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Divorce: Navigating Joint Decision-Making

If you are divorced and have children with your former spouse, you most likely have an agreement that provides for joint decision-making. This is the most common scenario for divorced parents, and it essentially dictates that all major decisions regarding the children will be made jointly. 

If you have joint decision-making, and you don’t include in your parenting agreement an agreed-upon method of conflict resolution, you may find yourself dealing with a lot of confrontation in the coming years.

Here’s how to avoid ongoing stalemate situations when it comes to making parenting decisions.

When Every Little Thing is a Huge Issue

It’s pretty simple: in my experience, parenting agreements that do not include an agreed-upon, straightforward strategy for resolving conflicts often evolve into a situation where every little thing becomes a major battle. This includes having to involve attorneys, file Motions, schedule hearings months down the road, and incur very substantial expense.

Where will the kids go to school? Which doctors will they see? When do they get braces, in sixth grade or seventh grade? 

Small things suddenly don’t seem so small when your former spouse fights you on everything. If there is no tried and true method for stalemate resolution in the parenting agreement, these small details can land co-parents back in Court to resolve the dispute. This can take time (it can take months to get into Court) and be very expensive, especially if there is animosity between the parents. 

Alternative Methods of Resolution

It would be nearly impossible to run a business with two 50/50 owners. At some point, the owners will disagree, and, with no clear way to break the tie, all forward progress can stall. In the same way, parenting agreements with joint decision-making can reach painful stalemates. 

I always recommend that divorcing couples include a conflict resolution strategy in their parenting agreement. There are many strategies that work (and some that backfire). I’ll list a few here. 

Mediation/Arbitration or PC/DM

In this solution, when the parties reach a stalemate, they meet with a mediator/arbitrator. He or she will try to get the parties to agree to a compromise, and, if they can’t reach an agreement, the mediator/arbitrator then decides the issue. As a general rule, these kinds of situations happen without an attorney present, and they are resolved much more quickly and inexpensively than if they were to go to Court. 

Decision-Making based on Categories

I’ve seen some couples split up the areas of decision-making. Generally, the big categories are education, religion, health and activities. So, in a categories-based decision-making plan, if the father is a doctor, the couple will probably decide that he makes medical decisions. If the mother is a teacher, she’ll likely get to make the education decisions, and so on. Every couple will have a different preference. 

Chronological Decision-Making

In this scenario, parents decide that the tiebreaker will be determined by year. For instance, if there’s a stalemate in odd years, Dad will get to make the final decision. In even years, Mom will get final say. I’ve seen this method lead to substantial manipulation and don’t recommend going this route. For example, if the kids need braces in six months, but Mom has decision-making privileges this year, she could sign up the kids early, against Dad’s wishes. Or, one parent might delay bringing up a contested issue by a year to ensure they get the outcome they want. 

Relying on Chance

I’ve even seen couples write out their opinions on a piece of paper and pull it out of a hat. Some people flip a coin; “Father will call it in even years, Mother will call it in odd years.” Technically, you could use a Ouija Board, a Magic 8 Ball, or Rock, Paper, Scissors. Any way to break the stalemate and help the family move forward can work.

While all these methods can be functional, I suggest incorporating the mediator/arbitrator method into your parenting plan. In my experience, this is the best, more rational way to move forward with difficult decisions. A third person can even help come up with creative compromises that will benefit everyone involved. 

If you are going through a divorce and need a reasonable parenting agreement put in place, call us at 303-449-1873 to set up a complimentary consultation.

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