Getting divorced is stressful, especially when there are child custody issues involved. As part of your divorce proceedings, you and the other parent must work together to create a parental custody agreement.
This detailed document outlines what you and the other parent agree to when it comes to raising your children together. It is a powerful tool in providing your children with a stable and healthy environment, reducing conflict between you and ensuring that your parental rights and responsibilities are clear.
Most parents have never created such an extensive and important document before, and you may feel overwhelmed by the amount of information you are expected to generate.
However, if you take each topic by itself and address the key issues, you can work together in manageable segments rather than skip all over the place.
Here are the major topics included in standard parental custody agreements:
- Visitation Schedule: This is the calendar that outlines where your children will be on any given day of the year. It covers school days, holidays, vacations and special days. Don’t forget to include drop-off and pick-up times in your parenting time guidelines so there is no confusion.
- Information access: This designates what information you and the other parent are entitled to receive on behalf of your children. Medical records, school records, extracurricular notices, religious events, and more can be included here.
- Moral environment: This specifies what types of activities are inappropriate or discouraged when the children are with you or the other parent. Examples include restricting overnights with romantic partners while the children are present or leaving children with a third party that both parents have agreed upon.
- Positive inter-parental relationship: This clarifies that it is inappropriate for either you or the other parent to talk badly about the other or otherwise attempt to alienate or sabotage the children’s relationship with the other parent. Each of you agree to promote a healthy, ongoing relationship with each other as well as the children.
- Communication: This outlines what communication is expected and appropriate between you and the other parent, including keeping phone numbers current and what to do if one of you cannot connect with the other. It also covers communication between children and each parent, including never restricting communication with the other parent.
- Disputes: This offers guidance in what steps will occur when you and the other parent disagree over something in the parental custody agreement. For example, you can agree to go to a mediation session to work the issue out.
- Relocation procedures: This specifies what will happen if you or the other parent choose to relocate from your present home to an area a considerable distance away. Steps include revising your parenting agreement and possibly redefining custody.
When you can take a big task and break it down into manageable sections, the process is not so overwhelming. Ask yourself the hard questions about what is really best for your children versus what your own desires are.
When you and the other parent can provide honest answers about things that are in your children’s best interests, your parental custody agreement will be much easier to create.
When you divorce, you and the other parent must create a parenting plan—one that provides a stable routine of visits with your children. Whether you have sole custody or joint custody, a parenting plan is designed to help you and the other parent raise your children together even though you are no longer a couple.
When you or the other parent serve as military active duty, your custody issues include a level of complexity than other standard parenting plans. A military parenting plan covers all the basics, plus any unique aspects of your involvement in the armed forces.
Military service can cause you to spend long periods away from your children with no ability to care for them or even make visitations.
Here are a few military-related instances that might force you to adjust child custody temporarily:
- Temporary transfer to another location for training
- Transfer to a location that doesn’t support families
If you are suddenly required to leave, your parenting plan must change. Preparing in advance for something like deployment will make that transition period much smoother for your whole family.
Deciding visitation issues through a temporary military custody schedule ahead of time will make the transition easier because you
In the past, if a service member left for long periods of time, the other parent might be able to file for permanent custody. Military parents would return to find their custody stripped and their parental rights affected.
Today, through a series of state and federal laws, there can be no permanent custody action taken while he or she is away.
Military parents can apply for an expedited hearing where they can present a sample parenting plan and military custody schedule to the family court. As long as the plan supports the children’s needs, the judge is likely to approve it.
Most states now specify that the temporary military parenting plan will be dissolved within a week or two after the military parent returns home. While the other parent can still take legal action, nothing permanent can be ruled while the service member is away without a very good reason.
Because things like deployment prevent a military parent from fulfilling visitations, he or she can also request that the children have visitations with close extended family members, such as grandparents.
This can help the children adjust to the military parent’s absence, keep relationships strong from supportive family members and maintain contact with people the children are familiar with.
When you create your military parenting plan, be sure to examine the laws concerning military service and child custody and incorporate them into the plan. When you know your parental rights as they relate to your military service, you’ll reduce your risk of a custody battle.
