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Vague Orders

Vague Orders Lead to Confusion and Parental Disputes

The goal in drafting a Court Order regarding legal and physical custody is that the Order are clear and there is nothing left up to interpretation. This is something that lawyers have struggled with forever and we still do not have all of the answers.  

We take precautions and try to be clear because it reduces confusion and disputes between parents. Therefore, try to make things as specific as possible to avoid problems in the future. Here, we have laid out some examples of vague Orders which we believe could be corrected with some simple modifications and explained how the vague Order can be interpreted to impact a parent’s timeshare with a child.

Weekly Timeshare:

The Order reads, “The parents shall share joint physical custody on a week on, week off schedule.” That seems pretty clear, but we believe this language alone can lead to disputes. The language does not say who starts the period to be able to calculate when a Party is supposed to have the child. The language does not specify the day of the week or the time for the exchange. Also, where are the exchanges? Who does the transportation? Is there a neutral exchange location?  

In situations where there is high conflict, the parents might disagree regarding the schedule and withhold the child from the other parent. A day of the week and a time help reduce conflict. It leaves little to argue about if the language in the order is specific.

We believe better language might be, “The parents shall share joint physical custody on a week on, week of schedule with exchanges happening on Sundays at 5:00 p.m. For the purpose of determining the week on, week off schedule the Mother’s timeshare shall start on July 26, 2020 and the Father’s timeshare shall start on August 2, 2020. The receiving parent shall provide the transportation.” This language can be changed out for each parent’s first name which might be easier for interpretation reasons.

Also, if you are savvy with a computer, it might be helpful to create a calendar for the year and share it with the co-parent so there is little argument that can happen regarding who is supposed to have the child.

Holiday Timeshare:

The Clark County School District (“CCSD”) has changed Thanksgiving multiple times over the last few years. Under the CCSD calendar for 2019-2020, Thanksgiving break started the Friday before Thanksgiving and ended the Monday after Thanksgiving. That has changed for the 2020-2021 school year and Thanksgiving break now starts the Tuesday before Thanksgiving and ends the Monday after Thanksgiving.

This change in the CCSD calendar has created confusion for parents when it comes to Court Orders. Some Orders specifically reference the CCSD calendar for holidays and then has language in the Order which contradicts the CCSD calendar. An example might include, “The holiday timeshare shall follow the CCSD calendar . . . Thanksgiving shall be defined as the Wednesday before Thanksgiving when school is released until the Monday after Thanksgiving when school resumes.”

The problem with the way it is worded is that when CCSD modified the schedule and made the holiday longer, it meant school was no longer released on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving it also means with reference to the CCSD calendar that it could start the Friday before Thanksgiving. We believe to be more clear that any reference to CCSD should be removed, unless parents agree to use whatever schedule CCSD is following and in that case the language should read as follows, “Thanksgiving shall be defined as the day school is released for the Thanksgiving holiday until the day school resumes following the Thanksgiving holiday.” Otherwise, just define holidays based upon each period which means we might use the following language in the Order, “Thanksgiving shall be defined as the Wednesday before Thanksgiving at 5:00 p.m. until the Sunday after Thanksgiving at 5:00 p.m.” The start and end dates/times can be modified based upon the needs of the family.

Timeshare disputes are a huge problem. In documents prepared in proper person, which means without an attorney, it can be more problematic because things are vague. In that situation, you should take precautions to clearly define each period and who is exercising each period. Clear language avoids confusion.