Splitting the Costs of Kids’ Hockey
Kids’ hockey is big in many families, and when the parents split, the proper division of what are sometimes hefty ongoing costs can become contentious.
In broad terms, the issue is governed by the federal Child Support Guidelines, which under its section 7(1)(f) allows for the payment by parents of what are called “extraordinary expenses for extracurricular activities”. Under the wording of that provision, these expenses must be justified by taking into account:
1) the means of the parents,
2) the family’s spending pattern prior to separation; and
3) various listed financial factors (which include the amount by which the expenses exceed what the support-receiving parent can cover, bearing in mind his or her existing income), or else a court-initiated evaluation of the costs in relation to various criteria (including the overall costs, as well as the child’s particular talents).
In more practical terms, this means that the courts’ treatment and allocation of hockey-related expenses will always vary according to the particular facts. However, a glimpse at a recent case illustrates the real-life manner in which courts approach this exercise.
In the New Brunswick case called C. (J.) v. C. (M.),l the court considered the hockey-related expenses of an older daughter of parents who had separated. Since then, the girl’s school marks had slipped from A’s and B’s down to C’s, she had engaged in some self-harming behaviour, and she had apparently acted out some family-related frustrations and anger by striking a referee, for which she was temporarily suspended from play.
The father wanted the mother to pay her proportionate share of the full $3,500 in hockey expenses for the year. The mother wanted the expenses capped at $1,500 per year, with each parent paying half.
The court considered the circumstances:
It is the older girl’s ice hockey costs and anticipated costs that have caused the most significant financial issue dividing the parents. The importance of her love for hockey cannot be overlooked as it appears to be an important stabilizing influence in her life. Without a doubt it is in her best interests to continue playing (See, in this regard s. 7(1) of the Federal Child Support Guidelines SOR/97-175). The father testified that he fears: “losing her” if she does not continue in hockey. She is a goaltender and in the fall of 2014 she will likely begin playing for a Bantam AAA girl’s hockey team. The team plays throughout New Brunswick as well as other Maritime Provinces and elsewhere. Although she currently plays at the level below, because of her age, she is affiliated as a backup goalie this year for the team she expects to play with next year.
None of this would likely be an issue except that these parents are not persons of considerable financial means. The father earns just over $38,300.00 per year while the mother earned $32,400.00 per year last year. She recently started a new job for which she will be on probation for the first six months receiving a salary of $36,000.00.
The father claims that the hockey expenses for this year for the older daughter totaled $3,399.87 … These claimed expenses include registration, equipment, travel costs to out of town games and tournaments and fuel costs for the father to transport his daughter to practice thirty five kilometres outside the City … The mother says she has offered to take her daughter to every second practice but the father says the daughter does not want her mother to transport her. She believes that she should only be responsible for her share of registration, equipment and tournament costs.
In the end – and after lamenting that only partial estimates of the future hockey-related expenses had been provided – the court struck somewhat of a compromise, deciding that only certain hockey expenses were subject to being shared by the parents. The court observed that hockey seemed to be “a principal support in [the daughter’s] social world without which her sense of wellbeing would be seriously impacted”, and even expressed hope that it might serve to strengthen the fractious relationship between mother and daughter. The court wrote:
I am reluctant to attempt to devise a formula to pay for this anticipated cost when there is only the cost experience of the lower level hockey team this past year to guide the evaluation process. It is a reasonable inference to draw that as children rise to higher levels of athletic competition the costs associated with such achievements rise, in some instances, dramatically. However, without some evidence of the actual annual costs for members of the Bantam AAA team this past season it is impossible to predict what those costs might be for this family.
At this point I will accede to the request of [the wife] and adopt her proposal of capping expenses at 1,500.00. I am doing so bearing in mind that … Travel Expenses to Games and Practices [were estimated] at $1,330.40 and season total expenses at $3,399.87. I believe that any travel to local practices even if it is to a hockey arena 35 kilometres outside the City … should be accounted for under the heading of ordinary expenses associated with child support already being paid. The mother will be responsible for $690.00 as her pro rata share. …
With some reluctance I will insert a review clause on the issue of the 2014-2015 hockey season costs for the older daughter once it has been determined what team she will be part of for the upcoming season and a proposed budget has been prepared itemizing the costs that will be incurred. … However, local travel costs to [sic] are not to be included in any proposed budget. This may serve to promote a sharing of the local travelling responsibility for getting their daughter to practice between the mother and father, something the mother would like to see happen. Spending uninterrupted time together travelling back and forth to practice may help promote a more healthy relationship between them. …
The court also inserted a review clause in the order, so that the division of costs could be revisited once it became clear whether the daughter was going to be chosen for the Bantam AAA team (in which event the hockey-related costs were anticipated to increase significantly). It also ordered that any hockey expenses were to be discussed between the parents before being actually incurred, as this had not happened in the past despite a clear term in the Separation Agreement that called for it.
For the full text of the decision, see:
C. (J.) v. C. (M.), 2014 NBBR 161, 2014 NBQB 161