Most people who have ever been involved in a contested divorce or custody dispute will tell you that it is not a particularly enjoyable experience. So when the end is finally in sight, when the months have passed, most clients will sign almost anything to have the matter closed and put into the rear view mirror. The fact, however, is that whether you like it or not most Permanent Parenting Plans are not so “permanent” and your ex-spouse or significant other may not always follow through on his/her obligations. Those documents that were signed without proper review can play a significant role in future modifications and contempt proceedings.
The question always becomes how much detail to include in documents. The answer varies depending on how far one wants to pursue the matter and the type of document being debated. Rarely does anyone get everything they hope for in a judgment. Moreover, planning and outlining for every eventuality just is not feasible. Instead a client should spend time with his or her attorney choosing what is most important. Our experience has shown that when discussing a Marital Dissolution Agreement, deadlines reign supreme. If property should exchange hands, a date must be set for said exchange. If alimony is to be paid, then a firm date should be selected for payment to be made each month. Permanent Parenting Plans are complex and there are many aspects that can be important to focus on depending on the individuals’ specific circumstances, including reintegration should one parent not have a previously established relationship with the minor child and a communication schedule. This is a very truncated list and anyone going through this issue should speak to an attorney to discuss other potential pitfalls.
What can be included in these documents is often based on three factors: (1) What is most important to the client? Your attorney represents your wants and needs and while we can advise you, the final decision is completely left to the client. As such, if directed, an attorney may choose to focus on certain aspects to the detriment of other items. (2) How far is the client willing to take the matter? Some aspects will truly ever only be ordered by a court. Therefore, if a client is unwilling to take a case to a final trial due to embarrassment, time constraints, financial limitations, or any other reason, some resolutions simply may not be available. (3) Finally, and possibly most importantly, what is the relationship between the parties? Just as some aspects will only be included if ordered by the court, some provisions and restraints will only be included based upon the agreement of the parties. The question is not whether the parties get along, because if that was the case the parties either would not be involved in a divorce action or the matter would have been considered uncontested in nature. Instead, the question becomes how civil the parties are despite the fact that animosity exists. Studies show, and any attorney heavily involved in family law would support the conclusion, that parties who can agree have greater success in avoiding future legal disputes when issues arise.
If you are going through a family law matter, find an attorney you trust to represent your needs. And do not, we repeat DO NOT, sell yourself short in the final moments by not properly reviewing documents and setting yourself up for future disappointment.