Custody does not have to be a battle. In fact, fighting with your ex all the time will only create stress, tension, and hostility that will have a negative effect on your child.
Ultimately, you and your ex are the people responsible for the disposition of your custody case. How you choose to handle yourselves will have a tremendous impact on your case and on your child.
Many parents that split up harbor ill feelings toward each other. This makes it difficult for them to deal with their custody matters in an appropriate manner. They refuse to let go of the negative feelings and abhorrence of each other. Instead of concentrating on what is best for their child, they tend to use the child as a way to hurt the other parent.
Children are not weapons and should not be used as such. Using a child to harm the other parent is more harmful to the child than anyone else.
When parents are able to get past the animosity they feel for each other and make sure the needs of their child are being met, they are able to make custody arrangement that meet their child’s needs.
The sooner you can start saying “our child” instead of “my child”, the better. You are both equally important to your child and your child deserves to have both of you in his or her life.
Parents who truly love their children want what is best for them. Children can never have “too much” love. The ideal situation is for children to be able to develop relationships with both of their parents and to have two good parents actively involved in their lives.
Child custody litigation is very time consuming. After you have an initial court appearance, it can be weeks before the next one occurs. It may take months or even years before your custody arrangements are finalized.
If you want to avoid a long drawn out process, you should do everything in your power to reach an agreement with the other parent. When parents are able to create a custody agreement and submit it to the court, the court will review the plan to ensure it meets the child’s needs and will generally approve it.
If you are unable to reach an agreement, you will continue to battle it out in court until the judge makes a final ruling. You will then be legally obligated to follow the court ordered custody and visitation arrangements.
If you have a newborn, it is important to create a newborn visitation schedule that allows your new baby to have frequent visits with the non-primary parent. Since is it unlikely that you are going to be in court the day after the baby is born, you will want to have an informal agreement in place in the meantime.
In most (but certainly not all) cases, the mother is considered to be the sole custodian of the newborn until a court determines otherwise. The best thing you can do to help establish a relationship between the other parent and your baby is to draft a temporary visitation schedule for your newborn and follow it on your own. This will allow your baby to bond with each of you even though there isn’t a court order for visitation.
The court looks favorably on parents who are able to successfully create and follow a schedule on their own. In fact, the willingness of a parent to help foster a relationship between the child and the other parent is a factor most courts consider when making a ruling.
As you create your newborn visitation schedule, you may want to consider that the lengths of the visits are not as important as how often the visits occur. Babies don’t have a very good concept of time. They are not going to know the difference between an eight hour visit and a two hour visit. This is why frequency is a factor.
Think about it:
A baby who is only a week old and has had just one eight hour visit with the other parent during that time will have only seen the other parent once in his or her lifetime (so far).
A newborn that has had three two-hour visits with the other parent during his or her first week of life will have spent time with the other parent almost every other day or his or her little life.
Frequency builds familiarity. Shorter visits allow your child to spend time with the other parent without becoming distressed at the absence of the primary caregiver.
As your baby grows, the visitation schedule will grow with as well. Your infant visitation schedule should expand on the initial newborn visitation schedule and allow the child to spend more and more time with the other parent.
Longer visits and overnight visitation will come with time and according to the circumstances if you aren’t comfortable with this type of visitation schedule in the beginning.
As with everything regarding your child, you should assess your child’s needs and what is in your child’s best interests when formulating your plan.
If you are a first time mother and separated from your baby’s father, you may not even know where to begin dealing with custody issues.
The good news is that in most states an unwed mother is considered to be the natural custodian of the child. This means that unless your ex goes to court and files for custody, you have sole custody of your baby.
Many states require that fathers establish paternity before they can get custody of or visitation with a child. You may want to check out the laws pertaining to child custody and visitation where you live.
Sometimes paternity can be established if both parents agree that the man is the father. It might be established when the father signs the birth certificate. Some states require DNA testing. The rules for establishing paternity vary from state to state.
Once paternity is established, your custody case can begin. You will quickly learn that unless you and your ex are able to present the judge with a mutually agreed upon parenting plan and infant visitation schedule, you are going to have to return to court several times. The custody process may take months or even years to complete.
