In a separation or property settlement agreement, many parents will often agree to pay for or split the costs of extra-curricular activities for their children without giving much thought to this provision. This seemingly innocuous agreement to split extra-curricular activity costs, however, can spell financial disaster later for the unsuspecting parent.
What most parents do not consider when they agree to pay for or share extra-curricular activity costs is the potential cost of the activities they are committing themselves to pay for. While parents may be thinking about $50.00 recreational sports fees and $100.00 Girl Scout troop fees, the actual costs of extra-curricular activities in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area may be much higher. If your children are into sports, annual travel sports team fees can exceed $5,000.00 a year. Even seemingly benign activities such as music lessons can cost thousands of dollars a year, depending upon the provider. When a parent agrees to split the cost of extra-curricular activities, they may unwittingly commit themselves to pay extraordinarily expensive fees such as these. Extra-curricular activity expenses can easily add $500.00 a month or more to a parent’s support payments. And if the provision to pay is included in a signed separation agreement, there is no way out of the commitment, even if you do not have the money to pay these additional costs.
Worse still is the fact that, notwithstanding a shared or sole payment arrangement, either parent may be able to enroll their children in these expensive activities without the consent of the other. Although parents may share joint legal custody, the decision making authority encompassed by shared legal custody generally does not include such routine decisions as what after-school activities your children may participate in, irrespective of the cost. Thus, if one parent wants a child to participate on a travel soccer team at a cost of $5,000.00 per year, the other parent may not have the power to stop it and may have to pay half the cost of the activity regardless of his or her ability to pay.
Parents also often agree to share the cost of summer camp in separation agreements without giving this provision much thought either. However, one parent’s idea of camp may be YMCA day camp and the other’s may be sleep away camp in Maine for four weeks. The parent who envisioned day camp may, however, end up paying thousands of dollars each year for his or her child to enjoy the Maine experience.
What happens if you don’t pay your share of the agreed upon expenses set out in a separation agreement? Expect a contempt motion to be filed against you by your ex-spouse alleging non-compliance with the agreement. And, to add insult to injury, you can also expect a demand for your ex-spouse’s attorney’s fees to be included in the contempt motion.
To avoid this predicament, make sure you place limits on the amount of extra-curricular expenses you agree to pay for in a separation agreement. For example, the agreement can provide that you will agree to split the cost of extra-curricular activities, but only up to a certain dollar amount per year. Or, alternatively, you can define “joint legal custody” to include decision making regarding extra-curricular activities and camp. That way neither parent can commit the other to pay for an after-school activity without the other’s consent.
Jewish parents who agree to split Bar or Bat Mitzvah costs in a separation agreement should also clearly set out what those costs will include and/or set a dollar limit for the event in the agreement. One parent may be thinking a 250 person party at the Ritz-Carlton in Georgetown is an appropriate celebration while the other may be envisioning a kids-only party at the Potomac Community Center. Be clear about what you are committing yourself to pay for.
The more specific you are about expenses now, the better it will serve you later.
And, you should never sign a separation agreement without it being reviewed by an attorney.
For more information about separation agreements, call our office at (301) 444-4664.