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Can a Coparent Stop the Kids from Playing Sports?


Most parents are their children’s biggest cheerleaders, supporting their kids from the stands or the sidelines.  However, for divorced parents, getting their children to the games is not always so simple. Often, there are disagreements regarding youth sports and activities which usually focus on who will pay and how. In some cases, however, the disagreement is over whether the child can play at all.

When parents disagree about recreational activities, those disagreements can lead to court intervention. In some cases, depending on the particular facts of the case, yes – your coparent can stop the children from playing sports, or participating in other types of recreational activities.

Legal custody vs. residential custody when it comes to children’s sports

There are two types of custody in New York: legal, which allows a parent to make major decisions for the child’s wellbeing, and residential, which details how much time a child spends living with each parent. Many couples share joint legal custody, which means they are jointly responsible for making these important decisions even if the child spends more time living with one parent. In some cases, one parent may be granted sole legal custody, even when the residential custody time is equally split.

If a parent with sole legal custody of a child says that the child can or cannot participate in a particular sport or activity, that parent does so with the full power of the law behind them.

Issues regarding custody and sports

Assume for the moment that parents share legal custody, and that whether or not the children can participate in certain sports or activities was left out of the original custody order or parenting plan. Some of the more common issues regarding custody and sports include:

  1. Fear of injury. Perhaps both parents were onboard with their children playing sports, but one still has lingering fears because of the coronavirus pandemic. Or perhaps a child who plays contact sports has suffered a concussion (or two, or more), and your coparent has concerns about his or her health in the long run. Now, one parent wants to stop the child from playing, and the other parent does not.
  2. Scheduling. Not all divorces are amicable, and sporting events can be problematic when both parents wish to attend. Coparents may also struggle when practices or games are scheduled more often during one parent’s time (such as weekends, or during school nights) than the other parent’s.
  3. Unexpected expenses. Theoretically, sports-related expenses (much like educational expenses) should be considered part of financial support. However, many sports get more expensive as the children get older. There could be expenses related to new equipment, traveling costs (for both the team and the parents), and championship games. This can lead to issues as to how these expenses should be paid.

Should I seek sole legal custody if there’s a disagreement about sports?

If your child is on multiple teams, or is looking for a sports-related scholarship in order to attend college, then modifying your agreement and/or seeking full legal custody may be necessary. But you may want to exhaust all of your other options before moving toward modification, and you absolutely should first discuss such options with your attorney.

Here is the truth: under the law, your coparent is entitled to time with your child. If he or she wishes to spend that time together, as opposed to driving your child to practice, or sitting in the stands watching a game, or traveling to and from games where your child is on the visiting team, then your coparent may have a valid argument for not wanting your child to play certain sports. If your child has suffered numerous injuries, or the sports take up so much time that your child’s grades are slipping, your coparent may have a valid argument.

What if my ex stops following the custody order regarding sports or other activities?

If your child’s extracurricular activities are a part of the custody order, then both parents must abide by what is in the order. Failure to do so can result in a contempt charge.

Contempt charges are serious, and a one-time violation of a custody order may not be significant enough to allege contempt. If, for example, your ex gets the flu and cannot bring your child to soccer practice, he or she is not flouting the custody order. However, if your ex refuses to comply with part of the order, or establishes a pattern of behavior to avoid abiding by the order, then he or she may be in contempt.

How can you avoid arguments over sports?

The single best thing you can do to avoid arguments is talk to your coparent before the child custody order or agreement is in place. For many couples, divorce mediation can address your concerns in a way that is healthy, and it allows both sides to be – and to feel – heard. If you can reach a compromise, everyone will be better off. Alternatively, if your child custody order is already in effect, mediation is still a great option, where you can both discuss your concerns and try to come to a resolution that you both can agree on. Maybe that means you agree your child can play for a school team, but not a traveling team. Maybe it means you will handle all associated costs and travel for spring sports, and your coparent will take winter sports. You have options that you can discuss from the start.

For parents who are concerned about the costs associated with youth sports, the smartest move is to speak with a financial advisor during the mediation or negotiation part of your divorce, so that any decisions that are made are part of the final agreement. For example, you may choose to set up a private account just for extracurriculars, or agree to split all costs evenly, regardless of what the child support payments are. There is a lot of room to be creative, but it is in your best interest to do so transparently.

Berkman Bottger Newman & Schein LLP offers competent counsel to clients throughout NYC, Westchester, and Bergen County, NJ. For help with order modification, divorce mediation, or any matrimonial law issue, please call (212) 466-6015 or fill out our contact form to schedule an appointment with an experienced NYC family law attorney.