One of the things the judge considers when making a custody ruling is which parent is more likely to allow the other parent to have access to the child. If you are able to demonstrate to the court that you created a temporary newborn visitation schedule that allowed your ex to spend time with the baby it will show the court that you care about your child. The court will appreciate your willingness to allow the other parent to be in the child’s life.
When you create your visitation schedule you should make sure that your ex is available to visit the baby on the days and times you list in the plan. The best way to do this is to work with your ex and try to figure something out. Choose visitation times that are convenient for both of you and that won’t disrupt the baby’s schedule.
Babies should be afforded the opportunity to bond with the other parent. Many experts agree that shorter yet more frequent visits are better for babies. It would be far more advantageous for the baby to see the other parent four times a week for two hours at a time than for one eight hour visit per week. Frequency is much more important than the duration of a visit when it applies to babies.
If your ex fails to show up for the visits you should keep track of what really happens. The judge will be very interested to know if he only came two out of the eight assigned visits in a two week period. The judge isn’t going to look very favorably on a parent that is disinterested in their own child.
If your ex shows up to every visit without fail—consider yourself lucky that your little one has a good and loving father. Parenting isn’t only a right, it is a responsibility. Sometimes life is unpredictable and unforeseen events may interfere with visitation. Missing one visit doesn’t mean he is a horrible father. The problem occurs when this behavior becomes a pattern.
If you can set your differences aside and create a parenting plan and child visitation schedule that focuses on what is best for your baby, you will have a solid foundation on which your future schedules will be based.
Your visitation schedule will need to be modified as your child grows and his or her needs change. Maintaining a professional approach to dealing with the other parent now should prove to work out for you in the long run.
Raising your children with the other parent when you are divorced introduces a range of challenges that can threaten your children’s healthy development. It’s tough to put aside your past relationship issues and focus on your children.
One of the most valuable tools that you and the other parent can use to forge a cooperative working relationship is a co-parenting calendar. This calendar goes by many different names, such as parenting visitation schedule, custody schedule and parenting time calendar.
A co-parenting calendar is essentially an easy-to-read calendar that shows where your children will be on any given day, what time any transfers will take place between homes and marks any holidays, vacations or other special events.
Parts of a Co-Parenting Calendar
A co-parenting calendar is part of the larger, more comprehensive document known as your parenting plan. You must agree to some sort of schedule or calendar at your custody hearing to show the family court that you and the other parent have carefully considered how visitation will work between you.
A co-parenting calendar should consist of several things:
- The daily schedule, sometimes called the residential schedule. This includes visitations for a normal week with regular school hours and no special days included. The majority of weeks in the year will align with this schedule.
- The vacation schedule. This includes blocks of time where you or the other parent will be taking the children away from your residence. Decide how much advanced notice each parent needs to give the other, whether vacations can take place during school and what is age appropriate for the children.
- The holiday schedule. Your calendar should note any holidays that take place each year, including school breaks, state holidays and national holidays. Decide how your children will spend each holiday in advance so everyone can make plans accordingly. Don’t forget special days like birthdays in this schedule.
It’s much better to negotiate your parenting visitation schedule for a year rather than battle with each other every time a holiday approaches. When the decisions have already been made concerning visitation, there isn’t much to argue about and your children benefit from knowing where they’ll be and with who.
Calendars Benefit Everyone
When you and the other parent agree in advance on a co-parenting calendar, there will be less day-to-day conflict. Reduced conflict lets you both stay calm, consistent and mature, which greatly benefits your children.
You’ll see the benefits for you, the other parent, and especially your children when you follow your detailed visitation schedule. When you both are working together to provide your children with a stable and positive environment, they are more likely to thrive.
For the sake of your children, you and the other parent must push conflict, negative feelings and hurt aside and create a workable co-parenting calendar together that works for all of you.
During and after your divorce, your children will realize that they are more important to you than getting back at the other parent. They will understand that your love and devotion will help them through any changes that arise.
