Is Summer Camp or Other Activities a “Necessity” for Kids? (Or Only for Parents’ Sanity?)
The official start of summer is fast approaching. It’s a time when, as parents, we strive to keep children busy with various sports and activities, particularly through the long hot months of their summer vacation from school.
You might call these activities are “necessities” – at least from the point of view of parents who must juggle work and childcare responsibilities (and otherwise endure the frustration of having bored kids underfoot from June through early September!).
But – in the context of determining how and by whom they are paid for – are they really necessities in the legal sense?
The recent Ontario decision in Sutej v. Sutej tackles a scenario where the divorced parents of a boy disagreed on whether his soccer camp and other activities were something towards which the father should have to contribute financially. From a legal perspective the test was whether these activities fell under “section 7 expenses” under the Child Support Guidelines, which covers the payment of what are known as “extraordinary expenses” for extracurricular activities. Those expenses – which are above-and-beyond basic child support obligations – are to be shared by the parents in proportion to a number of variables, including their respective incomes. The Guidelines also clarify that a court must assess the appropriateness of any such “extraordinary expenses” by considering several factors, including the nature and number of extracurricular activities and their overall cost.
In Sutej, the mother had enrolled their couple’s son in a soccer camp in the summer, as well as in other summertime and year-round activities including both soccer and gymnastics. The father, however, resisted paying for these kinds of expenses for his son; he also objected to the fact that the mother was choosing what extracurricular activities the boy would be enrolled in, without checking with him first and obtaining his advance approval.
In this context, the court’s mandate was to determine whether such camp costs (and similar activities) met the test of being “extraordinary expenses” within the meaning of section 7 of the Guidelines.
Firstly, the court confirmed that the mother lacked the absolute right to enroll the child in a multitude of activities, and then ask the father for a contribution in paying for them. Quoting from another decision called Forrester v. Forrester the court confirmed that “the Guidelines do not grant a license to a custodial parent to inject a child into lavish additional activities and demand automatic payment.” Instead, the court emphasized, the expenses sought by the mother from the father to pay for the extracurricular activity must meet the threshold tests of “necessity” and “reasonableness”. Also, they must represent unusual costs that are not otherwise covered or subsumed in the ordinary payments that are paid by the parents.
Applying these principles to the present case, the court found that the costs to enroll the son in soccer camp and in his current roster of activities were not “extraordinary” in line with the Guidelines threshold. The court wrote:
“… as enjoyable and instructive as they may be, I do not consider them to be “reasonably necessary” to require [the father] to contribute to them. [The father] may wish to do so voluntarily, but that is between [the father and the mother], and ultimately, [the father and the son].”
Practically speaking, however, the court recognized that such extraordinary expenses may crop up from time to time as the child got older. To eliminate any future dispute between the parents, it ordered the father to pay a set amount each month to represent section 7 expenses for extracurricular activities. The court explained that part of its ruling this way:
In today’s changing world, [the mother] may find that [the son] would benefit from new and changing experiences to open the world up to him. Subject to any further order [the father] may seek as to what those experiences should or should not be, rather than give vent to either party and their respective personalities with respect to each activity as it comes up, I order [the father] to pay $50 a month for section 7 expenses to meet his responsibility for making contributions to [the son’s] extracurricular activities.
The court added that if other section 7 expenses arose in the future that required a greater contribution, then the parties could go back to court to increase the father’s share.
For the full text of the decision, see:
Sutej v. Sutej, 2015 ONSC 2064 (CanLII)