In Part 1 of the Basic Elements of a Parenting Agreement, we demonstrated the first five basic elements of a parenting agreement outlined by NOLO’s Building a Parenting Agreement That Works. Those elements included living arrangements, health care, abstaining from negativity, consistent standards, and holidays. Below are the remaining five elements which outlines how to incorporate decisions about the children’s education, insurance, making decisions, resolving disputes, and custody arrangements.
If your children are attending school it is important to establish guidelines regarding parental involvement. Examples would be what type of school (public, private or homeschool), who will pay what, which parent attends activities and/or teacher conferences, who should be notified in case of an emergency, and post-secondary education.
Most states require one or both parents provide health insurance as part of their child support agreement, so parents will need to decide who will provide medical, dental, and vision care, as well as pay for prescription drugs and psychiatric care, if needed. Parents may also want to consider taking out life insurance for themselves in the event of an untimely death.
8. Making Decisions
The best case scenario is when both parents work together to find solutions that are in the children’s best interests. Typically, one parent will make everyday decisions while keeping the other parent informed. Naturally, discussion and agreement would be needed for significant decisions. If the parents’ relationship is too contentious, then a suitable parallel parenting agreement can be worked out that still allows both parents’ involvement in their children’s lives.
In some situations (i.e. abuse or violence), it will be best if the primary caregiver makes all of the decisions without needing to consult with the other parent. There may be also scenarios where both parents are unable or unwilling to make decisions about their children’s welfare, and will need to appoint a legal guardian (relative, friend or attorney) with complete decision-making authority.
9. Resolving Disputes
Sometimes, parents will reach an impasse where they simply cannot resolve a particular issue regarding their children. It will help tremendously if you can decide in advance how to handle sticky situations. Some of your options are: allowing the primary caregiver to have final authority, resolve underlying problems before making a decision, develop a temporary agreement, consult with a therapist, counselor or attorney, or use a mediator or arbitrator.
10. Labeling the Custody Arrangement
Understand that custody arrangements are not the same as living arrangements. For example, while the children may spend the majority of their time with one parent, both parents may have joint custody. These are the most common custody labels:
Sole Custody – This is when one parent has been designated the primary caregiver and makes all of the decisions. Reasons for this type of arrangement may be due to distance, antagonism, or other factors. Visitation schedules can still be arranged, and non-custodial parents are not exempt from paying child support.
Joint Custody – When parents share custody, they are both involved in the decision-making process. Children may spend equal amounts of time with both parents, live with one parent during the week and the other on weekends, or live with one parent during the school year and spend the summer with the other. There are many other types of scenarios that can also be worked out.
Split Custody – In some situations, it may be necessary to have both parents “split” up the siblings where some are placed with one parent and some are placed with the other parent. This can have an adverse effect on the children, so it is recommended that you consult with a mental health professional before proceeding with this type of arrangement.
Third-Party Custody – Sometimes neither parent is able or willing to care for the children, which means a third-party, such as grandparent or other relative, is asked to take custody. You will need to decide if this is to be a temporary or permanent arrangement, and what visitation rights the parents will have.
Negotiating a parenting agreement can be complicated, difficult, and emotionally draining. Especially when covering issues such as child support, special needs children, and visitation arrangements. There is a dispute resolution called “collaborative divorce” that can make the process less adversarial and more harmonious for everyone involved.
Dr. Susan K. Daniel is member of the Collaborative Family Law Group of Central Florida, which helps families civilly resolve disputes outside of the courtroom and focus on the welfare of the children. Please feel free to contact her if you and/or your family are going through the emotional process of a divorce and need to work out a proactive parenting agreement.