13-Apr-2012

Experienced Arizona Lawyers Know When To Limit Details In Parenting Plans For High Conflict Child Custody Cases

Experienced Arizona family law attorneys have learned to draft specific and detailed parenting plans that avoid ambiguity and detail out the rights of each parent.  In typical and low conflict cases, I generally advise my clients to consider the Stipulated Parenting Plan Order signed by the Court as a third or tie-breaking vote.  Each parent has a vote, and in cases of a tie, the parent that is asking to follow the Stipulated Parenting Plan will prevail over the parent asking to deviate from the plan.  However, in many cases, the two parents can both agree to deviate from the plan and make other arrangements that are in the child or children’s best interests.  This occurs because no matter how good I am as an attorney, my crystal ball and time machine do not function, and I cannot as an attorney predict every possible change or circumstances in the future.  Divorced parents who have learned to work together have an opportunity to trade days, add extracurricular activities to agreements, and make other short term or long term changes by agreement without the need to return to court and the litigation process. 

In a minority of cases, the parents have difficulty compromising and working together.  Such cases are known as high-conflict cases, and are characterized as those cases in which the parties return multiple times to the Court to resolve various custody and parenting time issues. 

In cases that have demonstrated themselves to be high-conflict, it becomes even more important to have very specific parameters and to nail down as many contingencies as possible.  However, because it is so important to the children to reduce the conflict between parents, in high conflict cases it becomes beneficial to limit interactions that may otherwise be in the children’s best interest.  In normal cases, agreements to ask the other parent to care for the child when one parent is not available (often called a right of first refusal), agreements as to telephone contact with the children, agreements as to sharing costs for extracurricular activities, and so forth are generally considered to be in the best interest of the children.  For example, the right of first refusal has children cared for by a parent rather than a babysitter, open telephone contact benefits the children, access to extracurricular activities benefit the children.  However, in high conflict cases, it may be more advantageous to the children to lose out on these benefits in order to reduce the potential for conflict between the parents. 

It is a difficult reality, but without a doubt children of high conflict cases lose out.  However, in the most difficult cases, it is better that the children miss out on telephone contact with a parent (when they will see the parent in a few days anyway) than to experience conflict each time one parent calls to speak with the children.  In the most difficult cases, it may be better that a child miss out on certain extracurricular activities than to experience both parents arguing over the costs and the responsibility for dropping off and picking up the children.  Conflict between parents is extremely detrimental to the children, and needs to be avoided and minimized, even in the most difficult of cases. 

Again, to reiterate, I am discussing the minority of cases which are highest in conflict, not the typical case.  In most cases, parents post divorce learn to get along as business partners in the business of raising children together.  Both parents learn that a proper give and take is beneficial to the children and beneficial to the necessary ongoing relationship that must exist.

If you are involved in a custody case, whether high-conflict or not, and need experienced legal representation, please contact us.