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Drafting Parenting Agreements

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Drafting Parenting Agreements

One size does not fit all when it comes to creating parenting plans and high quality parenting plans can help strengthen families. Board certified family law attorney Christine Douglas will provide a detailed overview on creating parenting plans, including pertinent drafting tips. The course will discuss conflict resolution requirements and the roles of attorneys, parenting coordinators, and family counselors.

Transcript

Hello, my name is Christine Douglas. I'm a family law attorney in Carmel, Indiana, which is right outside of Indianapolis. And I have been practicing solely in the area of family law for more than 25 years now. So it is my delight and pleasure to be talking with you today about parenting agreements. This isn't something I saw much when I first was practicing, but over the years I feel like parenting time agreements have been used more frequently. And it's really because, especially where I practice in the Mid West, I feel like we are putting more of an emphasis on holistic law and understanding the value of us to our clients when we try to really work together with both parties, both mom and dad on agreements so that they are the type of agreements that will grow as the family grows and really address their their specific challenges and their specific family needs. So let's go ahead and start talking about parenting agreements. So. First, before we talk about parenting agreements and when we talk today, I'm going to be assuming that we have a very friendly situation with the other side this that we are engaging in a discussion with probably like an informal settlement conference, which I see as both parents are in the same room with both attorneys and we're trying to identify the issues. And then we're trying to also talk about various options and really trying to really think about and identify what each of the children's needs are and the family unit themselves. But we also can apply what we're learning today at mediation as well. But I'm assuming everyone is in the same room, so that might change things just a little bit. But before I start talking with another attorney and their client or or in mediation about any type of parenting time and parenting subject, I want to make sure that there's an agenda. People get really nervous when it's coming when we start talking about children. And let's be honest, children are and should be the most important issue that is talked about in a dissolution or a paternity agreement. So we don't want people to be caught off guard. We want people to be thoughtful when they're coming up with decisions and thinking about creative options, and we want them to come prepared to. So the first thing I would say is make sure that there is an agreed upon agenda and stick to it. Even if mom and dad get along wonderfully there, there's still a lot of emotions in these these different issues that we're going to be talking about. And so oftentimes, more than an hour is just too much for folks. And again, we don't want to surprise them. We want them both to be engaged in this process. And to do that, you want them to want to be there. And so one way to get them to be there and come back for an additional meeting is to stick to the agenda and stick to the length of time that you've agreed to. Very rarely do we go over. And then also, when it comes to parenting time and parenting agreements, it takes more than sitting down one time. Sometimes people get frustrated by that. But I remind them that when it came to their wedding day, I am certain that it took longer than two hours or sitting down for a lunch to talk about their wedding details. So what is more important? Having a wonderful party and a celebration or really kind of thinking about and making decisions for your family. So an agreed upon agenda is super important. I also want folks to know and can do this with my opposing counsel. We talk about like what kind of agreement or documents are we going to need and what information do we need from each of the parties before we can even start talking about things? So things that I might need would be like the school calendar. Are they on a balance calendar? Are they on a traditional calendar? Do the kids go to different schools? Do they have different spring breaks? Is there a child who goes to a boarding school or out of state? So want to know school calendars? I want to know activity calendars. I want to know work calendars, especially if the parents are firefighters, our police officers or nurses or physicians, especially hospitalists. They have calendars that are often unique. And so I want them to know when we're sitting down what their availability looks like for taking kids to and from practices and for actually exercising parenting time. And as you start doing this and doing parenting agreements, you'll really be surprised at the things that people really need to talk about, things that they didn't think about. And oftentimes people came in with an idea of what parenting time they felt like they were they deserved having and often walk away with a completely different parenting time setup because it's not what their calendar would even allow them to do. So we really like to make sure we know what can people truly do. And so we want all of this information up front. So and also some additional information might want would be information about work related child care. So if especially if mom and dad are living. In different areas. Who has work related child care available to them? Which work related child care is offered before and or after school? Maybe the after school program for one program lasts until six, and maybe one only lasts till 430. Maybe one concentrates more on doing homework and the other is just playing. So there are all sorts of things we want to know about. We want to know the cost of those. So really do a nice, thorough job and make your clients do homework before they come to these meetings and it will really serve you well. And the clients are going to be a lot and a lot better position to talk realistically about things that will work well for their party or I'm sorry, their family. And I've already talked about making the period of time for that meeting realistic and also preparing them for meeting for more than one meeting. Um, many folks don't know what the difference is between legal and physical custody and even folks who have gone through a parenting time and paternity and divorce cases in the past, it's it's really quite surprising how people still get these terms confused. I would say for the most part, across the United States, these terms are very similar. But you want to make sure that you define define them pursuant to your jurisdiction. But most jurisdictions, legal custody is decision making authority in the state of Indiana. It's an education, health and religion issues. Legal custody means that mom and dad both have to come to an agreement on all those on those three issues. And if