Divorce and Parenting Agreements: Don’t Ask Why, Ask How
Often during divorce and custody settlements, people ask, “Why?”
- Why does s/he get to decide where the children will live and when I will get to see them?
- Why does s/he get to dictate how the assets will be divided?
- Why does s/he get to stay in the house?
- Why does s/he think s/he doesn’t need to provide support?
The list of “why's” could go on and on. The problem with “why” questions is that they rarely help a couple/parents move toward resolving these questions.
In working toward settlement, it is important to move the focus away from “why” and onto “how” and “what”.
- How can the house be distributed to best meet the needs of the divided family?
- What does meaningful time with the children look like for each parent?
- How can the children’s time be spent with each parent in ways that will satisfy both the parents’ and the children’s needs?
- How can the assets and the debt be divided to best meet each party’s needs?
- What resources are available to meet the support needs of both parties?
- How can the available resources be used to meet everyone’s needs?
Remember that decisions regarding assets and debts, parenting, and support do not take place in a vacuum. While it's tempting to want to go through them like a checklist, in reality they are all connected and need to be approached with a broader perspective.
Use the settlement process to be creative! Together with your attorney or a mediator, ask lots of “what” and “how” questions. Really think about your answers before backing yourself into a corner with a position that turns out not to be right for you or your family at all.
For example, parenting time (what used to be called "visitation") and the primary residence of the children are cornerstone decisions that will also affect housing and support issues. Challenge yourselves to think beyond the old formulas and start asking meaningful questions about these issues.
- What is best for the child(ren)?
- How can the parenting plan minimize the effects of divorce on the children?
- How can the parenting schedule minimize the time the child(ren) are in daycare?
- What do the children feel about parenting time and residence?
- How close do the parents live to each other?
- How can the parenting plan minimize the amount of time the children spend traveling from one parent to the other?
- How can the parenting plan put the children’s needs and feelings ahead of the parents’ needs?
Separation and parenting agreements are not a one-size-fits-all proposition. Let the questions “what” and “how” guide you to the solution that will work best for you. The right attorney can help!
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