In today’s mini episode, we are going to be talking about what happens when you have joint custody with your co-parent, you’re supposed to make all major decisions for your kids together by mutual agreement, and you can’t agree.
From a legal perspective, there are a couple of ways to approach this issue within your divorce settlement agreement, and a couple of ways from a practical perspective to approach this issue.
In your contract, in your divorce agreement, you can choose to simply not speak to this issue, which basically means if and when you and your co-parent disagree in the future, you’re going to have to figure out how to handle it. And if you can’t figure it out, you can go to court. Your agreement doesn’t really require you to do anything specific about a disagreement other than leaves you to your own devices basically to work it out or to not work it out and to go to court.
Many people will prefer to say something in their agreement about, well, what would we do if we tried to agree but we couldn’t, and we really were stuck? And this is all regarding major decisions for your kids, so not the day-to-day stuff but, like, where will my child attend school, or will my child have surgery on his knee, or whatever comes up for you that’s more of a major educational or health-related or religious decision for your kids.
When people do speak to this in their agreement, often they will be making a commitment to meet with a neutral professional – sometimes they’ll name that person; sometimes they will just say it will be decided at that time – a neutral professional who they mutually agree to meet with and mutually select to try to work out the issue. And they may not any more specific than that.
They may – you know, you can – include a minimum number of sessions. We’ll go to at least one session. We’ll go to at least three two-hour sessions. Whatever feels comfortable for you.
Sometimes, in addition to that, people will speak to how those sessions will be paid for, whether the spouses will split them or share them in some other proportion or one spouse will pay for the first two sessions and then the spouses will split sessions going forward. You can address how you’ll pay for the sessions. You don’t have to. Sometimes, people will go further and they will say, we’ll go to this neutral professional, typically somebody with some kind of relevant subject matter expertise and if this person agrees with what one of us is saying, we commit that we will do what that person recommends or what they agree with that one of the parents was advocating for and the other parent was not in favor of.
Probably the, in some ways simplest and cleanest way to do this, but also not always popular with parents for understandable reasons, is to say we will try to mutually agree on issues. If we can’t mutually agree, we agree that mom or dad or whichever parent will have the final say on this topic. So that can be on all topics, so on all major decisions related to the child they’ll try to agree but if they can’t agree, mom or dad or whichever parent will have the final say. Or it could be that, well, mom has the final say on educational decisions and dad has the final say on health related decisions.
However, that is often not popular with parents because they don’t love the idea of being boxed out of a major decision regarding their kid and giving up complete control to the other parent to make that final decision. So many parents for that reason will, even though that’s a very in some ways clean and simple way to resolve disagreements, many parents will opt for the more general language about if we can agree, we commit to go to X number of meetings with a neutral mediator or a neutral child therapist to try to work it out but if you can’t work it out, basically you’re left going to court. That’s sort of your last resort and that is a last resort for you if you don’t say anything at all in your agreement anyway.
So those are some of the options of how parents who have joint legal custody, shared custody of their kids can resolve disagreements between them.