Your High-Conflict Custody Agreement
When drafting your High-Conflict Custody Agreement, a lot of things will be standard according to your state, such as child support, drop-off times, and medical expenses. The thing about a High Conflict Custody Agreement is that standard papers do NOT work. You might think, oh I am sure we will figure out something if something happens that isn’t in the papers; but guess what? Your ex will ALWAYS twist anything and everything in his favor, unless it is written and signed by a judge saying otherwise…and even then, they still try to twist it!
It is important to cover every single possible thing you can think of when drafting your High Conflict Custody Agreement. It might cost you a lot more now but in the long run it will save you a ton because you won’t have to go back to mediation or court to decide for you. Not to mention the amount of mental stress it will save you, which is priceless.
When drafting the provisions with your attorney, you must keep in mind that using logic does not work with a narcissistic or toxic co-parent. They do not think about what is best for the child, just what is best for them. They will use any loophole they can to get their way, so it is very important to make sure anything that could be considered a loophole is resolved before your attorney submits the final papers.
Another great reason to make sure your High-Conflict Custody Agreement is ironclad, is so you are not taken advantage of. You can always use the papers as “blame” and not you personally. Your ex didn’t ask to switch within the designated time stated in your papers; you get to say no because the papers say no, not because you are saying no. It becomes more like a business deal, mechanical, and not a personal attack or grievance against the other parent.
So here are some things you most likely forgot about to include in your High-Conflict Custody Agreement.
1. Who Pays For What
Papers do not always address who is to pay for miscellaneous expenses, which leaves it up to the parents to decide how to handle it. If you do not include incredibly detailed decisions in your High-Conflict Custody Agreement, your ex is most likely going to stick you with the bill, so think about:
Private School Expenses
Your child might not be attending private school currently but if there is a chance in the future you might want to include this. Who covers tuition, do they cover a percentage or an amount? Who covers the textbooks, since you usually have to purchase those.
After School Extracurricular Activities
Who gets to decide who picks the activity? Is it up to the custodial parent or a joint decision? Who is to pay for the activities’ tuition? A percentage or an amount. Who covers any extras needed such as a special tutu or dues for a competition?
Extra School Expenses
Who pays for field trips, t-shirts, club dues? School lunch account, especially if one parent makes their child’s lunch, and the other doesn’t.
Who is responsible for childcare during the summer? 50/50 all summer or each parent is responsible for the cost while in their custody? If one parent works from home and doesn’t need childcare or day camp during their extended summer visitation, should they be required to pay for half of the other parent’s childcare expenses? If your child attends summer camp, they can be pricey. Who pays for that and how much?
2. How to Handle Events
You might think parents can remain civil at events where the other parent will attend, but it would surprise you how many end up losing their cool about or at an event. My ex told me once I “was not allowed to attend” our daughter’s kindergarten graduation because he was going. Mind you, I am the custodial parent and had her 85% of the time. He believed he could bully me into not going and I am sure there are people out there that would have stayed home for fear of retaliation from their ex.
- Cover how to handle recitals, games, performances, graduations, etc. if both parents cannot agree to come together for their child.
- Should both parents have a right, no matter whose custody day it falls on. If it on the parent’s weekend, they are the only one that gets to attend. Is there a way to have a tie breaker to decide?
- What about birthday parties or events of friends who are closer to the other parent? Does the other parent get to take them as long as it does not interfere with the other parent’s schedule or does the parent, whose day it is, get to take them? Or annual events of a family, such as a reunion or annual vacation. Does your child have to miss it because it falls on the other parent’s day? These are some things to consider, including when drafting High Conflict Custody Agreements.
3. Switching Visitation Times
I think it is safe to say, both parents will need to switch a day or weekend at some point during the child’s life. Having a set course of action is vital in High Conflict Custody Agreements. That way one parent doesn’t get taken advantage of or loses out on time they could spend with their child instead of the child being with a babysitter
If the parent cannot watch their child during their custody, the ROFR states that the parent must ask the other if they would like to watch the child instead of another caregiver. This is a win-win for both parties because they can never accuse the other of keeping their child away from them and the child gets to spend more time with their other parent. Also, in certain situations where one parent uses this to their advantage, the other parent can say no so they don’t get taken advantage of and not feel bad about it.
