When handling your divorce agreement, how do you know what are the right things to ask for? It may seem like you have everything under wraps; you’re confident in what you want when it comes to your kids, financial situation or association with other people.
But not everything will go the way you want it to, especially when your ex-partner may not follow your rules about the required bed time when the children are staying at their place.
Jessica and T.H. explain the do’s and don’ts of developing your divorce agreement, naming things that can easily be incorporated like religious practices as well as maybe some ideas that might be hard to run by, like controlling what your children may call the new person in your ex’s life.
TIP #1: You can’t control what you’re not controlling
When Jessica was first separating from her husband, her children had already met the woman he was having an affair with, so they already had some sort of relationship with her. At the time her children were very young, and she required language in the divorce agreement that would prohibit her kids from being able to call anyone else any version of “mother” – mom, mommy, or any variation. Sound silly? Maybe. But under the circumstances at the time, Jessica couldn’t bear the idea that her kids would be so young and use a term like that, and then not have her ex correct them. So she added the clause in her divorce agreement as more of a precautionary warning so that her ex would know that IF, at any point, her kids started using a mommy-like word to address his significant other, he’d better put an end to it fast. Was this really something that Jessica could monitor all the time? Of course not. But in order to feel ok going through the divorce process, this was something she had to think about.
There are certain situations you’re not going to be able to prevent your child from enduring, such as how many times they are around your ex’s new partner. According to T.H., those kinds of things don’t really fly. You can’t really control how often your ex’s new boyfriend or girlfriend comes over when your kids are around. As long as you care more about how you are as a parent, that will benefit your children more than trying to protect them from things that are out of your control.
Expect the unexpected; T.H.’s five year old son came to her one night and told her (referring to his dad’s girlfriend), “I want to call her mom. I love her.” This came after he had spent the night at his Dad’s while sick. Of course T.H. felt extremely territorial, and tried to gently explain,”I am your mom. I am the only one who has earned that description, that name in your life. We can think of a lot of other really great names for her, but mom is not one of them,” which is all valid and 100% true. But your children are bound to say certain things, it’s inevitable. It may make your blood boil, but that’s why you have to try and think about all of these types of scenarios when you’re going through a divorce. Some of it may sound a little crazy, and the truth is, you really won’t know if your ex is actually trying to follow all the rules set in your agreement. But if you feel strongly about something, then you have every right to bring it up when you’re creating your divorce agreement. If it makes you feel better, put it in, just know that some of the things Jess and T.H. added into theirs were things that couldn’t really be kept track of 24/7
TIP #2: Religious practices are a priority too!
When it comes to religious beliefs and how to proceed in a divorce agreement, it can go north or south. In T.H. and Jessica’s cases, they’re both Jewish and both wanted their children to continue to be raised and grow up in Jewish households. Jessica stated in her divorce agreement that her ex would not be allowed to have a Christmas tree in his apartment. But then her ex moved into his new significant other’s apartment and she wasn’t Jewish. So there was a tree after all and Jessica knew she had to accept it since it technically wasn’t his apartment. But she worked around it for a number of years, taking her kids to visit her parents over the Christmas break and then they weren’t really celebrating Christmas. She also had Jewish holidays addressed in a specific way in her divorce agreement, to ensure that her kids grew up with the traditions, even though she knew they weren’t that important to her ex. Because he didn’t prioritize the Jewish holidays, Jessica’s agreement specified that if the kids were supposed to be with their dad during a particular holiday, he had to have a traditional celebration with the typical Jewish customs. If he didn’t, then Jessica would be able to have her kids instead. It was written into their divorce agreement in a way that gave him the choice to celebrate the Jewish holidays in a traditional way, or he could choose not to and the kids would be with Jessica.
Setting these rules or agreements are extremely helpful in determining what kind of things you want to surround your children around. As said before, you cannot control everything, but if it’s important to you, it must be a part of your agreement.
As your children grow older, they obviously start to make their own decisions. B for the time they are living in your home, setting an example establishing traditions while they’re young allows them to understand what’s important to you.
