You have your certified copy of your Decree of Dissolution. The last lawyer bill has been paid. You’ve received a copy of your attorney’s withdrawal of her representation. Family Court litigation is often such a long, contentious journey. You have become accustomed to having your lawyer navigate you through the legal landscape, telling you just what to do and how to handle any situation that may arise. What do you do now that your case is over and your lawyer is no longer on speed dial?
I always tell my clients that you alone are responsible for enforcement of your decree. You need to be fully aware of your rights and responsibilities under the decree, and you need to be conversant with her responsibilities as well. In order to insure compliance with your Court order, you need to be a vigilant record keeper. One piece of practical advice is to continue to keep a custody calendar. Your lawyer likely told you during litigation to keep track of when you have custody of your children, and you should maintain this record keeping mentality. Continue to keep track of your regular time you see your kids pursuant to your parenting plan. I advise my clients to mark down any additional time your ex may grant you with the children. Also, keep track of any time missed, and if that time was made up. Your attorney should be able to view this calendar and see if you’ve been continuously cut out of your custody time, or if you’ve been getting more time than you were awarded. This custody calendar will be of great assistance to your attorney should you wish to file a motion to enforce or a motion to modify down the road.
Another practical record to keep is a journal. It doesn’t have to be an every day occurrence, but when something “big” happens, you need a place to record its occurrence so you can advise your attorney of the same. For example, if you share joint legal custody with your ex, and she signs the kids up for select soccer and doesn’t tell you, you need to remember to share that information with your attorney. If one of your kids gets hurt in her care, and she takes them to the ER and fails to tell you about what happened until days after the injury, you need to remember to share that information with your attorney. This kind of record keeping will assist you in determining when “enough is enough” and you head back to your attorney’s office for legal assistance. Most parenting plans split the responsibility for the children’s expenses between the parents. I also advise my clients to keep a spreadsheet tracking expenses spent on behalf of the children. If you spend $20 on a co-pay for a dentist visit, and then $30 for a prescription at the pharmacy, make sure to keep a hard copy of the receipt for yourself, and make a hard copy for your ex. Keep track as to the date you paid your share, and how you paid your share. Make sure to submit all your requests for reimbursement to your ex, in writing, and give her adequate time (if time for reimbursement is not specified in your plan) for her to repay you for her share. Do not hold onto receipts for months or years, but submit them to her as promptly as you pay them. If she fails to pay her share, if you turn over your documentation to your attorney, you have a solid case for a motion to determine amounts due.
I also encourage my clients, where possible, to communicate with their exes via e-mail. E-mail provides an efficient way to communicate, and provides a written record of communication. Any e-mails back and forth between you and your ex should be saved in a folder on your computer. For example, if your ex starts to continually deny you custody time with the children, the e-mails can be used as evidence in an enforcement motion. Following the above advice will help you adequately position yourself for further enforcement motions. Your records may even support a motion to modify down the road. A little record keeping can go a long way, and your attorney will thank you for it.