Joint Decision-Making in Divorce
Today, the New York Law Journal reported D.V. v. A.K., a Nassau County Supreme Court decision about parenting decision-making post-divorce.
The Father–who is Jewish–brought an emergency petition, seeking to prevent the Mother–who is Catholic– from baptizing the children. The parties had mediated their divorce, and had come to a full and thorough agreement last year. In today’s decision, the Court relies on the absence of specificity in the Agreement–that is, the parents share joint decision-making, but nothing further is stated concerning in what faith the children will be raised. The Court ruled for the Father, holding that, because the parties share joint decision-making, they must explicitly agree before receiving religious sacrament or education–though each may take the children to religious services.
The principal lesson, from our perspective, is to ensure that parents have the opportunity to engage in discussions around particularly difficult or sensitive issues. And, that decisions be reduced to a clear writing. We often describe a Separation Agreement as a “worst case scenario document” to pull out of a drawer when there is a disagreement. Here, the parties could not rely on the writing, thus prompting the lawsuit. Moreover, we routinely offer examples of what is contemplated in the law when we use the term “decision-making” (education, religion, medical care, extracurricular activities). Indeed, some parents will discuss in depth how they will decide issues that range from when the children can be left home alone to how much screen time is appropriate. Some of these decisions are simply made in good faith; others must be written down. D.V. and A.K. may, at this juncture benefit from outside help to resolve their ongoing impasse.