they can't, then they have to go to a judge to have those issues resolved. But we're going to talk more today about ways to slow them down so they and options so they don't have to go before a judge to get those issues resolved. Physical custody is where the child actually resides. So legal custody can be joint. Both mom and dad can have 5050 joint legal custody or a parent could just have sole legal custody. I don't see that a lot. Um, um, except for if there is domestic violence involved or if there is a parent who has the inability or difficulty making decisions. Maybe there's a substance abuse issue. Maybe they're just not available. Maybe they aren't very accessible for making decisions. Or maybe one parent is maybe really involved in the health field and knows the ins and outs and the other parent has confidence in that parent and is, you know, they'll give legal so legal custody to for just health issues or just education issues. So there are all sorts of things you can do. But legal custody is decision making authority and then physical custody. We'll talk about the different types of physical custody that can be joint and sole. But remind just to remind you that joint doesn't always mean 5050 and it usually doesn't mean 5050. And the parties will need to agree during their discussions with you on what a joint custody situation looks like. Okay, So legal custody considerations involve choosing a doctor. And this can come up, especially during Covid. Saw this a lot on what type of doctor. There was a big difference in opinion by lots of even mainstream conservative doctors. So we had your mainstream doctors disagreeing. But then we also have holistic physicians who have a different set of opinions, and sometimes they within themselves don't agree. Maybe your family believes in, um, functional medicine, which is quite different than your typical medical care. So really think about if these issues have been problems in the past and if they haven't always like to throw examples out to folks, especially if they have little kids like let's assume mean God forbid your child gets in or gets very ill and has to have some, but maybe needs like an expert or they're being you are being recommended to have your child see by an expert for a possible surgery. Who would you go to? What would you do? Would you can you know, would you have many different opinions? Would you want. So really talk them through these examples. Um, some people parents are frequent um, are frequent patients with doctors. They like to see doctors all the time. Nothing wrong with that. Sometimes there can be a problem. But again, look at the past and see if there has ever been an issue with how often they need to see a doctor. Some folks really want to know and have a heads up before the other parent takes the child to a doctor, even for a checkup. Um, technically, according to legal custody, before a child is seen by a doctor, both parents should consent. And then if there's a treatment, both parents should consent. And if there is a medication, both parents need a consent. Now, it's very unlikely. It's not very realistic. Both parents are going to be able to go to the same doctors appointment, but with FaceTime and virtual meetings, they can still attend and not be present. So that's something that you might want to consider. Is giving both parents the option to be present for FaceTime or virtual meetings with the doctors. And then also you have to make sure that the doctor is okay with that. Just because two parents might agree on something doesn't necessarily mean that the medical professional is going to be comfortable with that. And quite frankly, often they are not. Um, another thing in with legal custody, especially if there's a concern that decisions might be made without the other parent being notified before things happen. Just put it in the agreement again that prior to scheduling appointments, choosing doctors, that both parents will be consulted. And what you might want to do is choose a default right now is the children are currently being seen by this doctor and this dentist and there are no issues or perhaps they are on medication or a dentist believes an orthodontist should be seen when the kids reach their, you know, their 12th birthday. So if there are any as much as the parents know right now and as much as they agree on right now, include that in the parenting agreement. Um, counselors and school counselors both have to have both parties consent to meet with the kids counselors. It just seems sometimes like counselors forget to do that. And so another good idea is just for all of these legal custody things, just to put it and remind the folks in the agreement, because they will forget down the road because these things really don't come up all that often, that both parents need to be consulted prior to picking out consultants and counselors, doctors, health supplements and what have you. So define what legal custody means to them. Specifically, disciplining is also an issue that is often ripe for problems down the road. And even when people are married, there is a can be a difference in opinion, in disciplining. And it doesn't mean that both parents are one of the parents or both. The parents are not good parents. Absolutely the opposite. They want to be good parents and they want to discipline their kids appropriately. But we all bring different information on what we think discipline should look like. So we bring. It from our, you know, our background, from education and what have you. And and sometimes discipline will work perfectly for your child. And then you find out all of a sudden it's not working anymore. So discipline strategies will change many times throughout a child's 18 years until they're an adult. And that's something that parents really need to come together and talk about. And if there is a disagreement on discipline, then where do they go? And so maybe what you do is you recommend family counseling. Um, so anyway, that's, that is an, an area then also who can discipline the child, the children. That is something that you should have the parents consider. So if they get remarried or the new parents or step parents allowed to discipline and really think that through, sometimes that is necessary and it just is easier on the household if both parents can discipline. Um, maybe you don't want that that parent to spank the child. Maybe you don't want that parent to be able to take something away from the child, but decide who can discipline. Grandparents, um, work related child care providers talk about who can discipline and then if there are diet and food restrictions. This actually has come up in my practice quite a bit where one parent believes a child has allergies and um, maybe certain sensitivities to different types of additives in food and specifically like the red dye that is used. And then the other parent doesn't believe that there are any such sensitivities and that can be a real problem if the child is having some issues, whether it's like they're having stomach aches or their face is breaking out or what have you. But