What are the two most contentious divorce issues? That’s easy, it’s money & children. If you’re lucky enough to know how best to co-parent with your soon-to-be-ex, then good for you! If not, this article is for you.
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A solid co-parenting plan will make your post-divorce life much better. These are our five tips on how to create a solid parenting plan:
- Create a Schedule. You already know this. Your children thrive in a stable environment. Even if you or your spouse has already moved out, it is critical to creating a schedule that works for your children’s needs. Do this as fast as possible so your children can have a sense of security in their new life. Your divorce decree will include a parenting plan which should cover scheduling issues. This will include pick-up/drop-off rules, school, doctor visits, extra-curricular activities and more. It should also specifically identify how you will resolve issues & what to do when one parent is unavailable, out-of-town or sick. Last, typically, the parenting plan will also include who has the final say when neither of you agrees. This could include a re-visit with a court-appointed mediator. See the end of this article for more information.
- Be Flexible. Schedules are bound to change. People are sometimes late, sick or unavailable. Cars breakdown. Enter your new post-divorce life with an understanding that things will change over time. This will require flexibility and understanding with all parties involved.
- Clarify your concerns with your spouse AND your attorney. In mediation, we often hear our client’s attorneys ask what is it they can live without. It is during these appointments that you can best & most effectively voice your concerns about how your parenting plan will work. If you don’t fully understand anything about the schedule, ask questions.
- Respect your children. As a parent, I am constantly amazed by my children. Even more so, I am amazed at how easily they grasp concepts at very young ages. Your children are watching, listening & modeling their behaviors after you. It’s natural for your children to have questions about your divorce. Listen to them, answer their questions & remember not to alienate the other parent. Only in the most extreme cases of neglect & abuse do we see full custody granted only to one parent. If you both are to remain active & involved with your children; provide them the respect they deserve & help them through this process. For all of these reasons, we recommend all of our clients, including their children, to attend some sort of therapy to help everyone sift out their feelings in healthy & productive ways.
- Understand your Parental Rights. Do you understand the language in the divorce decree? Do you understand how taxation will work in conjunction with your child tax credits and/or dependent care credits? Who is the custodial parent? Is there a right of first refusal? Who is responsible for out-of-pocket medical, sports, & other ancillary costs? All of these issues & more can be addressed in your decree.
If communication starts to break down, your individual states may be able to help provide guidance. For example, in Utah, there are several options available to help parents negotiate a workable solution. The following is sourced from the Utah Courts website:
Resolving Parental Disputes
Sourced from www.utcourts.gov
If either parent feels that a decision made under the parenting plan is contrary to the best interests of the children, that parent may arrange for help in resolving the dispute through one of the following methods: mediation, arbitration, counseling or court action.
Mediation is a process where the parents meet with a person called a mediator, who is a professional skilled in helping two parties to a dispute reach mutually beneficial decisions. Mediation usually takes place in an informal setting such as an office or conference room. A written record must be prepared of any agreement reached in mediation and each party must receive a copy.
Counseling might take place in front of someone licensed by the state to counsel the parties regarding their mental health, such as with a psychologist or psychiatrist, or perhaps through a marriage counselor or religious leader. A written record must be prepared of any agreement reached through counseling and each party must receive a copy.
Arbitration is a process somewhat like court where the parties present their positions to an arbitrator. An arbitrator is a person who has expert knowledge in the area of dispute, such as custody or visitation. The parties must pay the arbitrator directly. Arbitration usually takes place in an office or conference room but may also take place in a setting much like a courtroom. After receiving the information from both parties, the arbitrator will write a decision called an arbitration award. A written record must be prepared and a copy of the arbitration award must be provided to each party.
Court Action. The type of court action depends on what a parent is attempting to do. Two examples might be: (1) an Order to Show Cause if a parent feels that there has been a violation of the current order. The court is asked to review what the other parent is doing and to enter a judgment, hold the other parent in contempt, or otherwise enforce the order. Note that with an Order to Show Cause your court may make you attempt mediation before allowing you to present your issues in a hearing. (2) a Petition to Modify if the current order is not working because the circumstances have changed. The court is asked to review the current situation and make a modification to the order because there has been a substantial and material change in circumstances.
If Mediation, Arbitration or Counseling are chosen then no dispute may be presented to the Court concerning your children without a good faith attempt by both parents to resolve the issue through the dispute resolution process contained in the final parenting plan adopted by the Court. If the Court finds that a parent has used or frustrated the dispute resolution process without good reason, the court may award attorney’s fees and financial sanctions to the prevailing parent. The Court has the right of review from the dispute resolution process.
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