The Most Recent Development to Aid Settlement: Rotating Spheres of Influence
Rotating spheres of influence are usually done when there is joint decision making but the parents can’t decide equally on all decisions, because one parent has specific specialty or knowledge or interest in an area of decisions.
For example, since the commencement of a divorce, one party has a specific religious zeal or passion that party may request that all religious decisions be within that party’s exclusive sphere of influence. Educators, teachers, school principals, and highly educated individuals often seek the sphere of influence of education. Nurses, doctors, Chiropractors or health professionals often seek health decisions being in their sphere of influence. Spheres of Influence will help to deter future litigation between the parties by preemptively resolving the question of which parent will have ultimate decision making authority, effectively diffusing potential future disputes which might arise from contradicting views on certain issues.
Is it truly possible for both parties to share decision making?
Not really. Most parties need to have a final say with respect to certain things and spheres of influence have helped parties resolve cases, when one party is given final say in the sphere of influence and they share decision making and give final say to the other party with respect to other spheres.
On a recent high profile case involving: joint shared parenting, joint shared decision making, joint shared information sharing and spheres of influences, the firm of Bryan L. Salamone & Associates, P.C. worked in concert with the attorney for the children and argued in a Judge’s chambers for a new and novel custodial plan: Rotating Spheres of Influence. By this we mean the following: One party has decision making authority over areas related to the child(ren)’s education and health care and the other party has decision making authority over areas related to religion and extra-curricular activities. They could do this for two or three years and then subsequently rotate the spheres of influence. For example, in this particular case, it was important that the father of this specific child(ren) be charged with the educational and religious spheres of influence over his child(ren) from age six (6) through thirteen (13).
The father in this case referenced above, had a higher educational and religious knowledge and background than the mother. The father was highly educated and was very religious, and the mother, indisputably was not. During these formative years, the religious training (Catholic religion) is often culminated and the Sacraments are received. Furthermore, we have similarly found in the Jewish religion that by the age of thirteen (13) most preparation has been completed for the ultimate event, the Bar Mitzvah. Therefore, in these scenarios, one parent would retain the sphere of influence for religion if it is important to that parent. In this case, the mother had less of an educational interest, but more expertise in areas related to the child(ren)’s health care. It was important while the child was growing up that the mother be involved, almost exclusively with the child pediatric asthma, diabetes and what appeared to be over a dozen allergies. The mother had always spearheaded the child’s medical treatments, and scheduling of doctor’s appointments. Due to the child’s age, the child was unable to remember their own appointments, medications, etc. The mother agrees that the father shall have the spheres of influence of education and religion from the ages of 7 through 13, while she maintained authority over issues related to health care and extra-curricular activities during those years.
Incredibly, the parties began to flip the spheres of influences as the child became older, giving both parties the opportunity and the joy in participating in those areas of the child’s life. This assisted the parents in forming yet another creative hands-on parenting approach in addition to their already creative custody, which involved extensive joint shared parenting; joint shared information sharing; and creative support modifications on agreement. It is only by sharing every aspect of this child’s life that the settlement could have been reached without Court intervention. The Court, on its most recent day, before the settlement was reached, had opined as follows:
“I have not heard anything that would leave me to believe that either of these parties is a bad parent or an exceptional parent. Quite frankly, they are both parents who love their children equally and live less than a mile away. I would ask that the parties consult with their lawyers. They both have excellent lawyers and the Court is well aware that their lawyers can fashion a settlement far better than what the Court will issue which would be a rubber stamp of sole custody to one with alternating weekend parenting time to the other.”
As you can see, the fall back of the Courts is not to make a creative decision, but to fall back to the standard “cookie cutter”, schedule of every other weekend parenting time with sole custody to one parent. Call it a punishment for parties who don’t work well together. Call it a “cop out” or a Court that doesn’t want to make a decision. Whatever you call it, it is clear that the Judges state to us that they do not live with the parties; they do not ask the parties to come before them; and although it is their decision, if pressed they will give all to one and nothing to the other. Parties can now work things out more creatively now that there are so many options on the table. The possibilities of joint shared parenting; spheres of influence; joint shared decision making; joint information sharing and now rotation of spheres of influence, have now made the options to parties so seemingly endless, that if a party cannot agree or fashion an agreement calling for these options to be exercised in any combination, together with the residential component, school districts of the parties, then they may be punished or relegated to standard visitation according to many of the Judges now presiding in New York City, the Boroughs and Nassau and Suffolk counties.
It is only through the agreements that the parties could then adjust the child support (in many joint shared scenarios) to something more appropriate then punishing the higher earning party (sometimes slightly higher earner) by making that person pay the full amount.
What percentage of the cases are being adjusted so that the higher earner does not pay the full amount of child support and is given a “break” in recognition of the expense of being a joint shared parent: 85%. This is a result of hundreds of cases in the last two years, if not thousands of cases over the last decade. Therefore, it is with great concern that a custody attorney marches a client to trial knowing that one of the parties will pay the full amount and be relegated to a very small amount of visitation when there are so many options available to the client and over 85% of the clients settle creatively.
Truth be told, both the no fault laws that require the person with the higher income to presumably pay the attorney fees for the non-monied spouse , together with the financial windfall for the non-monied spouse in a Court ordered custody case (if they win custody) has lately hindered settlements when there is a great disparity in income. In fact, most all of the 15% of the cases that don’t settle are cases where there is a disparity in income. The laws that are there to protect the non-monied spouse have served mostly to empower that spouse to litigate at no cost to them and with “nothing to lose”.
Why be reasonable when you can obtain the residential badge? It is the parties that have similar or the same income that are often reasonable and start from a level playing field and recognize that in any of the above mentioned joint scenarios, there will always be on a somewhat level playing field.