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Eleventh Hour Agreements
say an elephant was a horse made by a committee.
value of that metaphor is handy to keep in mind when separated parents and
lawyers seek to achieve settlements at the final hour on the courthouse steps.
view of ongoing parenting disputes, many parents turn to the Courts to resolve
their differences. As many a lawyer will advise their client, the Court is a
very blunt instrument. They are telling their client that they may not be
satisfied with an outcome handed down by the judge. In view of the risk
involved, that the decision may not reflect the wishes of the parent, lawyers
and parents seek to achieve a settlement, right up to the last minute. Many
judges also encourage this.
is tremendous benefit to parents achieving their own agreement, even at the
final hour. Agreements entered into voluntarily tend to be more durable than
solutions imposed by third parties. Further, parents who voluntarily enter into
agreements tend to feel like their life and situation is still within their
control, at least to some extent.
problems with achieving settlements at the final hour is that parents and
lawyers may come up with solutions that although sounding reasonable in the heat
of the moment, may not be practical in the clear light of day. Further, without
the added benefit of input from other professional parties, parents and lawyers
may also come up with solutions that are contra-indicated or too cumbersome or
so far reaching that it may bind the parents’ hands to processes that are just
and lawyers are advised that while pressure may work in some instances to
achieve reasonable agreements, in other instances, the agreements reached can
backfire and work against both parties and in particular the needs of the child.
In other words, while reaching to develop a horse, they may have come up with an
after achieving such elephant agreements, the parties are referred to therapists
or counsellors to implement the plan – plans achieved without the input or
guidance from the very counsellor expected to carry out the work.
parents and lawyers are looking to settle at the final hour and achieve
reasonable plans, particularly next involving the work of other service
providers, they are well advised to include the intended service provider in the
to include the service provider include inviting the service provider to act as
a consultant during the planning process. Hence the service provider can be
invited to the settlement conference, not to provide the service per se, but to
speak to how the service may be helpful and what would be necessary to make it
so. Another strategy is to at least have the service provider on notice that he
or she may receive a phone call to discuss potential involvement and the nature
of involvement as the parties are negotiating their plan. By virtue of input
from the intended service provider, parents and lawyers can be better assured
that their plan doesn’t require something beyond the ability of the service
provider to provide or doesn’t bind the process inadvertently.
last thing separated parents need when looking to develop an agreement and plan,
is an outcome that quickly falls apart from lack of input from other reasonable
sources. Obtaining the input during the planning stage, even if at the final
hour on the court house steps can facilitate a more workable solution, clearly
in everyone’s interest.
of it like the slogan from the gas or electrical company, “Call before you
dig”, or in this case, “Call before you commit someone else to your plan.”
Make sure the settlement is achievable in the eyes of those who may have to
carry out the plan.
Check out the Parenting Plan Worksheet
Direnfeld, MSW, RSW
For information on Direnfeld's book, Raising Kids Without Raising Cane, click here.
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