Creating a separation agreement in the midst of dealing with your children can be a challenging process. Children can get negatively affected if the parents involve them in their high stress separation process.
Therefore, it is important to agree on certain terms early on to ease the tension between the couple setting the living arrangements for their children after the separation. This allows for there to be a workable plan in place that can ease the transition for the children involved, especially if the parents can put their differences aside and come to an agreement.
What Decisions Should be Taken Once the Parents Separate?
In general, once a separation occurs between the parents there are two main areas of decision making that will immediately take place regarding your child. First is their major life decision and second is their daily activities. Some of these decisions may include the following topics:
- Education: Where your child will seek primary and secondary education;
- Health care: How will the parents ensure their child is able to stay physically and mentally fit;
- Food: Permissible food and non-permissible food;
- Religious beliefs: What religious practices your child will follow;
- Holidays: Will your child celebrate any particular holidays;
- Travel: Who is responsible for traveling arrangements
- Language: What languages will your children speak or understand;
- Culture: Will your children follow any cultural practices?
Defining what major life decisions regarding your child are can be difficult to decide. However, it will be useful to develop a plan early on and create a structure for the child to easily abide by. But, the daily decisions are considered routine decisions regarding the daily aspects of the child’s life. The goal for creating an agreement regarding parenting decisions for the child is to have consistency in both homes. Keep in mind that one parent may be more heavily involved in more of the financial matters because they are the higher earning spouse.
Additionally, another parent may be more responsible for more of the day to day activities because the child is residing with that parent. In short, living arrangements of the child will significantly impact who makes the decisions and how they are made. Researching local state laws regarding child support and custody can also be informative in this process of drafting a separation agreement that involves children.
Who is Responsible For Making Decisions After the Separation?
Both parents can choose how they want to proceed with the separate agreement and how to incorporate the decision making process. For example, the parents can agree to make joint decisions, which means there is a fair involvement of both parents in discussing and deciding the matters.
But, sole decisions are more of dividing the different aspects of a child’s life and making separate decisions about them. For example, one parent can choose to decide which school the child attends while the other parents decide what health insurance plan the child needs. These decisions can reflect each parent’s comfort level and cultural or religious preferences.
You and your ex-spouse make your own decisions. The issue is trying to keep everything consistent for the child to follow because mixed ideas in decisions can create confusion. Therefore, it is crucial to highlight these issues early on and develop a path forward for parents and children to follow. Creating uniformity and stability in the child’s life should be a priority for the parents and other caretakers.
What Will Be the Living Arrangements For the Child After the Separation?
One of the most important decisions to make after the separation is the location of where the child will reside. This decision may be simple in the sense that the parent that stays behind in the house where the child lives will remain living there. But, this may not always be the case, depending on the state, that decision may not be considered in the best interest of the child. Usually, there is joint custody and one parent lives with the child while the other has visitation rights.
However, in some cases the child can live in both homes for a specified agreed time period and rotate depending on the living arrangement schedule. Recently, there has been a concept of the “family home” or the “bird’s nest.” The children live in the family home full-time, and the parents commute to and from this place. When one parent resides with the children, the other lives in a separate home. This shifts the parents to adapt to the major changes resulting from the separation instead of the children.
But, this bird’s nest concept can work for some families but may not work for others. It is best to evaluate each situation and determine case by case. For example, this arrangement can become expensive because you may need three homes instead of two. It could also cause unnecessary tension because you may need to do more than just co-parent with your ex. For example, doing household tasks such as cleaning and buying groceries which could be stressful.
Another option is to listen to the child’s wishes and which home they prefer to live in. Typically, a court will take into account the child’s living preferences if they are above the age of 12. It is a well understood principle that the best living arrangements prioritize what the children’s needs are first; therefore considering their opinions could be helpful when making this decision.
How to Discuss Changes of Circumstances after Your Separation Agreement Is Made?
It is important to understand that after you draft your separation agreement, your circumstances may change drastically. In order to request any modification of the agreement, there must be a showing of this “material change of circumstance.” By planning ahead and including clauses in your separation agreement that address changes to specific situations can save conflicts later on. For instance, you can agree to increase or decrease payments by a certain percent if the income amount changes.
Below are some situations that could impact your agreement such as:
- Loss or changed employment or a significant salary decrease;
- Children’s extracurricular activities have changed and more support is required to pay for these activities;
- The child decided to relocate to a different residence;
- The child started attending a university or other colleges;
- Other provisions or terms may be included to show that an event occurred that drastically affected the previous situation and requires a modification.
Should I Hire a Family Law Attorney?
If you can communicate effectively with your spouse, you can work together to negotiate a parenting plan on your own.
If you need help agreeing on a parenting plan, you can hire an attorney or mediator. If you’re certain about divorce, consider collaborative law, in which a team of custody and divorce experts help you reach a temporary separation plan and, ultimately, a final divorce settlement.
If you’re legally separating, your court may offer free or low-cost mediation.
For negotiations or mediation, you should bring a parenting plan and parenting time schedule that clearly detail the custody arrangements you want. Consider making multiple plans and schedules so you can present options. If you and your partner have decided to separate and there are children involved, it is useful to discuss a way to draft a separation agreement plan that helps your child to smoothly transition into this major life decision.
If you are having issues in communicating with your spouse it may be helpful to seek out an experienced family lawyer that can assist with drafting a workable agreement between you and your spouse while taking into consideration your child’s best interests. Oftentimes parents get tangled up in their marital issues and fail to notice the drastic impact their decision has on their children. Therefore, hiring a family lawyer to help with a separation agreement in the beginning allows the couple to create a more stable and consistent structure for the child to follow.