If you do not state a certain time frame in which it is acceptable to ask to switch, situations can get sticky fast. Asking to switch 2 days before can lead to stress on the other parent. Also, not having a designated reply time can be stressful for the parent needing to know if they can switch. So having something like the parent needing to switch days must ask within 7 days of the day and the other parent must reply with an answer within 24 hours of request. That saves a lot of stress for both parties, especially when one parent doesn’t want to switch or springs it on them last minute. They can state the papers are the reason they are not switching.
What happens if a parent is very sick? What constitutes “very sick”? Who is to watch the child? Or what if the child is in custody of one parent and ill? Does the parent keep them that way the child doesn’t have more stress placed on them and doesn’t expose the other parent if they are contagious?
When I went back to have my custody papers revised, my new attorney was shocked that my divorce attorney did not include all contact must be through a parenting app and no disparaging comments to be made. Had I known that I could include this in my papers, I might not have had to deal with the verbal abuse I dealt with for 3 years. A lot of drama and fights may have been prevented. So, even if you are getting along currently, it doesn’t mean you always will. What if one of you starts seriously dating and it triggers the other’s rage. They might start saying things to your child and wouldn’t you want to be able to show a judge they were in violation versus just a jerk?
Make sure that all communication is through an app such as Our Family Wizard or CoParently The best things about these apps is that one cannot alter the conversations. Then can be used to show how the other parent violated any part of a High Conflict Custody Agreement.
Some things my ex said to my children were so disgusting I would rather forget about it. Things he said to me, even worse. He even went as far to contact men I have dated to say negative things about me to them. None of this was in violation of my papers. All it did was make him an asshole. Now that he knows he is in violation if he says anything, he is very careful about what he says to the children and me.
Communication with Child
There are parents that punish the other parent by limiting communication while the child is with them. Ignoring phone calls and texts or taking away the kid’s cell phone so they cannot contact the other parent. If this could be a future fear, establishing set times when the parent can contact the child might be best.
5. How to Handle Future Adult Relationships
This is hard because I believe a lot of parties, especially that involve cheating, get emotional and want to punish the other parent without thinking about their future. I have seen where women ask what kind of provision, they should put in their papers about their soon to be ex-husband having people spend the night when the children are at the residence. There is the point of view that they shouldn’t be able to till married. Personally, I believe this is setting up a situation for people to rush into a marriage because they want to live together. The last thing your child needs is another divorce a few years later when it doesn’t work out.
I have heard of women that have dated men and they were great and said they loved children. The moment they started staying overnight, the man realized they were not cutout to be a stepfather and ended it. While it is heartbreaking for the child to have another adult leave their life, it is better that it is figured out before anyone gets engaged or married.
I also wouldn’t want my ex telling me when I could start having my significant other start spending the night. Also, any trips you would want to take with your kids and significant other can’t happen or get expensive because you have to rent two hotel rooms.
I assume when including these clauses in a High-Conflict Custody Agreement, it is when one of the parents does not make the most sound choices about bringing others around their children. In that case it is necessary to prevent exposing your child to a revolving door of boyfriends/girlfriends. Figuring out a time frame that is appropriate is the best bet in my opinion. Such as the children cannot meet a significant other till after 6 months of dating, no over nights till a year after dating or engaged.
I have thought about a few other things to think about if they could apply to you one day
· How to handle out-of-network doctors’ bills. My Ex takes our children to an out-of-network therapist of his choosing. Since there are options in-network where we would split the co-pay, he then has to foot the bill 100%. Also, if the other parent uses the ER as a doctor’s office, should you be responsible for 50% of that bill if the parent could have taken the child to an Urgent Care for a fraction of the price?
- Who is allowed to babysit?
- Not allowed to have contact with certain people; sex offenders, abusers, known drug or alcohol abusers
- Use of alcohol while the child is in their possession; I know this is common where there is a known alcohol problem
- Haircuts or appearance, would you want your child’s hair drastically changed without your knowledge? Just because one parent is ok with a buzz cut or letting the child dye their hair purple, doesn’t mean they should do as they please. Having to give written consent to change a child’s appearance might be necessary.
- Electronics- who pays for the cell phone, monitors it, time spent on it, etc.
- Miscellaneous Holidays- Halloween, Grandparent’s Day, etc. deciding who gets them?
- Handling a tie-breaker; Does a mediator or some other professional get to decide or do you have to go back to court? My ex and I have joint medical. He and I agree on most medical issues we have it so a doctor makes the tie breaker decision if he and I cannot agree.