Archive for November 2018

A SMART Agreement for Holiday Co-Parenting

SMART parenting agreements can ensure happy holidays even when you’re divorced.

At Weber Dispute Resolution, we believe in crafting SMART agreements.  SMART stands for Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Time-Bound. SMART agreements help with enforcement, and make it clear to both parties what is required for them to stay within the boundaries of their agreement.

Here’s why a SMART agreement makes things so much easier:

  • When an agreement isn’t SPECIFIC, parties become confused over exactly what they agreed on
  • Unless performance can be MEASURED in some way, it is difficult to determine where the boundaries are, and when they’ve been broken.
  • Any agreement must be ATTAINABLE – something you can easily comply with. People can’t be expected to do the impossible – it’s setting them up to fail.
  • Agreements require RELEVANCE to make sense in any particular circumstance.
  • Finally, linking the provisions to TIME-BOUND deadlines lets people know when things should happen.

So, unless your agreement is a SMART agreement, there is a good chance you will be facing problems down the road.

This is especially true when we are talking about holiday co-parenting.  People can become emotional during the holiday season. It’s understandable and predictable. Holidays are all about family.  Not having your children with you and with your extended family during the holidays can be hard to cope with.

Because people are so emotional about the holidays, parenting decisions about holiday traditions and practices can become a significant source of conflict.  When I used to litigate family law cases in courtrooms, unfortunately for my clients, they paid me a good amount of money to sort out holiday schedules and last-minute misunderstandings.

With a SMART holiday co-parenting agreement, you can avoid big emotional blowouts AND writing big checks to lawyers. Here’s how.

SMART – Specific

When crafting holiday orders and agreements, make sure you are very specific about what the schedule is.  Just saying that the

Put your mediated agreement in writing if you intend it to be legally binding. Photo: Antonio Litterio/Wikimedia

SMART agreements are specific. Photo: Antonio Litterio/Wikimedia

kids are with mom on Christmas in even-numbered years and Dad in odd-numbered years is a start.  But it is not very specific.  Get into the weeds about when exactly Christmas starts and ends.  Where will the kids be delivered or picked-up.  I have even seen people get specific about whether a joint present opening time would happen and how it would go.  The more specific your agreement is, the less likely there will be misunderstandings.

Another example is with New Year’s Eve and Day.  When talking about New Year’s Eve and Day and odd years versus even years, which year counts for odd or even?  Is it New Years Eve, which falls in one year, or New Years Day, which falls in the following year?  This kind of lack of specificity can lead to confusion.

A colleague of mine recalled a poll on a local list serve account for family law attorneys.  She learned that when confronted with the question of which day, New Year’s Eve or New Year’s Day, counts for purposes of even and odd, roughly half of the respondents thought it was New Years Eve while the other half thought it was New Years Day.  Get clear, and you can avoid trouble.

SMART agreements are timebound.

 

SMART – Measurable and Time-Bound

When talking about parenting schedules, measurable and time-bound tend to go together. It’s good practice to have a clear start and end time when describing holiday periods. A common provision is  “The child shall spend Father’s Day with the father every year.” This is too vague.

Much better and a more effective provision: “The child shall be with father on Father’s Day every year from 8 a.m. the morning of the holiday until 8 a.m. the day after the holiday.”

SMART – Attainable

It seems like a no brainer an agreement or order should be attainable. But sometimes, people don’t realize a provision is unattainable. In a recent case, the court order described as written the children would be with Mom on Christmas Day at 10:00 a.m. and returned to Dad at 10:00 a.m. the next morning. However, the parties lived more than 3,000 miles apart! These parents could not possibly make this work from any practical standpoint.

In another case, the children were to alternate between mom’s house and dad’s house during the holidays for overnight visits in an even and odd patterned schedule. The problem? One of the parents was incarcerated.

So it’s important to avoid these kinds of attainability problems by making sure the agreement’s boilerplate language is customized to you and written to fit your unique circumstances.

SMART – Relevant

SMART agreements must be relevant to your circumstances.

Holiday co-parenting orders should be relevant to your situation. In one of my cases, Family Court Services made Christmas co-parenting recommendations. The parties only celebrated Jewish holidays. Clearly, something lost in translation was missed.

As practitioners, it’s tempting to fit people neatly into nice little boxes. But it makes little sense to force parents to observe a holiday schedule for holidays the parties don’t even celebrate. In another case, attorneys included a provision for Fourth of July. The parties didn’t celebrate Fourth of July and weren’t concerned about having the kids on Fourth of July.

The SMART Approach to Happy Holidays When You’re Divorced

 Filling a holiday co-parenting agreement with irrelevant provisions does nothing but confuse things, and clutter up your case with unhelpful rules. To say nothing of having an agreement that falls into the “TL; DR” category (that’s Tool Long, Didn’t Read).

Your agreement should be meaningful, with SMART rules that make sense for you and your family alone. Work with someone who will listen to your needs and get you know you, your co-parent, and your kids, and create something that fits. You won’t be fighting against it and arguing about it, which doesn’t help anyone.

Want to clean up your holiday co-parenting schedule BEFORE the holidays get here? Would you like to avoid those frantic last minute calls to a lawyer to fix your holiday parenting schedule? Contact Weber Dispute Resolution now, and you can have truly happy holidays without a care. Isn’t that the holiday gift all families wish for?