When your children see you and the other parent in a co-operative relationship, they will:
- Feel more secure
- Adjust more quickly to the changes that divorce brings
- Have higher self esteem
- Benefit from consistency between your two households
- Know what to expect from each parent
- Follow your positive example in resolving conflict
Despite your problems with each other in the past, you and the other parent have the power to initiate and maintain a positive relationship with each other for the health and well-being of your children.
A co-parenting calendar can help you both stay calm during transfers, remain consistent in your daily lives and be a positive example for your children.
As divorcing parents, you must include a custody schedule as part of your divorce proceedings. It must specify where your children will be on every day of the year, including holidays.
Because of the sentiment attached to the holidays, this can be some of the most difficult negotiations you may encounter.
Some of the most special times of the year are the various holidays, where you embrace traditions and make memories with your children. Whether it’s Christmas, Hanukkah or spring break, holidays are a fun release from school and work.
When you divorce, you must learn to share these holidays with the other parent.
To avoid a battle every time a special day approaches, you must create a holiday custody schedule for your parenting plan that outlines how you, the other parent and your children will spend that time.
You and the other parent will soon learn that the best way to head off conflict and bring stability into your post-divorce lives is the make a holiday custody schedule that everyone abides by.
Make holiday schedule negotiations easier by following these suggestions:
- Respect the other parent—Even though you and the other parent are no longer together, you are still in a partnership as parents of your children.
- Focus on the children’s needs–Keep communication centered on the children and leave your emotions out of it. Now is not the time to bring up issues related to your marriage or why you are no longer together.
- Learn to compromise—Just as in business negotiations, you can learn valuable tips in the art of compromise that will help you communicate your ideas and open up communication with the other parent.
- Pick your battles—Don’t dig in your heels on every issue just because you don’t want to yield to the other parent. Stand firm on the issues you really believe in and be prepared to concede in other areas.
- Keep the children out of it—Don’t bring the children themselves into the negotiations with questions such as, “Wouldn’t you rather spend Halloween with me?” Asking their preferences is different than forcing the children to prove their loyalty.
- Create a clear plan—Whether you decide to alternate holidays each year, divide the holidays permanently or any other plan, make a holiday schedule that is easy to understand, eliminates confusion and is fair to the children.
The family court recognizes that holiday traditions and family togetherness are an important part of healthy child development. They want to see reasonable requests outlined in a visitation schedule that includes how your children will celebrate the holidays, giving plenty of quality time with both parents over the years.
As a divorced or separated parent, you must make decisions about where your children will live and how they will be raised. A parenting plan helps you and the other parent agree on complex factors regarding the decision-making processes surrounding your children’s upbringing.
When one of you makes plans to move out of state, a new interstate parenting plan can help that parent stay involved with your children.
An interstate parenting plan encompasses all the same topics as a standard parenting plan, with a few added issues you must address. You can begin by working on your interstate parenting plan separately or together.
As you think about your children’s needs, structure your interstate parenting plan to maximize contact with both parents.
Here are 5 topics that don’t usually appear in a standard parenting plan that you need to address in an interstate plan:
- Agree on an interstate custody schedule that allows age appropriate visitations between the distant parent and the children. Schedule visits around school holidays and long weekends, as well as during summer vacation. Divide up the holidays just as in a standard parenting plan, but take travel time into account.
- Decide how the children will travel and the rules for traveling between your homes. Travel can be very stressful on children, so always implement rules that minimize anxiety. Traveling can be modified as children get older.
- Determine who will pay for travel expenses for the children, whether one parent will or you will split the cost. Agree upfront about costs to avoid conflict in the future as each visitation approaches.
- Set up regular communication methods and times between the distant parent and the children. Children should be allowed to communicate regularly with the distant parent via phone, video chat, email, texting and standard mail. Scheduling regular phone or video chat calls helps the distant parent stay involved in their lives and provides structure for the children.
- Plan on evaluating how your interstate parenting plan is working at set intervals, such as every year or two. Your children will grow, creating different needs than your current interstate parenting plan can address. Scheduled evaluations allow you as parents to revise any parts of the parenting plan that are no longer working.
