In custody cases, legal decision-making determines which parent gets to make big decisions for their child. It includes decisions like where a child attends school or whether they are in counseling. Arizona law favors joint legal decision-making where both parents have an equal say in what happens to the child. But what happens in a situation where the parties share joint legal decision-making and they can’t reach an agreement?
Here are some things to consider if you can’t reach an agreement on an issue that needs to be decided:
• Keep trying. Most options for breaking a tie are time-consuming and expensive without any guarantee of success. It may be best to reach a compromise.
• Mediation. A mediator works with both parties to help facilitate a conversation and see if they can help the parties reach an agreement. A mediator does not make the decision. The parties remain in control of what will happen with their child.
• Parenting Coordinator. A Parenting Coordinator is a third party, usually either a lawyer or counselor, who helps the parties work through their differences. If they can’t reach an agreement, the Parenting Coordinator can make it. Both parties must agree to a Parenting Coordinator in order for one to be appointed. They can be expensive, and we have had more than one client who has had a miserable experience with a parenting coordinator. In some cases, they have been great, but it is a risk to agree to one.
• Seek Court intervention. Generally, the Court is not going to make the decision. If, for example, the two of you cannot agree on a counselor for the child, the Court is not going to break the tie. Rather, they will give one of you final decision-making over the issue.
• Come up with your own tiebreaker system. If none of this works, you should consider creating a tiebreaker system, such as alternating who makes the decision in the event of a tie. The problem with this method is that some decisions are more important than others, so getting the tiebreaker on where the child attends school is going to be much more critical than deciding whether the child plays flag football or club volleyball.
The best of those options is almost always to continue trying to reach agreements. Here are a few tips on how you can speak with the other parent about this choice:
o Remember to put your child’s best interests first.
o Be willing to consider alternative options and prepare some before you speak with the other parent.
o Avoid name calling, curse words, and accusations.
o If possible, keep the conversation between the parents only.
o If you feel things are getting tense, take a break.
o Consider a rank-choice vote.
o Be willing to compromise.