but no, a lot of people are really looking more to a diet as a whole, health sort of treatment. And oftentimes when the parents disagree, one one parent will have everything going well in their household and then the child goes to the other parent household and then they kind of lose all the momentum that they've gained. So diet and food restrictions is something you want to consider. All right. Legal custody also involves when can the kids sleep over? Like what age is appropriate? Whether or not they should go on a field trip and specifically, like an out of state field trip, should the kids be able to go to Washington, DC in eighth grade? That seems to be a big one. Or New York City when they're in high school. Whether or not they should have a part time job is something to think about. Some kids can handle a lot in a part time job is is is easy for them and it's a great learning expense experience, especially if they need the money for college. Other kids would suffer with part time jobs. They are maybe, you know, really focused and invested in the invested in their academics, which is great, but they need to focus all of their attention on that. Or maybe they're also involved in band or dance or what have you, and a part time job would just be too much. So these are some decisions, ones that and some some thoughts that parents seem to have and really strong thoughts about, um, parenting and what they want their kids to do and not to that often people don't talk about when they're having children and really don't talk about until the issue is like at their at their foot and then also getting a car, um, getting a car seemed in the when I was growing up, getting a car wasn't something that everyone got. But now it seems like because we have so many households where both mom and dad are working, that getting a car for a teenager really is a necessity, especially if they are in after school activities or if they have a, um, a job and it really is easier for the parents. So then you have to talk about, you know, who's going to insure the car, who will buy the car, what age would be appropriate, what kind of car. So all of these kind of decisions can be talked about now. And of course, you have to look at what the ages of, you know, of the kids are. So you can if the kids are two and five, you're not going to be talking about probably getting a car or about what type of car they're going to get. Um, so just always keep this in mind. I'm trying to just give you a whole checklist of things to cover, but you can at least say that this is an issue where both parents are agreeing it's a legal custody issue. They both have equal say in it. And perhaps this is an issue that they will discuss when their kids become driving age, which is 15 or 16 or what have you. So just because they're not maybe necessarily discussing and resolving these issues with you, they can at least list them as important issues to discuss down the road. And they can even talk about when they are going to discuss those. All right. So physical custody considerations, this is pretty obvious, but it's where the child is going to be living. And then also, you need to know right now, um, does this parent have plans to move? I'm sure that you all have been in cases of paternity case or a divorce case or right after the case is is over, all of a sudden a parent is moving. And whether it's, you know, around the block or 30 miles away or maybe a couple hours. So you need to find out right now. Do the parents either the parents plan to move and if they do, when and when those plans are and if one parent is like, I'm not really sure, but put that in the in the parenting agreement that one parent is considering moving. And so I would try to define that as much as you can. You know, why are they moving? What do they need to know to decide whether or not they're moving? How far do they think they'll be moving? Where do they think they will be living? Will they be living with a new significant other, a family member? So all really important things to as much as you can disclose, the better. Um, it's important to know where with whom the child will be living again. Nobody likes surprises in divorces or paternity cases. So ask that question Who will your child be living with? And if one of the spouses or parents plans on having a boyfriend or girlfriend moving in immediately, that is going to involve some discussion on where that person is going to be sleeping when the child is there and what have you, and is that person going to be bringing in their own children and is that person going to be able to drive the children to and from school? There are all sorts of issues. So again, if a parent is considering bringing someone in the house, put that in there that the that the parent is planning on moving in their significant other, you know, within a certain amount of time and then name that person. And if both parents plan on living on their own, then say this agreement is based on at this time, both parents are going to be living alone. Neither parent anticipates moving in the near future, so solidify as much as you can in these agreements. Um, if another something another thing I'd like you to consider is, um, and just kind of mentioned this, but um, if down the road a roommate is added and sometimes people really do need a roommate can kind of to make ends meet, especially if they're a younger parent and, and living in an expensive area. Um, maybe they really do have a friend who is coming in as a roommate. And so, um, where will there be sufficient room for that roommate is if it is a boyfriend or girlfriend. Um, maybe you're asking the, uh, that person not to sleep in the same bedroom with the parent when the child is there. And again, you have to look at each circumstance individually, right? Like probably not going to be that big of a deal if it's someone that mom or dad has been dating for four years and the kids are older. But it might be confusing if it's a five year old and now all of a sudden mommy or daddy has a new man or woman who this child is seeing as a mommy or daddy in the bed. And that's just confusing. We are always wanting status quo for children. We want to disrupt their lives as little as possible and divorce and paternity cases. So all of these questions is to encourage the parties to keep the children and the forefront and make decisions truly in their best interest, not in mom and dad's. And the other thing I was going to say is it's always a, um, a good idea to agree to come back and meet later, have a status conference. Status conferences aren't always for, uh, courts. You can put in your parent agreement that the parents will come back in six months, nine months, a year, whatever it is, Especially if it's kind of a a unique parenting time arrangement. We might want to see how the kids are doing. If there are multiple children, especially if it's going to be a blended family after the divorce, some kids might do wonderfully with this new situation. But another child in the same family with the same parents might struggle. So it's just really important to