Extracurricular Activity Clauses Can Lead to Confusion and Litigation

Parents who are splitting up use the Standard Possession Order as a starting point. The Standard Possession order sets out the possession times each parent has with their children. One of the things parents can include in a customized possession order is an extracurricular activity, or more than one, for each child. But unless properly drafted, these provisions can cause confusion and litigation. The experienced child custody attorneys at Houston’s Boudreaux | Hunter & Associates, L.L.C., can help you avoid these problems.

The firm’s six-person team is led by partners Shannon Boudreaux and Kevin Hunter. Ms. Boudreaux graduated from South Texas College of Law in 2003. As she nears 20 years as an attorney, Ms. Boudreaux’s focus on high-conflict family law matters serves her clients well. Mr. Hunter, also a South Texas College of Law graduate, excelled in oral advocacy while in law school. He became a lawyer after serving his country in the United States Air Force. You should contact the firm immediately if you need help with a problem involving a child’s extracurricular activity.

Confusing Drafting of an Extracurricular Activity Clause

In a recent Texas Supreme Court case, In re Pamela Janson, the Court tried to make sense of an extracurricular activity clause. The clause had several parts:

  • Each parent would agree, in writing, to place each of their two children in one extracurricular activity.
  • Each parent would take each child to their extracurricular activities when the children were with that parent.
  • If a parent could not take the children to their extracurricular activities, that parent would notify the other parent so that the other parent could take the children.

The Agreement Worked for a While

When the parents made their agreement, their son was playing baseball and their daughter had joined a soccer team. When those seasons ended, the parents then picked tennis as the extracurricular activity for both of their children. The father then enrolled the daughter in soccer again, this time in an indoor league. But then things fell apart. The mother stopped taking the daughter to some of her soccer activities.

Contempt of Court

The father charged the mother with contempt of court for violating the agreed court order for failing to take the daughter to her indoor soccer activities, not telling him she wasn’t and not giving him the opportunity to take them. After a hearing, the trial court found the mother guilty of criminal contempt of court. The trial court reasoned that neither party had shown any written agreement to place the children in any extracurricular activity after the order. The order stated the son was in baseball and the daughter in soccer, so the trial court stuck with that.

The court concluded that since the mother didn’t always take the daughter to soccer, she was in contempt of court. The court sentenced her to jail for 180 days but suspended the incarceration and put her on two years’ deferred adjudication. In other words, the mother would have to follow the court order exactly. If she did not, she would go to jail for 180 days.

The Supreme Court Found the Extracurricular Activity Clause Ambiguous

The mother brought her case to the Texas Supreme Court under a procedure called a petition for a writ of mandamus. She reminded the Court of the settled law that a person can’t be convicted of criminal contempt unless the trial court finds that the person willfully violated a specific court order. The trial court must make these findings using the “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard of proof just like in other criminal cases.

To be a specific court order, an order must “set forth the terms of compliance in clear, specific, and unambiguous terms.” The Texas Supreme Court found this extracurricular activity order to be ambiguous. The order didn’t take into account what the daughter’s agreed-upon extracurricular activity was at the time of the alleged violations. The trial court’s interpretation of the order was that the children would remain in baseball and soccer indefinitely until the parents reached a written agreement changing those activities. The trial court could have taken into account that these sports are seasonal. Had it done so, it should have concluded that the order was ambiguous. Because a person can’t be sent to jail for violating an ambiguous order, the Supreme Court set the mother free.

Get Experienced Help with Extracurricular Activity Clauses

This case shows just how much trouble a parent can get into if the parent violates even an ambiguous extracurricular activity clause. The experienced child custody attorneys at Boudreaux | Hunter & Associates, L.L.C., can help you to draw up enforceable court orders and help to enforce them as needed. Contact the firm on the Contact Us page or call (713) 333-4430.