Divorce itself is hard enough; but when there are children involved, it can make the process even tougher. As a result, one of the most emotional aspects of a divorce is the need to establish a custody and parenting time arrangement. Over time, the court has implemented a number programs aimed at aiding parties in reaching an amicable agreement, like the parent education program and parenting time mediation. Once you and your spouse have reached an agreement, it will become a part of your final settlement. Here are some tips to make the most of your custody agreement.
Don’t make side agreements – all changes should be in writing
Your custody agreement is the result of a lot of hard work, and you don’t want to undermine that by making side agreements with your spouse. While it is likely that you will need to make arrangements at times to exchange weekends or modify the times to accommodate a special event, don’t get into the habit of routinely modifying your schedule. This can result in confusion and additional arguments about whose time it is with the kids. Additionally, if you and your spouse agree to make changes that are intended to be permanent, be sure that it is in writing. Ideally, it should be drafted as a Consent Order and signed by the court so that it has the same force and effect as your original agreement. If you do not want to be that formal about the arrangement, at least be sure that you have something in writing that states that you both agree to the change. If it is in writing and an issue arises, you will at least have that to present to the judge to show that there was an agreed upon change.
Don’t involve the children in disputes or use them as messengers between the parents
Your children are children, not mini-adults, and you should do your best to remember this with regard to your parenting time arrangements. The kids should not be used to relay messages between you and your spouse or to deliver support checks. It is best if the kids know and understand the parenting time schedule, but they should not have any other involvement in the schedule – at least until they are old enough to manage their own schedules. If you and your former spouse are having issues with the parenting time schedules, do your best to keep the children in the dark and wait to speak to them about the changes until after they have been decided.
Make sure your agreement contains specifics
Often people want to leave the parenting time schedule open-ended or include language like they will have “liberal and reasonable parenting time.” This is not a good idea. Who’s to say that your view of liberal and reasonable is the same as your spouse’s? Or the judge’s? You will be much less likely to run into issues post-judgment if your agreement includes specifics. Some important details to include are pickup and drop-off times, who will be handling the transportation of the kids, and telephone contact with the children while they are with the other parent. Having specifics in your agreement will provide guidelines and result in less conflict down the road.
Set a holiday schedule
Again, many people want their holiday schedule to be vague and simply say something like, “The parties will share holidays by mutual consent.” This is a recipe for disaster. You are not getting along with your spouse now – it’s why you are getting divorced. Why would you suddenly expect to be able to agree upon who gets to spend Christmas morning with the kids? You will be much better served by drafting a comprehensive holiday schedule that clearly outlines how holidays will be shared.
Be specific about vacations with the kids
As you can see, the theme to parenting time schedules is details, details, details. One area that is often overlooked is details regarding vacations with the children. It’s standard to say that each party gets two weeks of vacation. But what people often don’t consider is, does that time have to take place during summer vacation, or can it be throughout the year? Can the two weeks be consecutive, or only one week at a time? It’s generally a good idea to also set a deadline by which each party will choose their vacation weeks, such as all vacations will be decided by May 1st of each year. You may also want to say that Mom gets priority in even years and Dad in odd years so you have a fair resolution in case you both select the same weeks. Also, vacations take priority over regular parenting time, but they should not take priority over holiday time. Being specific about these details will give you the best chance at a calm post-divorce life.
If you have questions about custody and parenting time, schedule a consultation with the attorneys at DeTorres & DeGeorge to discuss your specific issues.