Here is a basic guide to making your Joint Parenting Agreement iron-clad and easy to follow and therefore help to reduce the stress in your parenting time. This guide can help to ensure peace in your life and your ability to be a “present parent” with your children. Your wishes must be clearly worded and spelled out to avoid having to return to court in the future. You can verbally agree to do different things AFTER the Joint Parenting Agreement is a signed order from the court. You always have the choice to make exceptions and do things differently to fit future circumstances. However, having a very clear JPA is critical. This is an important document for your children and for your future.
You should use Our Family Wizard (or similar app) to ensure that your ex cannot harass you with texts and abusive emails. You can have notifications set up to send you a text whenever your Ex sends an email. For approx. $8.25 per month, it keeps everything in one place so that therapists, judges, and lawyers can all view it for free. No need for you to pull up and print out documents. It is a sanity saver.
Wording such as “give substantial deference to the desires of the child” with respect to visitation time and/or “desires of the child” can set you up for manipulation by your ex-spouse. Consider omitting these words.
Keep the weekday schedule the same every week for 50/50 arrangements, if the kids are going back and forth;
For Example: Mon, Tues are her days. Wed, Thurs are your days. Every other weekend Friday after school through Monday at 8am. This actually allows 5 days in a row for both parents every other week. It is insane to change the days every other week. Do not cave on this! You can always verbally agree to different things, on occasion, later. This is a much better schedule for the kids and their stability. If the GAL disagrees, I can guarantee you that she either has no kids or has not experienced a divorce. Any Judge would agree that this schedule is the best. Ex. 2 days on, 2 days off, every other weekend. This is a much better schedule for the kids and their stability. Every other week changing days is not conducive to a working parent’s schedule and is very hard to plan ahead for anything- work or personal. Work, vacation, and holiday planning should not be stressful.
Try to schedule anything even 2 months out and you will be ripping your hair out. Not to mention trying to juggle work events when your schedule changes every week. Oh, and try to find a nanny or caregiver, etc. who can work this kind of schedule and not drive you nuts.
Pick Up and Drop Off
Be clear as to which parent is responsible for pick up on visitation days; You can put a clause in the JPA that talks about how long is acceptable to be late and the consequences; also, include wording for 3rd parties that you may have to use to pick up your child- ex. Babysitters, nannies, relatives, or designated caregiver of YOUR choice; I would advise you to include all of these terms on your JPA for your caregiver; covers yourself for any type of caregiver; use wording that gives both parents a say in who you appoint as a caregiver so that you don’t set yourself up for future disagreements and court visits.
- Ask that your ex drives to you on all of his/her days to pick up kids and you drive to his/her house to pick up kids on your days. You may want to have the JPA state that both parents need to live within 10 miles of each other and if either parent chooses to move farther away than 10 miles (or distance designated by agreement) then that parent will have to do drop-offs and pick-ups. Be very clear.
Kids go to Dad’s/Mom’s on Friday at 8am (on non-school days) or after school on Friday until Monday at 8am (non-school days) or after school on Monday. Keep the kids through the WHOLE weekend so as to not have to wait for your ex to come to get kids on Friday night and also to allow kids full weekend with ex through Sunday. Otherwise, trying to schedule any weekend out of town will be virtually impossible. If you have a difficult ex, they will make your life very difficult if you ever want to take the kids out of town for the weekend, if you have this schedule.
Using the words “child’s preferences”
This can enable your ex to be able to manipulate the child’s schedule and impinge on your parenting time by scheduling extracurricular activities that “the child prefers”. Also, no vague wording in regards to extracurricular schedules- like activities that the child may want to participate in will be allowed. Both parents (or a designated parent or custodial/residential parent) should have to agree for the child to participate in extracurricular activities. Trust me, your ex will determine their preferences to fit theirs.
These should be decided on by both of you unless communication is not working at all. Then JPA should designate one parent to make these decisions. Clearly worded so that one parent cannot make arrangements for activities that will infringe on the other’s parenting time. Make sure that the MSA covers who pays for extracurricular activities and when to be reimbursed.
Terminology for Caregiver(s) for children
This may seem nitpicky but for those of you who are dealing with a difficult or Borderline personality, words always matter. Include the terms daycare, nanny, babysitter, grandparent or relative, or any designated “caregiver” that either parent chooses; if either parent objects to the other’s choice of provider, then they can run a background check to ensure no criminal history exists-at their own expense. If no history found, then “caregiver” stays in place. Don’t allow wording that says both parents have to agree on your choice of caregiver. This is important for those of you dealing with a difficult or Borderline personality as an ex-spouse.
Communication with “caregiver” or provider
(See definition above)Allowed by other parent in case of emergency only- medical, school, or health-related issues only.
