Details Matter

“Our parenting plan states that I get our children on the Fourth of July but we have no pick-up time.  My ex won’t let me get the kids until he says I can. What can I do?”

“My ex has been taking the child dependency deduction every year.  When is it my turn?”

“I know that my ex got a raise and is making a lot more money but she won’t give me any of her financial information to see if child support should be changed.”

These are actual questions and concerns that I have seen recently.  Details matter.  Every kind of agreement should be very specific and anticipate future conflicts but for parenting and separation agreements this is especially true.  There is a phrase, “good fences make good neighbors.”  The same is true for domestic agreements – a detailed parenting plan and separation agreement makes for good parenting and less conflict, no matter how well you are getting along now.  This is why it is important to hire an experienced family law attorney who knows the pitfalls of agreements and what should be addressed.

However, the reality is there are more parties acting pro se (without a lawyer) than there are parties who have counsel in domestic cases.  Therefore I am going to give you some pointers on things to think about while you and your soon-to-be ex-spouse/partner are writing your parenting plan together at Starbucks.

  1. Decision making – be sure to state if you are required to mutually confer as to all major decisions.
  2. Address changes – make a requirement for both parties to notify the other of any address change if there are minor children.
  3. Notification of problems – come up with a plan now and put in writing.
  4. Medical – decide who will carry the health insurance and how you will be handling reimbursement for costs not covered by insurance.
  5. Extracurricular costs – have a plan as to how you will determine what/if your child/children will participate in activities and how the activities will be paid.
  6. Dependency tax deduction – who gets it and when.
  7. Travel – who picks up the children and where.
  8. Parenting time – does vacation time supersede regular parenting time; does holiday parenting time supersede regular parenting time and vacation time; when do holidays begin and when do they end; how much notice is required for vacation; how long can vacation last; can vacation be out of the country; right of first refusal for the children if one parent is out of town.  (Lots to think about on parenting time!)
  9. Financial documents – have in your agreement that the parties agree to exchange financial information once a year with notice for the purposes of determining child support.
  10. Marital debts – describe who will be responsible for a debt and when payment begins.
  11. Marital assets – give a deadline for when assets must be transferred or refinanced; determine an exact date and time for a party to retrieve items from the home and state the items will be given to charity if not retrieved by that time.

This is by no means an exhaustive list and you may have specific circumstances that require more detail like who pays for car insurance, private school or other special or extraordinary needs.   Often times I have clients who are getting along fine and do not believe they need such specificity but inevitably something will happen that causes problems (like mom marrying a man barely older than the kids!).  That can be addressed by have a phrase that states the parties can deviate from the plan however if they cannot agree on a certain issue then the default will be “X.”

I do want to reiterate that having legal counsel will hopefully reduce the risk of having problems in the future.  I will say that if the other party has an attorney then you MUST get an attorney.  You can contact our office at any time to set up a low cost consultation.


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