When it comes to deciding decision-making responsibilities during a divorce, you may hear lawyers and judges refer to the four pillars of decision-making. These pillars are:

  • Education
  • Medical
  • Religion
  • Activities


Splitting the pillars

In a contentious divorce where there is an overwhelming level of discord yet joint custody will be the outcome, the pillars may be divided in half with each parent becoming responsible for the decision-making of two pillars. Who is responsible for what pillar can be agreed upon between the parents or determined by a judge.

The most hotly contested pillars are medical and educational. If parents disagree on who should be responsible for each pillar, they are often allocated a pillar based on a parent’s career – for example, if one parent is a medical doctor or an educator, or if one parent has a history of being the primary decision maker for that pillar.

Instead of splitting the pillars, parents or a judge may decide that the best solution is a parent coordinator. In this situation, the parents will enlist a parent coordinator to help solve disagreements on major decisions. This allows both parents to provide input on each issue, instead of allocating all of the responsibility to one parent.


Joint decision making: education, medical and religious

Parents who work together to create a custody agreement are the ones who tend to agree on educational, medical, and religious issues.

Unless they have the resources for private school or there is a superseding need for a particular private school, public education tends to be the ready-made answer for everybody, making education an easily agreeable topic. The one exception to the rule is psychoeducational testing or neuropsychological testing. But, while the parents may disagree about the results, typically they both recognize that their child has additional needs that should be addressed.

Decisions on standard medical care, doctor selection and emergency issues are typically agreed upon as both parents focus on what is best for the child. For any unagreeable medical decisions, parents normally rely on their pediatrician or the local expert in that particular issue.

Religious arguments don’t often exist because either they have married within the same religion or had previously agreed as to how they plan to raise the children and continue to respect that joint decision.


The challenge: splitting the activities pillar

The most difficult pillar to agree on is activities. Why? Because when parents divorce, their children develop different personas in each household. Their persona often mirrors their unique relationship with each parent, which is often expressed through their interest in different activities.

For example, if one parent has a particular lifelong interest in a particular sport, the child will want to watch and/or participate in that sport when they are with that parent. Unfortunately, the other parent may see this interest as one that is forced upon their child because it’s not an interest they express in the other home.

When choosing to split decision making for activities, it’s important that each parent select activities. If you agree that your child should participate in four activities, then you each select two. Then, you work together to find dates, times and locations to create an agreeable and workable schedule.


In conclusion

It’s in your child’s best interest to have parents that will work together to make all decisions, regardless of the topic. When this isn’t possible, dividing the pillars or working with a parenting coordinator can help keep conflict to a minimum.