Update Your Stipulation & Settlement Agreement to Fit Your Family
As your children outgrow the parenting-time order, a mediator can help.
Children grow, and life changes. Your stipulation and settlement agreement may need to change too. It is fall and along with the turning leaves and the start of a new school year come alterations in our schedules and circumstances that may require us to make adjustments. So, after the trips for new shoes, sports physicals and meet the teacher night, you may also consider scheduling some time to update your Stipulation and Settlement Agreement.
There are many reasons your family might outgrow a family court Stipulation and Settlement Agreement. In this article, we’ll take a few minutes to consider some of the most common reasons for couples to seek a mediator's help to revise an existing agreement, and give a brief description of what is necessary for that updated agreement to be enforceable.
Relocation is a common motivator for a family to make major changes to parenting-time routines. Jobs, of course can prompt relocation, as can a change in financial circumstances, the needs of elderly parents or even opportunities for children to transfer schools or participate in elite athletics. Especially when parties move further apart, they may rethink the original visitation schedule as too time-consuming or expensive to maintain. If for example, you share custody and the children spend alternating weeks with each parent, the relocation of one parent out of the school district can pose a difficult challenge.
Priorities change as children grow up. They have increasing school demands, need more independence and often have vastly different sleep schedules than they did when you signed the original agreement. If you are parenting a teenager, you’ve undoubtedly noticed that time with parents decreases in the teenage years. The demands of academics, clubs and activities and athletics often prevent parents from implementing the same parenting-time plan that they stuck to when the children were in elementary school. In addition, teenagers will need to have greater flexibility and autonomy in their schedules. If you and your ex are trying to stick to a rigid drop-off time of 8 a.m. on the weekend, you may be putting yourselves and your children through more stress than is necessary.
Remarriage of one party or both can have positive or negative consequences, or both. Whether remarriage makes circumstances easier or more challenging for the families, it is certain to cause change. Decisions about who covers childcare, the schedules and routines of the now blended families, and measures taken to help children to adjust are just a few of the considerations when sizing up how well the current agreement fits the needs of the parties. Of course, there are other factors that can cause your current agreement not to ‘fit’ for you anymore. We’d like to mention an additional one that we sometimes see—medical issues and special needs. Regardless of where the monetary resources come from to handle these challenges, it will be more important than ever for the parties to work as a team to help the children thrive as much as they can. Concerns surrounding therapy, doctor appointments, appropriate care and medication times may require the parties to head back to square one as they plan parenting schedules. Often it takes time for both parents to adjust fully to the reality of their circumstances. A mediator can help the parties to clarify what measures may be necessary to put in place so that they can help their children do as well as possible.
Whether relocation, remarriage, special needs, entry into teenage years or another factor has you rethinking your original agreement, using mediation services can be a successful and efficient way to improve your Stipulation and Settlement Agreement to fit your current circumstances. Remember that your mediator is required to work equally with both parties. The mediator’s job is to listen to the goals and needs of the parties and work with them to find common ground. A good mediator may also help the parties form solutions that are alternative to the ones a court may impose, and meet the needs of the family more fully. Whether the parties attend mediation on their own, or represented by counsel, they will have the opportunity to “make their own best decisions” as they collaborate for the good of their families.
Finally, you may have noticed that we have focused on parenting time, but not on child support. While modifications to child support can be addressed in mediation, in South Dakota, once the original divorce decree with child support issues has been signed by the judge, changes to child support can also be handled through the SD Department of Social Services (DSS). Once you complete the required petition, DSS will review your case and assign a referee if needed. The referee will hear from the parties and use the same tools and South Dakota calculation as is used in mediation and court.
Once you decide to pursue mediation in order to update you Stipulation and Settlement Agreement, you will want to make your agreement official by a court order, and that means a judge must agree to the changes and sign an order for the changes to be enforceable. A qualified mediator with experience in family court should be able to guide the parties to an agreement that will meet the requirements necessary for the judge to sign. However, you may need to hire an attorney to draft an order for the judge to sign, and to file it along with the updated agreement. As an alternative, in some but not all jurisdictions, you might have access to a generic order form that you can complete on your own to submit for a judge's signature.
If you find yourself thinking, "this parenting-time plan isn’t working so well for us anymore," a mediator can help. You do not have to be stuck with the same parenting arrangements that made sense when your children were in preschool and neither of you were remarried. If you are interested in updating your parenting agreement, reach out to learn more about how family mediation can help you make some positive changes. If you happen to live in South Dakota, Redwood Mediation & Law is here to help. Reach out to us at https://www.redwoodmediation.com/
(And happy fall!)