My stepson recently graduated high school, and a family friend gave him a road atlas. She lovingly marked the page with the map of his hometown with the words “home sweet home.” He’s going to the other side of the state for college; but, our area will always be his home.
Upon receiving it, this young millennial made the comment “what do I need a map book for? I have GPS.”
I’m glad that he has already had to eat his words because his cell phone didn’t charge on Sunday when he needed to drive to his new summer job as a camp counselor, and he had no electronic directions to guide him there!
That road atlas was his life line at a moment when simply winging it wouldn’t have achieved the outcome he needed. He required a manual, of sorts, to guide him and provide him with the information he needed, or he would have become, quite literally, lost!
Those of us who have gone through a divorce are also often in need of such a manual to answer our questions about what to do, how to do it, and who is responsible.
Whether we wish to acknowledge it or not, we have such a manual!
Remember those papers we walked out of the courtroom with after our final divorce hearing? That’s right. That divorce agreement and parenting plan have the majority of the answers many of us are looking for, and the ability to settle probably 90% of future disputes!
If your parenting plan is anything like mine, it covers:
What each parent’s responsibilities are
The visitation schedule
Holidays and other special schedules
How child-related expenses are to be divided
Right of first refusal
Residential parent status
Directions about appropriate conduct around the children pertaining to promoting a loving relationship with their other parent
Guidelines about reasonable communication during visitation with the other parent
And many other important topics…
If your divorce decree is anything like mine it discusses:
The division of property and assets
The division of debts
Spousal support, if applicable
Taxes and other financial considerations
And many other such issues.
Admittedly, the language used in these legal documents can be confusing, and even conflicting at times. But, for the most part, if you or your ex have a question about who gets the kids for 4th of July, which parent’s address is used to register the children for school, or how Susie’s soccer camp will be paid for, it’s all in your paperwork!
This is important to know because many exes spend years battling about visitation time, expenses, and other concerns long after the judge rules to finalize the divorce. So much of this is completely unnecessary, because we have most of what we need to guide us at our fingertips!
If your divorce was anything like mine, the following occurred:
I met with my lawyer and my ex met with his to discuss our complaints and concerns so that these could be addressed with the “other side.”
We held meetings (just my council and I, and both sides together) to discuss the demands, questions, and concerns of each side.
Both my ex and I were required to read through and initial each page of both the parenting plan and divorce agreement to indicate that we were aware of everything in our plan and agreed to it.
Both my ex and I, as well as our lawyers signed off on the last page of each document to signify that we accepted the terms of the plan.
The judge in our case reviewed all the forms that we had already read and signed and put his final stamp of approval on all, ruling them a binding legal order of the court.
So, what does it mean if you possess a set of divorce papers or a parenting plan?
You have a blueprint for how to proceed as parents and former spouses.
You agreed to the arrangement (this doesn’t mean you necessarily liked all of it).
You signed to acknowledge your understanding and acceptance of your orders.
You are legally obligated to follow the terms of your agreement, and can be found in contempt of court (including possible jail time or fines) if you fail to comply.
It seems like peace after a divorce should be clear cut and simple; however, not all exes are willing to follow the plan they signed off on, or many find themselves confused about how to proceed.
As with any divorce or co-parenting situation, maturity, cooperation, flexibility, and communication help make the world go ‘round, and it’s only going to work and be peaceful if both parties are committed to making it work!
A reader shared with me her frustrations directed at her husband’s ex. Her husband pays child support, and both parents are ordered to pay for half of all child-related expenses (such as extra-curricular activities, medical expenses, and so on); but, the ex-wife refuses to pay her half and tells the children their dad is a deadbeat as a way to force him to pay 100%.
Multiple other parents have shared stories with me about their ex refusing to comply with the visitation schedule by refusing contact or disrupting visitation time in various ways.
There is no need for any of this nonsense to occur because the court orders define responsibility and boundaries! The judge and a collaboration of exes and their lawyers determined what was fair (or at least what was legal); so, if all parties follow the script, the child has what he or she needs and there’s no need for conflict!
Lastly, although no one wants to have to make a return appearance to court, if an ex fails to uphold their end of the agreement, they can be taken to court to face contempt. Sometimes this might be the only way to wake up an uncooperative ex who may doubt there are consequences for their actions.
I filed for contempt of court against my ex when he failed to pay his share of medical bills and have my name removed from the deed of the house within the amount of time spelled out in our court orders. The mere fact that I filed for a hearing made him spring into action to fulfill his obligations, allowing us to cancel the hearing, and, he has been compliant to the orders ever since.
I can’t promise that every ex would react the same; but, it is within your rights to seek resolution if your ex is not living by the agreement you both signed!
None of us have to live in a constant state of chaos, it is largely a choice to either get along for the sake of harmony and healthy children by simply following the rules that we, as adults, agreed to adhere to, or to buck against the system to create a high-conflict situation that makes everyone suffer! The question is: do you want drama to be your partner for potentially decades more, or might it be time to familiarize with your court-ordered obligations and follow them?