There is always a debate between drafting a custody agreement that allows for a little breathing room and drafting an agreement that outlines all likely impending circumstances. However, in highly contentious cases, one rule rings true: the more specific the agreement, the less conflict you'll create. A decision that provides the parties' too much flexibility is likely to result in future arguments and litigation.
What parties should understand before attempting to run back to court after a heated disagreement is that family court isn't responsible for thoroughly monitoring a custody order. As long as both parties agree to modify what's in an agreement, they won't be punished for it because the decision is mutual. For example, if an order gives a mother visitation on Wednesdays but both parents decide that Thursday is the better day for a visit, there is no need to consult the court for modification. The order should only be legally addressed when the parties disagree about the time spent with the child.
Although specificity is the ultimate goal, it's important to note that it is impossible to draft an agreement that covers every single circumstance. You can't plan for lost time caused by unanticipated situations like family reunions, flight delays, funerals, marriages, and other inevitable life events. When attempting to conjure up and draft language that would resolve hypothetical circumstances, one encounters numerous scenarios, which would take a lot of energy and time to address. In these cases, some flexibility is necessary.
Choosing your battles is pivotal in incorporating flexible provisions in a custody agreement. Flexibility should only be presented in circumstances where cooperative behavior is expected. It's assumed that one parent won't see an issue with their child attending the other's wedding on their day, for example. Cooperation would also be expected in situations where one parent may have an unpredictable work schedule. But to expect cooperation on anything outside of “reasonable circumstance” territory is merely an invitation for more conflict.
To enter into a vague custody order is to waste valuable time and money. That said, why can't what seems like the majority of parties avoid the mistake of drafting an agreement that is too flexible? The answer is a combination of several factors. Parents grow tired of long periods of litigation and end up settling for a compromise, or one or both parties feel coerced into an agreement out of fear of receiving an unfavorable judicial determination. However, if these unresolved issues were the source of conflict before the final order, obtaining an order that doesn't address these issues won't end the conflict. Instead, the conflict will fester until the issue is resolved via subsequent agreement or new custody order. This is why getting it right the first time is so important.
Don't Draft Your Child Custody Agreement Without the Assistance of an Attorney
Pennsylvania family law attorney Joseph D. Lento has extensive knowledge of the state's process and has helped families reach an agreement that reflects their child's best interest. To ensure your parental rights are protected, and that your contributions are protected, contact the Lento Law Firm today at 888-535-3686.