When one parent lives in another state, it can be hard to parent effectively. However, with a detailed interstate parenting plan that seeks the best for your children, you and the other parent can continue to be involved in their lives.
All good custody agreements should be detailed and contain some common elements.
A custody agreement should contain a child visitation schedule. This schedule should state when the child is going to be with each parent on a regular basis. It should also contain arrangements for holidays, vacations, and other special occasions.
A custody agreement should contain a statement that addresses legal custody and assigns parental decision making authority to either or both parents. It should clearly state who will be responsible for making major decisions for the child. This includes decisions regarding the child’s medical care, education, religious upbringing, and other important factors in the child’s life.
Day to day decisions, such as what the child will have for breakfast or watch on TV are typically left to the discretion of the parent who has the child in his or her physical care.
A custody agreement should contain provisions for reviewing the plan. As your child grows, his or her needs will change. You plan should be reviewed at least every couple years in order to ensure it is still effective and relevant.
A custody agreement should contain provisions for modifying the plan, if necessary. If you feel your plan is in need of changes, you can make the necessary changes to your agreement as long as you both agree on them.
You should be able to file the amended agreement with the court and ask the judge to revise your court order. This will make your changes official and enforceable by the court.
A custody agreement should contain a method for resolving disputes. There probably will be some future scenarios you were unable to predict and are unable to agree on. You might need help if you want to resolve the issue. You can choose to seek counseling, ask a trusted friend or clergy for their assistance, return to mediation, etc. If you are so inclined, you may decide to pull the answer out of a hat. (This is generally not recommended.)
Regardless of your methods of dispute resolution, returning to court to litigate your issues should be the very last resort.
A custody agreement should contain any provisions and rules that you feel are relevant to the care and upbringing of your child. You may include anything you would like, as long as it is in the best interest of your child.
This is where parents include provisions regarding communication, transportation, additional expenses, discipline, dietary restrictions, and anything else they want to include. This is where the age of your child really factors in to your general agreement.
When you are creating a custody agreement for school age children, your focus will be on school. You might design your custody schedule around your child’s school schedule. You may want to include provisions for parent-teacher conferences, after-school activities, rules about friends and sleepovers, etc.
When you are creating a custody agreement for a teenager, you should also include provisions pertaining to your child’s education, but the true focus of your custody agreement should be acknowledging that your child has “a life”.
The custody schedule that worked for your school age child may not work for your teenager. Teenagers are busy. They have school, friends, extracurricular activities, and “plans”.
Even married parents will tell you:
When a teen has “plans”, nine times out of ten, those plans do not include YOU.
Your parenting time schedule will need to coincide with the availability of each parent AND your child’s schedule as well.
The toddler who clung to your leg and was inseparable from you over ten years ago has evolved into a creature that doesn’t seem to need you. However, teenagers DO need their parents. They need structure and guidance and boundaries and rules.
A good way to provide this is to create a child custody agreement that addresses all of the issues you think may have an effect on your child.
Your agreement should include rules and may even contain structured discipline methods. A child who knows his punishment is going to happen regardless of whose house he is at is much better behaved than the child who is disciplined at one home and allowed to run wild and free in the other home.
When teenagers have different rules at different houses, they behave differently at different houses. They may also try to get their way (“Well, Mom lets me…”) and attempt to pit parents against each other.
Teens without stability and structure may have bad attitudes, disrespectful, or engage in inappropriate behavior. They are less inclined to worry about making Dad mad when they know they are going back to Mom’s house in a few days. They are less inclined to follow Mom’s rules when Dad doesn’t have any. They will also try to go back and forth between homes at their convenience.
When you have a detailed custody agreement and are able to stick to it, you will find that your child will be better adjusted and generally have a better attitude. You child will know that although your romantic relationship has ended, you remain parents and you are going to enforce the same rules you always have.
This solidarity will help ensure your child understands he or she has set rules and boundaries and is expected to treat both of you with respect.
At the time of your divorce proceedings, the court approves a parenting plan designed to help you and the other parent raise your children after the divorce. That plan is approved based on what is in the children’s best interests at the time. However, life events have a way of changing your children’s needs. When these events arise, you should look into modifying your parenting plan.
