Chris Bosh, a player for the NBA Champion Miami Heat, and his ex, Allison Matthis, have been a hot topic in the news lately – as they take one co-parenting issue after another before the courts. Currently, Matthis wants Bosh, who makes what most of us would consider a lot of money, to increase his child support payments.
Now, regular Frank Love readers probably know my opinion about all the talk surrounding their story: When it comes to other people’s relationships, we’re all better served by following the old adage, “Believe half of what you see and none of what you hear.” We only know what we’re told, and that’s not reliable information.
However, while I don’t know the real details of Bosh and Matthis’ co-parenting situation, I do know how they could have avoided all the drama, anger and expense. They could have planned for their split before it happened.
After my current mate and I had been dating for a while, we moved in together and eventually had children together but didn’t get married. I had been divorced once, and the process was so long and unpleasant that I decided I’d rather remain single – at least on paper. However, our state recognizes common-law marriage, meaning that if we lived together long enough, she could be considered my wife for all legal purposes. If we were potentially going to be legally-bound, I wanted everything – all legal and moral expectations, obligations and plans – clearly written. And neither of us wanted the courts to ever decide what should happen to our family. We wanted to do that for ourselves – in advance.
I know that there are individuals who do want the courts to make these decisions for their families, who believe that doing so will net them greater vengeance, justice or results than negotiating directly with their partners – particularly if there are hard feelings. That’s the benefit of creating a written agreement upfront. You’re making decisions when you are of sound mind, not when you’re in an emotionally-charged, negative place.
My mate and I drafted a written agreement that covered everything from what would happen to our children in case of death or divorce, to how assets would be divided, to fidelity. When I showed it to my attorney, he said, “You’ve got everything written out already. Why not just get married?” It was a good point, so we did. And I’m happy that we did. Our union works for us.
So, when should you write your agreement? When you’re about to take a step in your relationship that could result in the two of you becoming legally-bound (i.e., marriage and children). It may seem ridiculous, but before you have unprotected sex, which can theoretically result in a child, get out the pen and pad. You figure out how to structure the conversation. But have the conversation. If you don’t, you may very well end up co-parenting together, and needing the courts to dictate your relationship with your child.
Be advised that I am not an attorney, and I suggest speaking to one for professional advice about exactly which details should be included. The courts can ultimately modify any agreement that you construct, with “the best interest of the child” in mind, but there is value in having a starting place you can agree on. I even suggest you re-sign it each year. It may carry more weight if needed in court, and you get the added benefit of knowing that you’re starting each year out on the same page.
I know this might sound like I’m suggesting that you plan for your relationship to fail. But I’m not asking you to be negative about your love. In fact, the ability for the two of you to sit down and iron out all of these issues makes a Powerful statement about the likelihood you’ll have a future together that includes successful problem-solving, compromise and negotiation. This is true if you are married, cohabitating or just seriously dating.
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