always keep your eye on the kids. Just because the divorce is over doesn't mean that the parent that the children's needs are over and don't have to be identified. Um, more parenting time considerations and start to talk about what's in the children's best interest. Not um, the parents I like to look at if people are really coming in. They both want full parenting time with the children. That usually isn't the case, or they probably wouldn't be sitting down for a parenting time conference. However, I have had people who both have come in and chatted and they both wanted to have the kids live with them full time and we started talking about these things and we've been able to reduce the emotions. Talk, really just look at the facts, stay kid focused, and we've been able to get things resolved. So don't be afraid of people are claiming that they have their, uh, their heels in the ground. You can move folks, and you can really start creating some wonderful agreements when you have them start talking and reviewing all these different issues. So I do look at who is caring for the children. And now, um, if someone has been caring for the children full time because one parent is traveling all the time, it doesn't necessarily mean that that parent who has been the traditional full time parent is a better parent. But they do have the routine now. The kids are probably uncomfortable with that routine. And so if the other parent is not going to change their travel schedule or are unable to change their schedule, then that might not be a bad situation to continue. We always are. Parents always get wrapped up in it is my right to have the children. And so when they say that, I hear that they want the kids 5050 and we're not going to split the children down the middle, we look at what has been working well and why has it been working well or what has been working poorly and why has it been working poorly? So sometimes the parent who has been staying home with the children, um, might not want to do that anymore. They might need to go out and to get a position to maybe, you know, bring some more income into their household or perhaps they're now ready to spend more time on their career. So really look at what realistically are the parents going to be doing. The rest of this is kind of self-explanatory. Age of the children, work schedules and then physical limitations. There are. Lots of physical limitations that might exist with a parent or both parents. And there might be need. There might be a need for some additional assistance, which is fine. But when we make parenting time, especially arrangements and we involve additional people, make sure those people are also involved in one of the meetings. So I know that I have had some clients who excuse me, who had some physical limitations and weren't as mobile and weren't able to get around as much. And so they needed help specifically in the morning. They really needed the other parents help in the morning. And so we were able to find a, um, a nanny who would just come in in the morning to help that particular parent. And so both parents were on board for that. But we also needed to make sure that that, um, nanny and that was somebody knew that there was that person available out there that we could afford that person. What that person's time and um what availability they had as far as time and hours and, you know, every week. So we can do all of these creative things and it's awesome to bring in additional people. But when you bring them in, you do just need to make sure that you know, if they are available and what their additional needs will be. Um, mental health limitations. How far away the parents live from each other. Cost of transportation for exchanges, coordinating with another person's parenting. Time and again I go back to a status conference. Um, when parents live far away, uh, you have to look at how are the kids going to get there. And oftentimes it's not possible for a parent to just pick up and fly the child. Um, more, more and more airlines are requiring an adult to trans to fly with children, um, especially the younger ones. Personally, as a parent, I don't know if I would be super comfortable with probably my 15 year old flying, um, alone and, and across the United States. But I'm probably am a nervous Nelly mom, but really think about those things. And then if you have a parent who lives in California and you have another parent in New York, you can expect a New York parent who flies all the way to California with a child and meets the parent at the airport to then just turn around and jump on a plane and come back. We'll probably not. That's not really very fair. So talk about the time involved in that, the cost involved in that, the cost for the little, you know, the additional stay if the and the reasonable stay for the parent who might bring the child and then also who is where where will the pickup point be? Are you going to meet the parent at the the other parent at the airport? Will they send somebody? Will it be at the home? So lots of things to to talk about. So we're going to talk about parenting time options. 5050 is probably one that you hear a lot about, and a 5050 situation works out really well when both parents live close together, like in the same neighborhood. Mom and dad are on great terms. They communicate well and the parents can get to and from each parent's houses really easily. So either they're like, it's on the same bus route. They can ride their bikes there, they can walk to their parents house. Um, I do recommend in these situations that parents like try it out for a while the on one week off one week and see if it works and then if it does, great. But it is one to try out. Um, parents love it because it can't get fairer than that, right? 5050. You really are kind of. You can't get more fair than that time of parenting time arrangement. Um, I think that it also works better when the children are older and they know, Oh yeah, it's Moms Week or it's Dads Week. You don't want to put the burden on a little one to know where's my bed going to be tonight? Where am I going to rest my head tonight? Um, and so the flip flopping might in some judges call this ping pong, um, parenting time. Sometimes these ping pong arrangements work really, really well, and sometimes they don't. And again, sometimes they work out for some kids, but they might not work out for all of your children. Um, it does get a little bit more complicated if you have three children and they have three different parenting schedules. But again, it's all what's in the best interest of the kids. And so be flexible and and your kids will be in good shape. It's really good to have a therapist work with, um, children when we have unique parenting time schedules, because typically kids aren't going to be honest with a parent, right? They have already already disappointed and saddened that mom and dad have have separated and their world is no longer their world as they know it. Even if mom and dad have done the best they possibly can to to not, um, disrupt their world. But let's be honest, they