In order to determine whether your modifications are indeed in the best interests of your children, the court looks at several factors. The judge must determine whether certain circumstances have changed enough to justify a modification.
Here are some of the life events that my prompt you to modify your parenting plan:
Change in Schedules. As your children mature, their abilities to handle schedule variations evolves. Modifying your custody schedule is common as children grow old enough to handle overnights, longer times away from the custodial parent or even embark on extended vacation times. Keeping your custody schedule age appropriate and up to date is a responsible way to ensure quality time with each parent.
Change in Residence or Environment. If you or the other parent find it difficult to provide a safe and stable environment for your children, a modification may be needed. If one of you moves frequently, cannot keep a regular job or lives in an inadequate or dangerous place, the environment may not be appropriate. Mild to moderate life changes are fine, but when the impact becomes harmful to the children, changes are necessary.
Long Distance Relocation. When one parent needs to relocate a significant distance away from the other parent, it can cause plenty of stress. You may need to rework physical custody or legal custody agreements, or revise the visitation schedule. Relocations are usually triggered by employment opportunities or remarriage, and the court will always look at how the children will be impacted.
Health and Lifestyle Changes. Parental health and lifestyle issues are critical to how children are cared for, so negative changes in a parent’s health and/or lifestyle can mean changes to your parenting plan are in order. Significantly negative health and lifestyle issues can even mean a change in custody in extreme cases. Examples of detrimental health issues include certain mental illnesses or disability. Lifestyle issues that may have an impact include substance abuse or hosting numerous romantic partners when children are present.
Children’s Requests. As children get older, they can have more say in their living arrangements and visitation schedules. Depending on their ages, maturity and motives, children can clarify their needs. An example of this is a teenage boy seeking more time with his father. If there is enough evidence to show that the children’s requests are valid, you can request to modify the parenting plan.
A good custody agreement is essential for separated or divorced parents with children of any age. Your parenting plan will be the foundation of your parenting methods and the rules for raising your child. It is important to create a plan that meets your child’s needs.
- A child visitation schedule (parenting time)
- A statement that describes who will make the important decisions for your child
- Methods for reviewing the plan, making changes to the plan, and resolving disputes
- Any rules, stipulations, and provisions you would like to include
When you use Custody X Change to create your parenting agreement, you can feel confident that your plan is thorough, organized, and complete because the software is easy to use. All you have to do is navigate through each section and provide the requested information.
When you have a teenager, it is especially important that you take the time to focus on the provisions you would like to include in your plan. Your custody agreement will have a profound effect on your child’s behavior and emotional state.
Raising a teenager is stressful enough. You should make every effort to put personal feelings aside and work with your ex to create a plan you both agree on.
Here are some issues you may want to address in your custody agreement:
- Will your child have a curfew?
- What age should your child be before he or she is allowed to date?
- Will your child be allowed to have a cell phone and if so, who will be responsible for paying for it?
- What are your policies regarding internet usage?
- Will your child be allowed to have any social media accounts? If so, how will you monitor their activities to make sure they are being safe?
- Who is going to be responsible for paying for all of the expenses that come along with having a teenager? Car insurance, extracurricular activities and formal wear for school dances are just some of the extra expenses that coincide with having a teenager.
- How are you going to handle discipline? If one parent places a restriction on the child will that punishment carry over at the other parent’s home?
These are just some of the issues that may be addressed. You should evaluate your circumstances and create a plan that addresses all of the needs of your teenager.
You may find that you and your ex disagree on some of the issues that you want to include in your custody plan. You should make every effort to compromise and reach an agreement. Even married parents sometimes disagree on parenting styles and disciplinary actions.
Although you are raising your child apart, your custody agreement will be a valuable tool you can use to create a united front. This should keep your teen from taking advantage of each of you and running amok.
When rules are clear and discipline is consistent, your teen will behave better.
When parents are not on the same page, it is an invitation for chaos.
