Dear Cassie: I am in the process of going through a divorce. My wife and I have two children. Our children have usually played recreational sports throughout our town. However, now our son wants to join a travel league. This is going to be much more expensive, and I’m concerned about the impact it will have on my visitation. Can I say no?
Dear K.M.: There are really two issues raised in your question: one, the issue of allocation of payment of the sports activity, and two, the issue of the impact of that sport on parenting time (also known as visitation).
As for the first issue, the first thing you need to know is that the payment of extracurricular activity costs (including sports) is a form of child support. In New Jersey, child support is based upon a formula called the Child Support Guidelines. The Guidelines apply in all cases in which the parties’ combined net (after-tax) income totals less than $187,200.00 per year. The Guidelines take into account a number of factors, including the number of children, the parties’ respective incomes, and the timesharing arrangements for the children. After the facts of each case are applied, the Guidelines identify the weekly sum owed from the non-custodial parent to the custodial parent in direct child support.
The weekly sum of child support is typically designed to cover the children’s share of expenses for housing, food, clothing, transportation, entertainment, and other miscellaneous items. However, certain expenses, including extracurricular activities, are typically not included, and are paid in addition to the weekly child support sum. In many cases, they are paid by both parties in proportion to the parties’ incomes.
However, that is not the end of the inquiry. Before a court will order you to contribute to the extracurricular activity cost, the court will want to know about a number of factors, including the amounts of the historical extracurricular activity expenses incurred by the parties during the marriage, and the parties’ respective abilities to pay for any increased extracurricular activity costs. If the travel league is substantially more money than what was historically paid, and/or you do not have the ability to pay the increased cost, the court could limit your obligation to contribute to it. The court is likely also going to be interested in the age of your child and his commitment to the sport.
As for the impact on your parenting time, you should know that a parent’s custody and parenting time rights come first, over a child’s enrollment in an activity. An extracurricular activity cannot be used as a basis to deprive a parent of access to his child. However, this does not mean that the child cannot partake in any activities. Depending on the specifics of the activity, it may simply be that you will be expected to take the child to and from the activity when it occurs during your parenting time.
If you are dealing with the issue of child support and/or parenting time, you should seek the advice of matrimonial counsel.
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Cassie Murphy is a divorce and family law Partner with the Law Offices of Paone, Zaleski & Murphy, with offices in Red Bank and Woodbridge.