have. So they're not going to tell one parent or the other that they're not happy, most likely. So it's really good to meet with a therapist agreed on both by both parents to kind of watch them and see how they're transitioning. Now, there's going to be probably some discomfort along the way and some bumpy roads, but give it time and be patient. Um, I think that most of the child therapists I have worked with say that they don't want to see a child in therapy longer than two years. I'm not suggesting that therapy for transitioning would take three years, but it is going to be different for each child. So this is something you could agree on the therapist and maybe after a couple of months kind of and I'd say at least give it six months or so to talk with the therapist and see if there's anything that they need to be aware of and anything they can do to make the child thrive better in the new parenting time arrangement. So when it comes to parenting time schedules, I put what dates the parents are going to exchange the children. Is it on Friday? Is it on Sunday? I put the time and then I'll put the location. Some parents, just because it's easier, don't want to have to rely on the other parent to meet them someplace for fear that they might be late or what have you. So take out any emotions and dramas or chance of conflict and try to get exchanges to occur during school. You know, if there's and I'll show you have a schedule in just a couple of moments. But if mom has the children on the Sunday, wouldn't it be easier for them to spend the night on Sunday night and they just go back to school, you know, on Sunday and so we don't have to worry about her taking the kids to one person's house or the other. Now, again, that's ideal. That doesn't happen in every situation. But spell out the dates and times and locations of parenting time. Do not leave that for the parties to resolve on their own. You're going to need backup transportation providers, right? Life happens and life is always throws us curveballs. So get a list of approved drivers right now. Maybe it's grandma, maybe it's grandpa, maybe it's a teenage babysitter. Get a list because in three years, maybe Mom isn't as friendly with her former sister in law as she once was. So it's nice while people are friendly right now to say, well, you didn't have a problem with them back then, why now? Would you have a problem? So this is all in the kid's best interest. So make a list of those backup providers. Also important to have a list of emergency contacts and who is going to be listed as emergency contacts you should put in your parenting agreement. The mom and dad shall always be listed as emergency contacts. Most people have it set up where there's just an emergency contact. Okay. Just have them put in the agreement. And I know this seems like common sense, but if mom's first on the list, she'll immediately notify Dad if she's contacted in regard to an emergency and vice versa. If the parenting time is exchanged, locations are occurring at the school, then that's obviously not going to work. If there is a school holiday or just a holiday in general. So you're going to have to consider where those locations are going to be. It's most often at one pair at each parent's house, or it can be some type of a location, middle location, Talk about summer breaks and all the holidays. Some people don't care about some holidays, some folks don't celebrate. Um, uh, well, obviously Easter and Halloween, some folks don't even, you know, don't recognize, uh, Thanksgiving. So there are some holidays that people don't really recognize. And then there are other holidays that are very important to some parents. So, um, it's really first and nice to know what are people done in the past and what why have they done that? Um, have holidays and summer breaks and school breaks then, um, divided between families and not mom and dad, but mom paternal grandparents and maybe maternal grandparents based on tradition for the convenience of the grandparents or convenience of the parents or for the kids. Um, you know, if it's, if both sides of the family have lots of cousins, I'm sure that the children are enjoying that. Hopefully that's a great experience. And so, um, even though someone may maybe might not be Christian, um, maybe one set of one part of the family is. And so, um, you know, the holidays should still be something considered. And, um, and when it comes to coming up with, um, a realistic agreement. Um. I know there's a lot of fighting over Christmas. It seems like. And I always encourage my clients to think about what kind of holiday memories you're making. There are just too many people now who don't like the holidays, beginning with Thanksgiving, because of things that they've seen and observed with their own parents were getting a divorce or a divorce. And so you you definitely don't want the parents to be those parents. That's why they're sitting down and talking with you to to go over these things now and try to avoid as many misunderstandings and miscommunication and issues down the road as possible. And again, it's not usually people are just wanting to fight after divorce. It's just things that they've never considered. And now you're giving them an opportunity to consider these things. So in regard to Christmas is can tell my clients like you can make any day Christmas, so don't fight over December 25th. Um, and same with Hanukkah or whatever religion you are celebrating. Um, holidays are special because of families. Um, and so make sure that they remain special to your children by ensuring that they have peace. And those, those holidays are agreed upon way ahead of time in our state and the state of Indiana. We do have state guidelines for parenting time. Often. Oftentimes in my agreements, I'll say mom and dad will agree on holidays and school breaks, but if they can't agree, then we'll use the state guidelines. And I believe a lot of states do have those. Um, quite frankly enough, our, our state, if we don't use the guidelines, we have to put in the agreement why those guidelines aren't applicable. And I'd recommend that you do those in your, um, jurisdictions as well. So when we're talking about actual parenting time, I like these agreements to be as simple as possible. They need to read like you know, say that, you know, my mom, who has no legal background, should be able to read these agreements and understand what they are. They should be you should be able to read and decipher them without having any type of legal background. And so I like charts, um, and things that are really, really easy to look at. And when you put up a calendar like this, then it shows it's easier for people to think about like how this is going to work, especially if you're like learn visually. So this is, um, alternating weeks with a 6 p.m., um, pickup on Friday at Mom's house. Um, this is alternating days. This is a really difficult parenting time schedule, in my opinion. Um, I think this is a recipe for disaster. I will tell you, I've had some parents who have been able to make it work. Um, and quite frankly, they