This post is part of a 5-part series. If you want to read the other posts in this series (yes, yes you do), just click here.
All cases before the Probate and Family Court conclude with a Judgment. If you are getting divorced, the process will conclude with a Judgment of Divorce Nisi. If you and your child’s other parent were never married, the process concludes with a Judgment of Support-Custody-Parenting Time. (I say “concludes” because the Judgment is final and permanent until and unless it is changed by what is called a Judgment of Modification.)
A Judgment can come from a Judge, who decides what the Judgment will say after a contested hearing (a Trial) in which the parties formally present to the Judge relevant information (evidence) related to the issues the parties are fighting about (custody, support, et cetera); or, a Judgment can (and often does) result from a written Agreement that parties prepare and present (with the help of their lawyers) to the Judge for approval. In the latter case, the Judge’s approval of the Agreement turns that Agreement into a Judgment.
I get why this happens — you have been through a lot (emotionally and financially) to get to this point and you’re exhausted. Your divorce (or paternity, support or custody) matter is finally concluded, and what you really want to do is not have to think about it again or look at anything that reminds you of this painful journey.
Here is why that is a mistake — you’ve invested a lot of effort to get to this point where you have clear instructions — in the form of a legally-enforceable Judgment — about what you and your ex are required to do. These instructions should avoid conflict, stress and wasted time as you move to the next chapter of your life, but only if you follow them!
For instance, if you have children, then you have a parenting plan in your Judgment. That parenting plan likely includes language about holidays, and school and summer vacations. In many of my agreements, I include language stating that (1) parents will each have a certain number of weeks of summer vacation each year with the children, (2) the parents will attempt to agree each year on their respective summer vacation weeks, and (3) if they cannot agree, one parent gets the first choice in even-numbered years (2016, 2018, 2020 and so on) and the other parent gets the first choice in odd-numbered years.
If you have first choice on summer vacation weeks in odd-numbered years (that is, your ex has first choice during even-numbered years,) please do not pay a non-refundable deposit to book flights and hotels during the Summer of 2018 before you reach agreement with your ex on the vacation schedule for that summer. I cannot tell you how many times I have spoken to clients who have wasted money and time because they committed themselves to travel plans without first reviewing their Judgment. I understand — you “thought” it was your year to choose first; but, your brain was made for better things than remembering the precise terms of your Judgment and, by the way, that is why we write these things down.
You’ve worked hard to get to this point and deserve the clarity that a well-written Judgment will provide. So, don’t think or guess about what your Judgment says, take the document out of the dusty file folder and read it before you make significant decisions that involve your children or your ex. Make sure you are clear on your rights and obligations before you make plans that will be difficult (or expensive) to change.
If you have a question about your Judgment or any other family law issue, then we should talk. Click here to gain direct access to my calendar to schedule an initial complimentary call with me. Take care until then.
P.S. This post is part of a 5-part series. If you want to read the other posts in this series (yes, yes you do), just click here.
Then you should access Janie's free course, where she will show you the what, when, how and how much of divorce, custody and support cases in the Massachusetts Probate and Family Courts. Plus, you'll have access to Janie anytime you have questions.