Let’s consider these two examples:
Billy’s parents are divorced. When Billy is at his mom’s house, he is expected to do chores, to do his homework, to obey the rules and to behave respectfully. At Billy’s dad’s house, there are no rules. He is free to come and go as he pleases.
Billy was grounded by his mother when he was caught sneaking out of the house and going to a party that his mother told him he couldn’t go to.
When Billy arrived at his dad’s house for his weekend visit, not only was he NOT grounded, he was allowed to go to another party.
Billy won’t listen to his mother and just does whatever he wants because there are no real consequences. When his mom took his cell phone away, his dad just bought him a new one. Not only is he disrespectful to his mother, he is also engaging in risky behaviors since his dad lets him run wild.
Billy’s mom is beside herself and fears for her son’s safety. She wonders what kind of person he is going to grow up to be.
Bobby’s parents are also divorced. BOTH of his parents expect him to do chores, to do his homework, to obey the rules and to behave respectfully.
Bobby was caught sneaking out of the house to go to a party and was grounded. When he got to his dad’s house that weekend, he was STILL grounded AND his dad made him clean out the garage as an additional punishment.
Bobby learned his lesson and will think twice before doing something that foolish in the future.
Bobby’s parents know he is a good kid who just made a poor choice. Everyone makes mistakes and they are quite sure that Bobby learned his lesson.
It should be clear which parents have a solid custody agreement in the above scenarios. A good custody agreement with clear rules can really impact your child’s behavior. This is something you should consider when creating your custody agreement.
Mediation services can be a valuable tool to bring you and the other parent together in a low-conflict environment to create a parenting plan. Mediation is a series of meetings where a trained mediator works with both parties to reach an agreement.
In order to minimize the impact on children when creating separate households, parents must create a parenting plan that outlines how they will continue to work together to raise them. However, emotions and negative feelings can quickly get in the way of clear communication.
Using a mediator helps you and the other parent quickly reach a workable solution in everything from custody decisions to visitation schedules.
Before you attend your first mediation session, why not create your own version of the parenting plan you’d like to see implemented. Using custody software such as Custody X Change helps you create as many sample parenting plans as you need for mediation.
Preparing a parenting plan for mediation offers several advantages. It gets you organized on what your thoughts and feelings are concerning the children. It lays out talking points for you and the other parent. It gives the mediator an idea of where you are coming from. Use Custody X Change when preparing the custody schedule for mediation to print out an easy-to-read calendar of visitation.
When you’ve had a chance to prepare a parenting plan before you go into mediation, you’ve identified areas where you will hold firm and areas where you can compromise. Create a few different versions of the documents to show your flexibility and outline what you are willing to agree to.
With a printed parenting plan in hand, the other parent and the mediator can actually see and understand what you envision for your children. This can help the mediation process go more smoothly and may even help you reach agreements more quickly.
Don’t expect to have your sample parenting plan approved by the other parent as is. The idea is that the sample parenting plan you’ve prepared is the starting point for conversations about what is best for your children.
Together with a mediator, you can create a plan that works for all of you.
Attending your first child custody hearing can be intimidating, especially when you don’t know what to expect. Beyond preparing a parenting plan for court, many parents wonder what else they can do. Besides working closely with your attorney, there are several things you can do to prepare for that important day.
Get Familiar With the Law. Learn as much as you can about the child custody laws in your state so you know what happens as your divorce goes through the system. It will also help you when preparing a parenting plan for court because you will have a good idea of what the judge likes to see in a well-written parenting plan.
Gather the Proper Paperwork. Your attorney can help you determine what papers you will need to bring with you. Common items include a parenting journal, documentation of children’s medical needs and statements from witnesses such as teachers or doctors. Many parents also find preparing a custody schedule for court valuable, especially if it demonstrates your ability to be open with the other parent’s visitations.
Polish Your Appearance and Etiquette. Review what type of behavior is expected in the courtroom. Practice delivering short but complete answers to questions. Make sure you are neatly groomed and that your clothes are tidy. Wear the type of clothing you would to a job interview or business meeting. Above all, keep your emotions under control and act professionally.