didn't even live that close by. But the parents love it. I don't know how the kids do, but it has worked for some parents. Um, and ideally, we like when families live close to mom and dad, live close together so the kids just can get on and off the bus at one particular parent's house. Um, but in the examples I was giving you, that did not happen. So alternating dates and weekends, that's really where you need to look closely at the kids and, and see how it's going and kind of check in with either a child counselor or the, you know, the child, depending how old they are in a couple of months and see how it's going. This is the 82255 schedule. In this particular situation, mom would have the kids on or we'll start with dad. Dad would have the children Tuesdays and every Tuesday and Wednesday Mom would have the children every Thursday and Friday, and then they would alternate weekends. So so again, we're getting kind of seeing a little bit more stability. I do think that this one has worked. Um, alternating weeks is usually tough for some parents, usually not the kids as much, but for some parents. And so this seems to be a good compromise and it does seem to work well with some folks. And then this is the three, four, four, three schedule. And so in this schedule, um, mom would have the children every Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. Dad has the children every Friday, Saturday and Sunday. And then we flip flop one day during the week. So usually, like a Thursday. This is a really good situation if you have a parent who works every single weekend, um, or if you have a parent who is traveling a lot and the only time they have to see the kids are weekend, this is a little bit more unique. I don't see it as often as often, but I did want to let you know that it's available. So let's talk about makeup parenting time. You know, that's going to happen at one time. So, um, have the folks parents think about under what circumstances are we going to allow makeup, parenting time? Um, and then who gets to choose the date and time? So if I'm a mom and I miss my parenting time, um, and I shouldn't say miss, that's a difference between makeup and miss if someone misses parenting time, um, usually I recommend that they don't have the opportunity to make it up because that is inconvenient to the parent who has the children and it's really unfair to the child. The child is going to look forward to parenting time and the parent doesn't show up and it can really be horrible. And we don't want to give the parent any type of flexibility to to have the ability to to miss parenting time. That should be top on their list. We should be the most special time for them. So makeup, parenting time, if I'm working and I can't exercise my parenting time, this weekend and I have to go out of town, then is that legitimate? And then do I then get to say, okay, well, I'll just take the following weekend. Um, and also, how much time do I have to exercise that parenting time? So these are things that need to be discussed because what I have seen in the past is sometimes people will save up all of their makeup parenting time and then say, Oh, by the way, get the kids for the next six months, because look at all this makeup parenting time. I have I've been saving it for the last seven years or what have you, and I am not making that up. That is something that's happened in the past. So, um, usually a good rule of thumb I've just seen is that, um, both parents need to choose like the date and time and they need to agree on it. And because, um, what's going to happen is the other parent will probably need to forfeit some of their time if they really want to do that. And, and then also is usually they need to, you know, be given about 30 days to make up the parenting time. And that's it. Again, every situation is different but but that usually giving someone 30 days to make a parenting time is usually pretty, pretty reasonable. Um, and then also, is there a maximum amount of parenting time that can be rescheduled and that's to prohibit someone from coming and saying, oh, by the way, get the next six months and then who can have makeup parenting time? So there are situations where, um, and I'm going to use the example again of my mom and can't have the exercise parenting time this weekend because I'm traveling. Maybe my, my parents, maybe grandparents really want to spend the time with the kids. So, um, instead of me worrying about makeup parenting time, which is important to me, but perhaps a really, really close to their grandparents. And so is it fair to let my parents have that time, or is it fair for my spouse if I have a new spouse or significant other to stay home and care for the children during that time? Because those when people get remarried, their new spouses are going to have an important time apart and should have an important part in the children's lives. So, um, those are all good discussions to have. Okay, So Indiana parenting time guidelines, as I said previously, are that's what we have in our state. You probably have very similar ones in your state. Um, and I would encourage you to have those state guidelines in front of both parents and that you print them out and then actually even attach those guidelines to the agreement so that they have them. I will tell you that parenting time guidelines do tend to change. Now, not all the time, but when you agree to use any type of parenting time guidelines or parenting guidelines that are offered by the state or whomever, make sure that you say the guidelines that are in effect as of and such and such date. So it should be the date that you're talking about the agreement, right. Um, and so then if six years down the road we have a question, we know that we're using the parenting time guidelines that were effective in 2023, not the ones down the road have been in a situation where parties were using old guidelines and we could not even find them. So that's why I've recommended that you also, even though I know many of these guidelines are available online, that I recommend that you actually print a hard copy of the actual guidelines from beginning to the end, even if including annotations, if they have them to your specific contract. All right. So we've kind of talked about holidays honoring family traditions, and we need to kind of talk about which family traditions from the past should continue to be honored. And they're going to be some new family traditions that will be honored as well, because both parents are creating two new family households. Um, and then, um, our your state guidelines the best or not? Sometimes state guidelines aren't typically may not be good to follow, especially if you have parents with really unique working schedules. If you have parents in different state I'm sorry, parents in different states, if you have grandparents in different states and there's a lot of traveling involved, if there's travel, sports involved, all of those kind of things can affect holidays and school times. So really make sure the parents look at any state guidelines that they're available. So