements?

(From the ISBA family law discussion group)

How do you usually determine the annual cap on both parents' contributions towards extracurricular activities based on their incomes? I am referring to provisions in marital settlement agreements (MSAs) that say, for example, that both parents shall split the extracurricular expenses for the children 50/50, with a cap of $500 per parent per year.

For example, what do you think the annual cap should be for a parent that makes $70,000 per year versus one who makes $30,000 per year? Do you increase the cap depending on the number of children, or do you just come up with one cap and say that it must be divided among all the kids?

ISBA lawyers respond

Kevin R. Johnson, Chicago. It's not a good idea (in my opinion) to have any percentage splits of any extracurricular expenses. I believe the solution for the common problems of (1) one parent scheduling activities on the other parent's parenting time, (2) figuring out which activities are subject to contribution, and (3) having the correct amount of payments flow from parent to parent is the following language, or something like it:

1. Each parent can schedule any EXTRACURRICULAR ACTIVITIES he or she chooses for the minor child, but cannot cause activities to be scheduled during the other parent's parenting time.

a. In other words, a parent can only control the child's events, practices, tournaments, contests or meets that happen during that parent's own parenting time.

b. The parents can agree, in writing (email) to any arrangement regarding the child's events, practices, tournaments, contests or meets.

c. The parent that schedules an activity shall pay all of the fees for that activity.

I composed that paragraph, and claim no copyright. Please use and adapt as you wish.

Gary Schlesinger, Libertyville. Whatever the cap is per child per year should be divided based on income. Thus, if they decide to spend $5k per year on activities, one pays 70 percent and the other 30 percent. The cap is on the amount of activity per child per year.

Katherine F.S. Daniels, Quincy. From my perspective, extracurricular activities are parenting time, and you support your children in their development by providing extracurricular activities. Some kids are super active, some aren't. Unless these are extremely controlling parents, they need to find a way to communicate about these activities. If the parents don't get along, the decision-making responsibility should be with one parent.

As far as who pays what, I use the language below in my MSA. Of course, what each individual MSA looks like depends on a lot of things, including the income of each parent.

3.4 Extra-Curricular Activity and Daycare Expenses. X and Y shall each pay fifty percent (50%) of all agreed upon extra-curricular activity expenses incurred for the Minor Children, for which neither party shall unreasonably withhold their consent. Each party shall pay their respective fifty percent (50%) share directly to the provider by the due date established by the provider or reimburse the paying party within seven (7) days after the due date. As such, to the extent that either party receives any invoices and/or bills corresponding to extra-curricular activity expenses, he or she shall tender copies of the same to the other party for his or her direct payment or reimbursement.

The parties shall each pay fifty percent (50%) of all daycare expenses for the Minor Children necessary for the parties to maintain employment. Each party shall pay their respective fifty percent (50%) share directly to the provider by the due date established by the provider or reimburse the paying party within seven (7) days. As such, to the extent that either party receives any invoices and/or bills corresponding to daycare expenses, he or she shall tender copies of the same to the other party for his or her direct payment or reimbursement.

Kevin Johnson. For my clients, I try to reduce and where possible eliminate the need for routine communications between the parents. Let them save communications for when "significant" (slow-moving, life-changing) decisions need to be made for a child or when an emergency arises.

Co-parenting is a pipe dream when leads to raw emotions and constant struggle. Instead, for many of the situations we see, a better goal is parallel parenting - each side going about their business on their parenting days and enjoying their non-parenting time, too. Good fences make good neighbors. The only way to achieve this is through clear drafting.

If the parents have a clear parenting schedule, and if they adhere to a policy of avoiding swapping, trading, banking, or canceling parenting time - except in extreme, near-emergency situations - they can live peacefully compared to parents forced into regular and unending negotiations, calculations, income comparisons, receipt exchanges, clarifications, and choices regarding days, weekends, and vacations.