Divorcing parents usually understand the importance of a carefully worded divorce decree and parenting plan — but even the most detailed plan can make mistakes in wording that can have serious consequences. Sometimes, wording with a meaning that seems “obvious” to one parent will still leave plenty of room for the other parent to bend the agreement more to their liking.
Take, for example, a case that made it all the way to the Nebraska Supreme Court. A tiny lack of clarity in the couple’s divorce decree led to a major disagreement that had to be litigated well after the divorce was over.
In their divorce, the couple had agreed that their children would “be enrolled and be participants in the Catholic religion.” For a while, that was fine. Then, the children’s father learned that his ex-wife had begun taking the kids to Lutheran services during her parenting time — while he took them to the Catholic church during his. Although the children did participate in weekly catechism classes and other major Catholic rites of passage, they were missing Mass on some important holy days and occasionally going without Mass for more than a week.
Initially, a lower court agreed with the father, saying that the mother would be required to either take the children to Mass or allow the father to take them to Mass for her during her parenting time. She appealed to a higher court — and won.
In a unanimous ruling, the state Supreme Court said that the word “participation” in the parenting plan did not imply that the children had to meet every obligation, only that they were in some way taking part. The judge noted that had the decree used qualifying language like “full” to clarify the word “participation,” the ruling might have gone differently.
Don’t let a similar mistake cost you time, money and heartache after your divorce is over. Get experienced advice when you’re crafting your parenting plan and keep the importance of specific wording in mind.