guys do kind of laugh like, you know, you're a good co-parent if you can resolve the holiday issue. So always call it my like co-parent reality check. Um, and then also might be some special days that are recognized in a family that might not be recognized by, um, our national holidays and might not be even recognized by our, you know, state guidelines. So, for example, if a child is adopted, they might have a special day for adoption. There might be a special day that's honored for someone who's passed away and there might be a celebration of life that's recognized every year. There might be, who knows? And many different examples of special days. But do ask if those exist and those are ones that should be considered in agreement. Um, in regard to the right of first refusal or an additional opportunity for additional parenting time. In the example that I used, if I were a parent and I couldn't exercise parenting time this weekend because I was, I would be working. You need to have the parents talk about is it appropriate for my live in boyfriend or even just my significant other, even if they're not a live in boyfriend to care for the, you know, the children while I'm gone, my parents and aunt or uncle. Um, and or does the other parent have the first right to care for the kids before I ask somebody else to? So usually, um, I see that first right of refusal to pop up and be triggered if I need to hire somebody else. But that's not always the case. And I do know that there are, um, I mean, it takes a village to raise a children and think villages are so incredibly important. And so there might be a neighbor who's more than a neighbor as a friend and almost a family member who cares for your kids when you got when you might be unable to care for them. Maybe it's just for a couple of hours. Maybe there's a step here. Maybe there's a grandparent. So talk about your both parents feelings on when they would want to be able to care for the child before somebody else. And then how much time does a parent have to be gone before that would kick in? Sometimes people say overnight, sometimes it's four hours and it really does vary parent to parent, third party contact. We sort of have already talked about this. Um, but it is important when you're drafting agreement to talk about right now if there are people the children shouldn't have contact with and write down who they are and why they shouldn't have contact with that person. And if there's anything that can be done to alleviate that restriction. So this also often can kind of comes up when there's someone with a drug addiction or an alcohol addiction or someone who's been abusive to the child. Um, and they might have been abusive to the child, but perhaps they weren't arrested or maybe the child is intimidated by them, what have you. Um, there needs to be a list of people that both parents might not want the child to have contact or any type of visitation for any reason. And sometimes it's they just shouldn't be left alone or unsupervised by that particular person. Um, and also, you have to look at the age of the child. The child might be old enough to understand a safety plan, might be old enough to have a phone. Either parent wants a child ever to be uncomfortable or threatened or harmed. And so coming up with a safety plan for the child with both parents sometimes can be a way to give both parents comfort and the child comfort as well. That is a discussion for a whole different deal. Um, but naming people now will avoid the need to race to court down the road for an emergency hearing because everyone knew that the child should end up in around, you know, this person or that person. And then also, if there are people who have been exceptionally important to the children, grandparents, godparents, cousins, um, uh, just friends have become like family members. It's also good to recognize those people in an agreement. So again, it'll be difficult for another parent down the road to say, don't think that parent, that child should have contact with this person anymore. We're just trying to eliminate surprises. When distance is a factor, we've already talked about that. It is really important when distance is a factor for people to come to those meetings with print outs of the different airline restrictions on flying a child. And when a child can fly alone and what the cost is, if and if they need to be accompanied by a parent, sometimes it's a less expensive cost. I will tell you, I am not seeing that courtesy discount much anymore because people are flying again. But the length of the trip and like how is it a you might want, especially if it's like a New York to California or Good grief, even if it's from Indianapolis to Atlanta anymore? Is it a direct flight? There are places that you just simply can't get in a direct flight anymore, and so you might want to say that the parents will, you know, choose a flight together. And it can't always be the cheapest flight, sometimes the cheapest flights, as you all probably know, by making your own flights, sometimes include two and three stops. And they leave at one in the morning and they get in at, you know, I don't know, sometimes 13 hours when it's really typically only a 3 or 4 hour flight. So those when distance is a factor, that is definitely a full hour meeting for parents. These are travel requirements that you should put in your agreement. And this is really just something to inform the other parent about before you take the child, quite frankly, anywhere. And it should be like if you're if you're traveling with a child, even if even if you're just going a couple of hours or you're going for a weekend, like let the other parent know, I mean, God forbid, you know, things do happen. And it's really important for the other parents to know where the kids always are and where you are always are. But at a minimum, you should have them agree that before they travel out of state, that they'll provide this information. And you can also put I mean, sometimes I've even created a form and they'll they can exchange form. But I know that there are some wonderful programs. Our family wizard is one of them where you can just put this information in our family wizard and it's just all there. Very easy to access for both folks. Religious training. This is usually an issue that parents have talked about before having children, but sometimes not. So bottom line is, and I have not heard of a state that doesn't have this philosophy, but if mom is Jewish and dad is Catholic, then the children will respect both parents religions. So they will go to mass with one parent during the parenting their parenting time and go to temple with that other parent. And and that's just what happens. Your children will not grow up confused. If anything, they'll probably grow up very open minded and have a wonderful background in both faiths. One parent might be an atheist, one parent might be a Buddhist. You just don't know. And no, but these are conversations to have. Um, sometimes some parents want the children to participate in Bible studies and things of that sort. And