Many custody disputes are settled using some type of agreement between the parties, whether it be a Consent Order or a Separation Agreement. A Consent Order is an agreement between the parents and approved by the Court (making it a Court Order). A Separation Agreement is a contract between the parents. While enforceability of these documents is different, both documents can keep your family out of the courtroom. Regardless of which document is advised by your counsel, it is important to include specific, well-thought out solutions to any custody situation that may arise. This will help both you and the other parent set the foundation for your co-parenting. If you don’t address some specific concerns in your document, then you may run the risk of re-litigating delicate domestic issues, or even ending up in court if you cannot agree.
If you are in the process of creating or modifying your existing Custody Order, here are 4 important details to consider:
1. Time and Location of Pick up and Drop off.
Be specific when spelling out the expectations for exchange times and locations. Add a provision that says what to do if the location of the school or daycare center changes. It can be as simple as noting an alternative location in the event of a change.
2. Artwork and Homework
This is a fun one! Consider where you want your child’s artwork or graded homework to be saved. When your little one draws a pretty butterfly or terrifying dinosaur, which proud parent gets to display it on their fridge? Maybe you want to consider having an alternating system where you and your co-parent share the artwork. Consider a system for both parents to check homework. Consistency is paramount.
3. Means of Communication
Communication is a key aspect of making any custody arrangement work. Know how, when and what the parties are to share: doctor appointments to Spirit Day. Add a provision that encourages positive communication between parents (avoiding using the children as messengers). Not everyone is great at communicating, even about the basics, so detailing what the expectations for communication are can help make co-parenting smoother. Plus, your kiddo will never miss Pajama Day at school again!
4. What if it is not in your agreement?
What if the school is closed due to inclement weather? Or there is an emergency and you need to make alternate plans for pick up? What if your child is sick and needs to stay home? When your agreement doesn’t consider what to do in an “in case of” event, issues are open to interpretation. Think through the options and speak to your attorney about addressing it.
Your custody agreement is more than a document, it is a tool to move your family forward into your new normal. Be clear, concise and honest about expectations. An experienced family law attorney can help create an order or agreement with you, walk you through the order you have, and close the gap on what’s missing.