When couples with children get divorced, the divorce decree doesn't just set the terms for the end of the marriage, it establishes how they'll go forward as parents. Over time, circumstances might lead one or both parents to seek modification to the decree.
But some couples seek modifications as a result of flaws in their original decrees. There might be contradictions or unclear items lurking within the document that aren't noticed upon signing, but become issues months or even years down the road.
I can't stress enough how important it is for couples to go through the decree thoroughly before signing in to make sure it's as clear and direct as it possibly can be. It's impossible to anticipate the changes in life that might make a modification necessary down the line, but it is possible and indeed important to think about how the provisions of the decree will play out in real time.
At the Law Office of Lisa Vance, we take care in proofing the decrees, be they drawn up by us or by opposing counsel. With each decree, we make sure a second lawyer at the firm reviews what the client's lawyer and a paralegal have already reviewed. With decrees that come from opposing counsel, we work through anything in the decree that might be unusual and might be contested after signing, and make clients aware of those potential pitfalls. While it can sometimes require some extra negotiation to work out those issues, we see it as a sort of "preventative medicine" to guard against the need for modification hearings later.
We recommend to clients, whether it's a decree we're proposing or one we're receiving from the other side, to carefully review the language and flag anything that's confusing, unclear, or objectionable. We encourage clients to review the parenting time provisions in tandem with a school calendar, to make sure a student's schedule matches up with the perceived pickup and dropoff times. If there are parameters for a child's extracurricular activities into the decrees, consider situations in which two or more activities might overlap, and consider language in the decree that might help manage those potentially conflicting activities.
It's true that whatever parents agree to can override whatever's in the decree, there's no guarantee that parents will always agree, and the decree functions as a safeguard when that happens. If the decree is unclear on such a matter, it will only fuel the conflict that it's supposed to help settle. It's our goal to create a decree that anticipates and settles those potential conflicts, and if we take on a modification case, it's our goal to make sure the new version of the decree accomplishes that as well.