TIP #3: Read carefully
Your divorce agreement is not a terms and conditions form that you just skim over and sign. Start reading in between the lines and double checking what is actually being said.
T.H. wasn’t afraid to ask a million and one questions and you shouldn’t be either, “This is my life, my relationship with my children, my financial stability, my health insurance, everything.” This is nothing to play with, and while you may have your ideas straight, after going back and forth with lawyers, trying to find a common ground with your ex, things may change a bit. You have to try and be open-minded, understand that it is a negotiation and choose your battles wisely.
Another thing to be very mindful of, as you are working out the details of your divorce agreement, is that whatever you establish as the “norm” during that phase – the phase where you are negotiating the terms of the final divorce agreement – is very likely going to be the norm for the final agreement. This is extremely important to know, so be sure and speak with your lawyer about what is called pendente lite. You may not realize it, but you are actually setting a precedent during the time where you are separated and working out the divorce agreement. So, for example when it comes to money, if one partner is getting a certain amount of money each month for child support and/or spousal maintenance, that could very well end up being the amounts that end up as final. A court would look at the situation over the course of that separation period and basically rule “if it worked throughout that time period, then it should be fine as the final amount.” So as you set what you think are going to be preliminary terms for any kind of monthly payments, try to make it as close to what you would want as the final result. This concept of pendente lite may also apply to whatever was the custody situation during the separation period. If one parent has the kids Wednesday night and every other weekend while the divorce agreement is being negotiated, but they actually want 50% custody in the final agreement, then they should try not to settle on “only” accepting the partial custody in the meantime.
This is why being especially careful with the divorce agreement and what you settle during your separation is very important to the aftermath of the finalized divorce. Jessica explains that there are instances when one partner just wants the best for their kids and to not have their lives upended. So many times, they agree in the beginning to do things a certain way because they believe it will only be temporary, and it ends up being the final agreement which was not what they were expecting.
TIP #4: Think about the future
Another thing to make sure you consider is that child support does not remain the same amount as your child grows up. As they get older, maybe once they’re getting ready to go to college or approaching the age of 18, it may decrease by a certain percentage, since they are not necessarily under your roof anymore. Depending on if you will be financially prepared, this must also be discussed with your lawyer and the agreement should reflect this.
Here is an example: Let’s say you get $100 a month of child support and you are responsible for 20% of your child’s expenses when it comes to music lessons. Now the child is a little older and you are receiving $90 of child support a month and maybe your responsibility for music lessons should be lowered to 10% instead since you’re getting less per month to put towards it. These kinds of things should be anticipated and discussed with your lawyer because if you have less money to spend on these things, then should you still be paying the same percentage that you’ve been paying all this time? Now, this adjustment leaves more responsibility to your ex partner…and what if they can’t afford to pay the extra difference? It’s worth a discussion.
Another thing that needs to be discussed are costs while in college. Didn’t think that far ahead? Well T.H. and Jess share some of the variables possible, “you have tuition, you have books, you have Grammarly – $30 a month, you have the streaming stuff that they’re going to have, and you have technology that they need. And by the way, they need transportation to and from college, whether they’re taking a bus or plane? Or are they having a car? Who’s paying for the car? Who’s paying the insurance? Who’s paying the gas?” Your lawyer may not even take you down the path into this kind of rabbit hole, but if you don’t rack your brain to think of lots of different possible scenarios, you could really find yourself stuck later on.
And these days, the expenses don’t even stop there. What if your child decides to go to graduate school and then decides to live back at home? Or how much is each parent going to chip in for their weddings? Or who is going to be responsible for what amount for their bar or bat mitzvahs (if you’re Jewish)? Even when they are 25 years old, they are still children. You must prepare for every aspect of the future, because another what if; what if your ex gets remarried and flies away to South America? Didn’t think you had to be state specific, did you?
There are many endless possibilities of what you could require in your divorce agreement but long story short, do what’s not only best for your children, but you as well. It’s not going to be easy determining all the little things and it’s sure as hell not going to be fun figuring out who gets the bigger half of the bill for your first kid’s wedding. But if you are at least prepared to have all of these detailed discussions, you’ll be much better off in the end.