Kids, Sports and Divorce: How Can Co-Parents Support Their Child’s Olympic Dreams?

Olympic champion Michael Phelps was raised by his divorced single mom Debbie; the parents of Apolo Ohno, the most decorated Winter Olympics athlete in history, divorced when their soon-to-be speed skater was just a baby. Believe your child has what it takes to be a future Olympian? Here’s how divorce can affect who foots the bill for coaches, lessons, and equipment — and what you can do to help your child go for the gold, no matter what the state of your marriage.

Lay the Groundwork: Your son or daughter may be just learning to crawl, but when thinking about your divorce settlement, remember that someday your child will probably want to participate in an extracurricular sport. No, not every kid who takes swimming lessons is going to end up winning 22 gold medals at the Olympics, but even the most basic of swimming lessons can cost money. Talk to your divorce lawyer about how to factor in these kinds of expenses. In your settlement talks, you might consider addressing such issues as: how will you split payment for lessons (any kinds of lessons: from art to music to sports)? Which parent makes the decision about lessons — is the consent of both parents needed before signing a child up?

Negotiate: Whatever language about extracurricular activities made it into the divorce settlement, expect bumps along the road, especially if your child reaches competition level in a particular sport. Coaches, private lessons, buying specialized equipment, and travel to meets and games can be very expensive and time-consuming. What if one parent was initially supportive, but now thinks the cost is too much? What if spending all day Saturday at skating or snowboarding lessons unfairly cuts into weekend visitations? Should this mean a shift in parenting time and custody arrangements? In the case of 2012 Summer Olympics medalist Gabby Douglas, the young gymnast moved to Iowa to continue training, living apart from both her mother and father, who were going through a divorce. What happens if one parent objects to this kind of plan?

In general, the parent who is more enthusiastic about the child’s involvement in sports may need to be willing to take on more of the burden of paying for extras above and beyond normal participation — or be willing to concede on other issues. Some parents decide to forgo negotiations all together and look for other sources of money, including second jobs or taking out a second mortgage in their own name.

Don’t Bring It On the Field: Whatever financial decisions you come to with your spouse concerning extracurricular sports, when it’s time for the big game, match, or meet, focus on your child, not the disagreements or misgivings you have about money. In other words, take the same advice that’s often given to athletes…

Don’t let them see you sweat!

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