Calls from either parent allowed ONCE per day
One text per day. Otherwise, your ex is free to text and call constantly to disrupt your parenting time. I recommend that you choose a time of day(example between 6-7pm or whatever best fits your work and home schedule) If one parent chooses not to call, that is perfectly okay. Just a guideline to limit excessive calls and texts on the part of one parent.
Be sure and include a very clear clause on therapy options for the children. This section needs to be well written. It is important that you include the therapist’s name in the Joint Parenting Agreement. You have to state whether a joint decision is required in this area. Remember, if your therapist can no longer provide your child therapy, for whatever reason, you want the option to find another provider as soon as possible. Again, joint decision making on your choice of therapist will probably not be feasible so you should clarify what “Plan B” is if your therapist is no longer available. In my case, I had to return to court to ask that my child be able to attend therapy because our MSA stated that we must “jointly decide” on whether or not my son could even attend therapy. My ex felt that my son “didn’t need his head filled with lies and ideas” and that a therapist would, “put him on drugs like his Mom and mess up his brain.” I spent six months of back and forth in court with his lawyer and putting up with the stall tactics that are his modus operandi. The Judge finally ruled that I could enroll my son in therapy and I gave the Judge names of several therapists which my ex promptly rejected. Finally, we gave the Judge a listing of therapists who were covered under our health insurance and he picked a name off of the list. Not ideal but we got lucky and the Judge picked a competent therapist. You should also ask for “closed counseling” for your children. This means that neither of the parents are allowed to meet with the provider to discuss what the child shares in therapy. It is important that the child feels that what they say to their therapist is not transmitted to either parent. Your therapist will need to be informed of this arrangement. I recommend giving them a copy of your Joint Parenting Agreement.
Guidelines for Airline Travel
This is in case your ex moves out of state; Can child travel alone? Who pays? Who picks up and drops off at airport? You can always bend on this to fit your preference later. However, the written court order has to be very, very clear.
Sick Days for Kids
does child stay with parent that they are already with, in case of illness, or do they go to the parent who is scheduled to have them on that day? Decide what is best for the child-to go to other parent or remain with parent that they are already with for parenting time. Remember to keep in mind how your job will be affected.
- Also, who will pick up child at school or daycare, in case of illness? Is it the parent whose day it is on the schedule or designated 3rd party? Who stays at home with child? Parent? Caregiver? Who takes off of work?
Can one parent have 3 weeks in a row? In the case of holiday and special occasion visitation changes or does schedule automatically change after one parent has 2 weekends in a row? What kind of written notice is required to request a schedule change?
Holiday Parenting Time
Odd Years/Even Years designated for each parent.
- Christmas Eve/Day
- New Year’s Eve/Day
- Labor Day
- Memorial Day
- July 4th
- (Spring Break and Winter Break are handled under School Vacation)
- Also, consider Government Holidays as your children will be off of school on those days.
- Visitation for these designated one-day holidays shall begin at 8:30am the day of the holiday through 8:30am on the following day.
**(The visitation period for holiday weekends shall be from 8:30am Friday through 8:30am on Monday (or 8:30am on Tuesday in the case of holidays falling on a Monday (i.e. Labor Day or Memorial Day, etc.) The Thanksgiving Holiday shall be from 8:30am Wednesday to 8:30am the following Monday.
Time must include the number of weeks in a row that each parent may request time with the child(ren). Also, when will written notice of summer vacation be required for each parent? Example-end of April each year. If there are conflicts in your requests, on Odd year Father gets his choice and on Even years Mother gets her choice.
Special Occasion Parenting Time
- Father’s Day/Mother’s Day
- Parents’ Birthdays
- Childrens’ Birthdays-odd years/even years
I recommend not having kids leave in the evening (example 8pm) to go to the other parents as that proves to be a nightmare and events are cut short and not enjoyed as much if a child has to leave later. Visitation on these special days starts at 8:30am the day of the “holiday” to 8:30am on the following day.
School Vacation Parenting Time
- Winter Break- 1st half one parent; 2nd half other parent
- Spring Break- odd years one parent; even years other parent whole break- allows for vacations
- Summer Break- how many weeks in a row can each parent request time? How much written notice must be given?
These are just some of the important items to consider in a Joint Parenting Agreement. I recommend asking your lawyer or mediator for a JPA Template so that you can look at what the whole agreement looks like and fill it in for your reference as you work through the process with your ex-spouse. There are many sites such as DivorceCoalition.com that contain helpful links to state forms for JPAs. Always consider your children’s comfort and your future work and personal goals as you solidify your JPA to best suit your family.
Colleen Honquest, Certified Divorce Coach
Co-Founder, Divorce Coalition