so if there is a true difference in religions to the point where the children might be getting a little confused, then it might be a good thing to have a family counselor just kind of help through those conversations with the parent, like have a co-parenting counseling session or two and maybe one with a child just to help them understand and respect each parent's, um, different religious backgrounds. But, but if one parent is wanting to spend all of their parenting time in different religious activities and the other parent is concerned about that, that's a that's a discussion that should be held now. Parent relocation. In our my state, there is a statutory obligation that the parents have to notify the other parent in writing before they move. And that's something that we cannot waive in our state. Um, but what you can do is make it even more robust. You can make it even more restrictive and you can say that upon any move, there are certain scenarios that need to occur before you need to provide a notice of relocation in my state. So look at your state, see what's required, and just make sure parents are aware of this, what the requirements are. Um, because most people aren't aware of this and then unintentionally violate some of these statutory requirements. Um, parent communication is something that is just good to. Um, verify what's the best way to keep in touch with both parents? Some people are email only. Never call my house phone. Most people are like that now. Maybe it's they want to communicate only through an app. That's okay. Some parents never want to be contacted at work and that's okay. But just get all of these things discussed up upfront. So um, very seldom, um, have I can't actually never, never have I in a, in a parenting agreement discussion um, had the child present but the parents might want to talk about at what point are we going to let our child, our children, have a voice in some of these decisions? Are we ever going to let the children choose where to live? Um, I don't know. A state that allows a a child to have the final say on where they live. Um, and I think there are lots of good reasons why that exists, but, um, the parents might have a different feeling. And then they also, um, might want to talk about how can we get the child's opinion, but a truly unbiased opinion where we're not putting the child in the middle. And so that might be going to a counselor or what have you. Um, so there are several conflict resolution. Um. Uh, options available. And so I would put in your agreement a conflict resolution requirement, so something that the parties have to do before they go to court and ask the judge to get involved in anything. And so a couple of things I would recommend is a parenting coordinator, a parenting coordinator, I believe is recognized and used in most states. But you're going to want to have them talk about who are we going to use? You know, is it going to be an attorney? Is it going to be someone with a mental health background? What are we going to use them? What issues are we going to use them? Who's going to pay? How are we going to pay it? Um, is there ever going to be an opportunity when the parenting coordinator can assess one, the whole cost to resolve one issue to the to one party if they were sort of like, um, oh, maybe the instigator. No, if that's the right word. But if one party's, uh, poor choice was the reason and the need for the involvement of the parenting coordinator, um, are you going to allow the parenting coordinator to, for that particular, uh, involvement or to one party to pay for their fees? And then also for the parenting coordinator, do you want them to have the ability to access other folks, the family counselor, the child's counselor? And if so, you'll have to sign a release with the parenting coordinator and also the doctor and then also set expectations, you know, with the parenting coordinator, how often are they going to meet, You know, is there a certain maybe both parents don't want to spend more than $1,000 a year on the parenting coordinator. So all sorts of things. You can you can talk about family counselors are wonderful. Family counselors are defined differently, not only in each state and each county, but each practice. So, you know, would you want to meet with a family counselor? Is it a co-parenting counselor? Is when we say family counselor, is it a therapist? Is it a psychologist? Is it usually a psychologist aren't doing this, but sometimes they do. Is it individual counseling? Will they meet with the entire family? And it's the same sort of considerations that you're going to want to talk about when when you're discussing a parenting coordinator and then some. Also, there are ministers that folks like to go to for conflict resolution. Some ministers are really trained and effective and but then others might not be. So, um, again, just talk about those options. And we always have mediation as well. I like to agree on like who would we use if we needed these people now rather than later. And I also like to decide now, like how would we pay that? Is it going to be 5050? Will it be pro rata pursuant to our incomes at the time? Um, and they can change those agreements down the road, but getting them all addressed now is most important. And a couple more things. Um. When is it appropriate to return to the attorneys? Sometimes you can just come back to the table again and you can have another agreement. And informal settlement discussions are quite effective. You might also want to put that in your agreement that even if you've tried the other options, if maybe you've tried counseling, you've tried a parenting counselor, maybe one last ditch effort before going to court and filing a motion is to return to the attorneys and see what they can get resolved for you. So I have some other tips about drafting the agreement. I know that I am running out of time here. These are all pretty self-explanatory. So I'm going to let you all look through all of these do have parents sign before a notary. And I will tell you, I've had so many problems lately with notaries people who are not signing agreements pursuant to the notary requirements in my area. And I have no idea what that is or why we're having these issues now. So just make sure it truly is a notary. They have their stamp and they're meeting the issues or meeting the requirements for your particular jurisdiction. And then the last things I have are just some other frequently disputed issues extracurricular activities, payment for those activities. We call this the 6% rule, which is the payment of uninsured medical expenses, and it's introducing significant others to the child. I've sort of already covered that as well in my my other materials. So anyway, thank you everybody, so much for hanging in there. And I hope that I have been able to provide some information to you that you can take to your practices, to your parties, to your parents and to help strengthen them.

Presenter(s)

CDJ
Christine Douglas, JD
Owner and Attorney
Douglas Family Law LLC

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