Tips for Co-Parenting Kids with Active School Schedules

Youth athletes in soccer clothes sitting on a bench in a row. - KM Family Law

The school year is getting started, and for many families, that means school sports, clubs, and other extracurricular activities are getting under way. Managing kids’ active school schedules is hard enough for households with two parents. After a separation or divorce, co-parents need to work together to make sure everyone gets where they need to be, and pay for all the necessary equipment.

This blog post will discuss how divorced or separated parents can work together to support and coparent kids with active school schedules. It will provide tips for resolving the disputes that arise around extracurricular activities, and provide guidance on how to avoid turning a child's schedule into a custody dispute.

Who Pays for Extracurricular Activity Costs?

Before your high-schooler can march in the band, or your little athlete can take to the field, it is up to you, as co-parents to pay their extracurricular expenses. Depending on the activity and whether they are through the school or a private program, you may have to pay for:

  • Uniforms
  • Equipment or instruments
  • Protective gear
  • Class costs or association fees
  • Private lesson costs
  • Travel costs for you and your child

If your child is on a travel team, or a competitive circuit, those costs can add up quickly. The question for co-parents is, who will pay for those expenses?

The Minnesota Child Support Guidelines include a lot, from food and clothing to child care and doctor’s visits. However, they do not automatically include extracurricular activities or private classes. If you have a Michael Phelps or a Mozart in your household, then as part of your divorce or custody resolution, you are going to want to come to an agreement on how you divide those costs. Depending on each parent’s income, and other factors, you may want to divide the costs in proportion to you abilities. You may also want to let each parent pay for the activities most important to them.

How to Handle After-School Practice Schedules During Parenting Time

When a child’s activities come up in the midst of a divorce, it can sometimes make parents feel like practices and classes are intentionally planned to interrupt their parenting time. However, remember that a child’s after-school practice schedule isn’t something that either parent controls. Most often, it is set by the school, coach, or training facility. Co-parents should make a point of putting their children’s interests ahead of their own. If this extracurricular activity is something the child wants to do, then you should do what you can get them to practices and support them while they are there.

However, it is also worth saying that sometimes parents are leading the charge to enroll their children in classes and activities for their own reasons. In these cases, the kids’ active school schedules can cause them unnecessary stress and anxiety as they try to keep up with the competing demands from teachers, coaches, and parents. In these cases, co-parents should take a close look at why the schedules are so busy, and what can be done to protect quality time with each parent.

Resolving Co-Parenting Disputes Over School Activities

The ever-changing challenge of keeping up with students’ active school schedules is an example of why co-parents need a forward-facing solution to their parenting time disputes. It isn’t enough to just come up with a schedule. You and your ex-partner need to have strategies to resolve the disputes that will inevitably crop up along the way.

The collaborative divorce process teaches you those strategies. By working with professionals trained in alternative conflict resolution, you can learn how to:

  • Keep the children as the focus
  • Explain your goals and priorities, rather than demands
  • Acknowledge the other person’s needs
  • Create solutions that satisfy everyone involved
  • Avoid the time and expense of going to court

When it comes to resolving parenting-time disputes that arise out of your children’s busy schedules, you should:

Avoid Making Promises Your Kids

One challenge when you are dealing with a co-parenting situation is that there is often a delay in when parents can discuss issues like whether a child can sign up for soccer. It can be tempting to promise your children that they can do what they want even before talking to your co-parent. However, this can cause resentment, anger, and disappointment if you later need to go back on your word. Instead, promise that you will talk to the child’s other parent as soon as you can. Then do it. Be honest with your children, and help them understand that you value their priorities, and also have some of your own.

Communicate Directly with Your Co-Parent

Don’t put the kids in the middle either. Notice, you should be promising that you will talk to their coparent, not that your child can ask them if it is okay. Adult decisions need to happen between adults. Don’t put your children in the difficult position of carrying messages between divorced parents. Instead, reach out and have a frank conversation where you can discuss the pros, cons, and complications of saying yes to another extracurricular activity.

Take the Time to Consider Options

As much as possible, try not to wait until the last minute to make decisions about a child’s extracurricular activities. Give both parents, and the children, time to consider and discuss their options, including:

  • Dropping one activity in favor of another
  • Price-shopping among different studios, dojos, or teachers
  • Researching scholarships or funding options
  • Rearranging work or parenting time schedules to accommodate practices and games or performances
  • Getting help with transportation from teammates or family

Attend Activities Together, If Possible

Once the decision is made and your kids are enrolled, make attending their activities a priority. If you and your co-parent are able, consider sitting next to each other at games or performances. This will show your children that you are both there to support them, and that their happiness and success are more important than your disagreements with your ex.

For many families, growing up means much more than going to school. Extracurricular activities, clubs, and teams can make for active school schedules that keep co-parents on their toes. Don’t let the stress of their schedules send you back to court. Work with collaborative professionals to resolve parenting time disputes early and learn strategies that you can use for years to come.

Kimberly is an experienced collaborative divorce professional with a successful record in reaching positive solutions for families. She can teach you co-parenting techniques to help you and your co-parent resolve your parenting time disputes outside the courtroom. If you would like to learn more about the collaborative process, please contact Kimberly.