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  • Writer's pictureStephen Williams

Football or fútbol? In child custody, which parent gets to decide what sport a child plays?

Updated: Dec 20, 2022

As the United States sees continued success in the #WorldCup, I’m sure you were wondering, hypothetically, what if Christian Pulisic’s parents split up and his Father pushed him into American football against his Mother’s wishes for him to play soccer. Who makes the final decision on sports and extracurricular activities for children when one parent wants to risk concussions and one just “pelvic contusions”? 🥜🇺🇸⚽️🏈 There’s a simple answer, but parents, judges and even their lawyers don’t always take the necessary steps to address this critical question…

As it turns out, though, with the proper research, citation to law and detailed language either in an Agreement or Court order, you can at least address this issue clearly in your Child Custody case even when there’s disagreement on sports for children. That’s not to say each parent gets what they want; it just means that the order can be clear on who gets to make the ultimate decision on who decides what and that includes in what sports or other extracurricular activities a child participates.

In family law, the term ‘Sole Legal Custody’ determines which parent has “final authority to make all major decisions when the parties cannot agree.” Bentley v. Bentley, 222 So. 3d 1165, 1170 (Ala. Civ. App. 2016). See also § 30-3-151, Ala. Code 1975.

“Joint Legal Custody,” on the other hand, is when “[b]oth parents have equal rights and responsibilities for major decisions concerning the child, including, but not limited to, the education of the child, health care, and religious training. The court may designate one parent to have sole power to make certain decisions while both parents retain equal rights and responsibilities for other decisions.” § 30-3-151, Ala. Code 1975, emphasis added.

(* Note: a Court will rarely, if ever, actually make a specific decision for a child, e.g., whether a child gets vaccinated or not, but if such an important decision and disagreement is presented, a Court must decide WHO makes that decision. It may sound like the difference between six and a half-dozen, so to speak, but it’s not. The Court is considering the characteristics and protective capacity of the decision MAKER rather than the decision, itself. The Court may personally or philosophically disagree with a decision but should award Sole Legal Custody or final decision-making authority to the Parent best suited to make such decisions)

The problem is that many Agreements and orders just award Co-Parents “Joint Legal Custody” without any further clarification. So who decides whether a Child is home-schooled or public schooled if the parents disagree? Who decides whether the Child plays soccer or football? Who decides whether the Child plays piano or violin?

The key is that last italicized portion of § 30-3-151, above, but that’s the part that many Agreements, especially those written by lawyers who don’t specialize in Child Custody and Family Law, ignore and fail to provide parents the direction they need to avoid conflict and questions about who decides what. Here are the main categories we typically consider:

elective healthcare (either parent, in almost all cases, will be able to make emergency decisions)

education (public or private school, which school district, IEP strategies and services, etc.)

religious training (heads up, if there’s disagreement, Courts traditionally award religious upbringing to the Mother unless there’s significant good cause otherwise, like the Father being a priest or something (get it? the Father is a Father? 😜))

civic involvement (organizations, politics and social causes); and

last, but not least…

extracurricular activities like sports, music, chess, ballet cheerleading, etc.

So, whether it's Fútbol or Football, work with an experienced Child Custody lawyer who spends all day, every day, helping Co-Parents get clear on who decides what for your Child.


If you would like to learn more about how you, as a Committed Parent or Caring Relative, can stand up for yourself and be more effective in your Child Custody, Divorce, DHR or Adoption case, please click “book appointment online” on the menu or top right of your screen to schedule your initial consultation at one of our offices.


This article contains general information and should not be construed as legal advice for you and or your unique situation. ~SW, Foxtrot

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