Around August every year we pull out the fall calendars and the cheque books and the sports bags and dance bags hoping some of that equipment will still fit.  Time to register the kids for their fall activities.

According to my newsfeed, research shows that it’s important for kids to participate in more than one sport rather than specializing exclusively in just the one.  Good to know.  In addition to rep hockey, parents who really want to do right by their kids will find time in that schedule for some soccer or swimming or basketball.

Managing the kids’ activity schedules and the associated costs is enough of a challenge in an intact family.    When parents separate, the kids’ extracurricular activities can become a divisive issue.  Here are a few things to consider when creating a parenting plan to avoid possible conflict over activities when registration time comes around every year:

  1. Set a budget. Put it in writing.  Stick to it.

This is obviously helpful even where parents are not separated.  When coaches and instructors tell us our children have “what it takes” it’s hard not to give in to pressure to pay for the next level of training, etc.

Consider all of the costs – not just the initial registration fees but tournaments (and associated costs such as travel, meals and hotels), equipment, costumes, private coaching, dance exams, makeup, photographs, videos – and how you will fund these throughout the year.

Look at the funds that are available.  Remember that the income the family had before separation must now be used to fund two households.  Have a realistic discussion about what the family can afford.  Put that in writing in a parenting plan.

  1. Set out your mutual goals.

Separated parents won’t agree on everything.  When it comes to the kids you probably have some common goals surrounding their best interests including health and well-being and academic standards.  If you put these in your parenting plan all future discussions about whether to increase or reduce the extra-curricular activities can refer back to these goals to help with the decision-making process.

  1. Set limits.

Whether it’s the number of hours in a week, or days, or tournaments or the number of activities in which a child will participate set this out in a parenting plan to avoid future disagreements.  The more detailed this is in a parenting plan the less parents will have to argue about when issues arise in the future.

  1. Set out responsibilities.

Who will do the driving?  Who will be responsible to care for siblings when one child is participating in an activity?  Are parents required to volunteer?  Will all parents have the opportunity to attend practices, games, recitals, etc. regardless of the schedule?  How will extended family participate?

  1. Include a detailed “Dispute Resolution” provision.

Think about…

  • What will you do if there is a disagreement in the future?  How will you come to a child-focused resolution?
  • Other than parents, whose input will you want before deciding (this may be the children, counsellors who work with them, teachers, medical professionals, coaches, etc.)?
  • Will you work with a mediator (and, if so, how will you choose the mediator and how will you share the cost?)
  • If you really can’t agree will you outsource the decision-making to a third party such as a parenting coordinator or an arbitrator?
  • How much time will parents need to consider these decisions before a response is required?

All of this should be set out in a parenting plan to provide a clear path to follow if parents disagree going forward.

Most importantly – don’t forget to have fun!


Marian Gage is a Collaborative Family Lawyer, an Accredited Family / Intergenerational Mediator (OAFM) and a Certified Specialist in Family Law (LSO)…and a parent/driver!