This time of year is especially popular for special family events such as weddings, graduations, and bar/bat mitvahs. For families going through a divorce, these events can pose unique challenges. There is no obligation in Pennsylvania or New Jersey that both parties contribute to the cost of these family celebrations. To the extent these events are foreseeable in the near future and a divorce matter is already pending, it may be worthwhile to have the discussion now as to how the cost of these special events will be shared by the parties in the future. Some parties may desire to split such costs evenly, while others may decide to share the cost pursuant to their income percentages at the time of the event in the future. The risk of memorializing the division of such costs when an event is several years away is that a party’s income or financial resources may change unexpectedly in the future. To account for this uncertainty, using the parties’ income percentages at the time the event occurs will take into account any changes in income. If the parties can reach an agreement as to how to divide the cost of these events, these terms can be memorialized in a formal agreement which will save time and energy in the future as the event approaches.
For parties who have been divorced for several years, communication with an ex-spouse may be more amicable. In these cases, the parties may be able to work out an arrangement themselves as to how to pay for an event and how to share the planning responsibilities for the event. Without a binding agreement, however, neither party can be forced to abide by his/her agreement to contribute a certain amount to the event.
For some families, sharing the cost of an event and attending an event with their ex-spouse may not be feasible due to lingering emotions regarding the divorce. In this case, planning separate celebrations may be best for all those involved. Ultimately, the decision should be made with the best interests of the child as the paramount focus. If the parties can manage to put aside their differences for one day and share the celebration with the child, this is often the best result for the child at the center of the event. On the other hand, if having both parties together would only lead to arguments, separate celebrations is preferred. A compromise of these two options is for the parties to attend the actual event together, such as the graduation ceremony, but schedule their own separate celebrations with the child following the event. Regardless of how the event unfolds, it is important to keep the child out of the discussion and never force the child to choose between the parties