In marriages, it is not uncommon for couples to have conflicting views about their children participating in sports. Such disputes can be based on factors like finances, time constraints, and concern about injury. With divorce these disagreements can be magnified and lead to litigation and addition emotional upset.

The best way to avoid such problems is to discuss and resolve these sports participation-related issues prior to a divorce and have the areas of agreement incorporated in a court order. It would be advisable if the parties to a divorce were as specific as possible and address such issues as:

  • Which sports are acceptable;
  • Who pays for participation fees;
  • Who pays for equipment;
  • Time commitments/schedules;
  • Transportation;
  • Attendance of parents at practice and games;
  • Parental coaching.

It is also important to take into consideration the child’s siblings and step-siblings schedules and time commitments/constraints.

Generally, both parents can attend any sporting events, but sometimes there are issues when a parent is being inappropriate. There might be issues with a parent signing a child up for sports during the other parent’s visitation times.

Another growing issue involves parents having different perspectives about the risk of sports-related injury – not only in a high profile sport like football, but in other sports like soccer or hockey where concussions have also been a concern.

A child’s participation in sports can be a source of conflict for the parents even in marriage. I had a case where DCF supported an allegation against the parents for getting involved in domestic violence (verbal not physical) over their child’s participation in a sports club. It ended up being a case that I was able to get a 51A abuse allegation reversed.

In the past year, I have had court cases involving conflict about out of state travel for a softball team; hockey expenses; bowling tournaments and related travel; etc. There have also been issues about whether a parent should be allowed to coach his child; participation in rec sports when there are conflicts with parent’s time siblings’ activities.

Most parents try to make decisions that are in their children’s best interest, including sports participation. However, parents might look at sports participation differently – especially if there is still animosity after a high conflict divorce or custody case. Having a plan that is spelled out in a court order is strongly advisable and will likely reduce the opportunities for further conflict.

If parents do not resolve their issues with an agreement, then a judge will decide. If litigated, the court will determine if sports participation is in the child’s best interest (using a broad standard and very fact specific) and will factor in the cost and ability to pay. The court does not always have the ability to understand all of the unique needs of the family; so it is generally better to reach a well-thought-out agreement prior to divorce.