Frequently, practitioners are asked to help forecast the rights and responsibilities of parties to one another. More frequently still, we are asked to make this forecasting without any clear documentation of those rights and responsibilities. This post focuses on the difficulties of projecting future results without any agreements in place.
Fear of the Unknown
Perhaps the most difficult thing you can ask an advocate is, "What's next?" Yet, it's far and away the most common question I'm asked. The uncertainty of any litigation, of any dispute for that matter, is suffocating. Pragmatic people simply see the possible paths stretching before them, with surprising twists and turns and simply want their attorneys to draw them a map. This is often possible for us to do, but it's made so much easier for everyone involved when individuals make some small decisions for themselves.
In family law, the decisions are your friends. As we detailed earlier, it is eminently possible to achieve your goals in an agreed joint parenting plan entered under court supervision. It is further advisable to use the supervision of the court and the expertise of attorneys to advise you of the issues that you should be deciding for yourself and your family in a way that acknowledges future risks and anticipated difficulties.
When the parents have a joint parenting plan in place, the terms of that plan form a remarkably stable and predictable road map not just for the children, but for each other. It is possible for us to know what to expect, and it is possible for us to define the rules of our relationships. Without a joint parenting plan, the methods and manners with which we may use to relate to people with significant relationships to those precious to us are murky and unclear. The vagueness leads to conflict. The conflict leads to phone calls. The phone calls lead to legal bills. And, if I am certain of anything, I am certain the public wants fewer legal bills.
Past Performance can Predict Future Results
Perhaps the most accurate predictor of the outcomes of litigation are not the attorneys, but the agreements. People make trivial commitments all the time where the details end up being extremely significant. Just remember the last time you checked your text messages to see if your friends promised to be over by 7:00 or 7:30. Remember when your relative offered to help you move, was it on Saturday or Sunday? When you last ordered dinner, did you get the side salad or the potato?
I'm not just being glib. In all three cases, the part we're calling into question is the less significant part of the event, but it means more to us. Spending time with your friends is (typically) more important than the schedule. Getting help is more important than the convenience. Eating your dinner is more important than the side. However, in all three cases, the average person would be really put out by the wrong answer.
That's why we write down our decisions. We text our friends to confirm 7:00PM. We email the rental truck reservation to our cousin. We keep the receipt on hand from the restaurant. Ensuring accuracy is the greatest reason to keep a record of what we've wanted.
When it comes to parenting plans, isolated difficulties truly matter. A difficulty with a parent picking up the child when and where he agrees is a common reason parties go back to Court. Vacations frequently get all the litigants and their lawyers back before a judge. The judge might even see this case if the child wants to go into soccer or basketball. These little contentions can add up to many appearances.
Usually, one of the first questions a judge will ask herself is, "What does the Parenting Plan say?" The Parenting Plan is so authoritative because it is a decision. So often with raising children there are few written rules, but the organizational authority of the Parenting Plan helps to simply the complex relationships between adults who share responsibilities to raise a child into an adult. Your Parenting Plan can account for vacations, can account for a possibility of moving out of state and can account for an athletically talented child and his or her extracurricular activities.
Making the decision is what is important. It is important to nail down the different paths that a judge's opinion could take to an easy to follow map of what the adults have agreed to do for each other and their children. It is important to have these difficult discussions with your attorney if you cannot have them with the other parent. It is important to establish the boundaries of your shared parentage, but also establish the zones of your shared cooperation in a way that minimizes the strain of the custodial agreement on the children.
Most of all, it is important to make a written decision on how to best preserve your relationship with your child. - J/A