Know What to Expect. When you understand the process of a custody hearing, you’ll feel more confident in knowing what’s around the corner. Courtrooms are usually smaller than people expect and hearings are fairly short. During a hearing, the judge may ask you, the other parent, the attorneys and any witnesses to speak. The judge will render a decision based on the children’s best interests.
When you feel confident about attending your first custody hearing, you’ll be able to explain yourself well instead of freezing up. Spend the time preparing yourself so you’ll make the best impression and get your opinions concerning your children’s needs out there for discussion.
Most people get divorced because they have a hard time getting along with their spouse and become tired of all the arguing and fighting. Despite this, so many people act surprised when their divorce is final and they are still having the same problems.
A good way to end some of the fighting with your former spouse it to create a parenting plan that is so detailed, it leaves little room for interpretation. Creating a detailed, comprehensive parenting plan may take some time, but it will be well worth it in the end when you factor in the future stress and misery and conflict you will be avoiding.
One of the most overlooked portions of a child custody agreement is the holiday and vacation schedule. Too many parents simply agree to “alternate holidays in even and odd years as agreed.”
As agreed? You are having a hard enough time agreeing on things now, as you make your custody agreement.
You couldn’t agree on anything when you were a “happy couple”, which is one of the reasons you are getting divorced in the first place. Agree? Not likely. You are going to need to get every possible detail that you can in writing so nothing can be left to the imagination.
The holidays are supposed to be happy and spent celebrating with family and friends. You shouldn’t have to spend them stressed out because your ex is giving you grief about the terms of your custody agreement. You shouldn’t have to worry that some of the tension may be felt by your child.
Taking the time to create a detailed custody agreement with specific holiday arrangements is a pre-emptive measure that will help keep the peace.
There are a few steps you should follow to make detailed holiday custody arrangements:
Identify the holidays and special occasions you would like to include. State and federal holidays, religious holidays, other holidays such as Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, birthdays, and other special occasions may be included. You should also include school holidays and vacations.
Decide when each holiday is going to end and begin. You should be very specific with the start and end times such as the Thanksgiving holiday shall begin at 6pm the day before the actual holiday and end at 6pm the day following the holiday.
Figure out how you are going to share the holidays. You may want to take turns alternating the holidays in even in odd years or you may evaluate each holiday individually and decide that the child will spend that holiday with the same parent every year (Yom Kippur with Dad).
You might decide that certain holidays will be shared in a similar way every year (Christmas Eve until 9pm with Dad, Christmas mornings with Mom, Christmas evening with Dad). Your family traditions as well as individual beliefs should factor in to your scheduling.
You are free to use a combination of the above methods to determine how you divide the holidays.
If you use Custody X Change to make your holiday custody arrangements you can enter all of the information include start and end times and all of your holidays and special occasions will be added to your custody calendar.
Once your details are saved, you can print calendars years in advance and you will always know what to expect. The calendar is clear and easy to read so there won’t be any confusion or bickering about whose turn it is.
The most important thing to keep in mind when creating your child’s holiday visitation schedule is it should allow your child to spend an equitable amount of time with each of you and it should be created with your child’s best interests at heart.
The extra time you spend creating the schedule now will pay off in the future and you will be able to focus on spending quality time with your child on the holidays.
This is the year you are going to have stress-free holidays.
You have created the ultimate holiday visitation schedule as part of your custody agreement.
Your holiday visitation schedule lists all of the holidays, even your birthday, and includes individual start and end times for every holiday and special occasion.
You put a lot of thought into making your holiday custody arrangements and divided up the holidays fairly and equally so your child is able to spend time with both of you. You even agreed to add in an additional “special” weekend so your children can have additional bonding time with their dad for the opening weekend of the NASCAR races.
Everything is perfect.
Everything is clear.
Everything is concise.
You even used Custody X Change to create your parenting plan so your calendar is hanging on the refrigerator with one of those alphabet magnets.
You’ve been planning. Your shopping is almost done. You’ve got your schedule in hand. What could possibly go wrong?
You should know better than to ask yourself questions like that by now!
For starters, your ex was supposed to be here fifteen minutes ago to drop off the kids and is currently “stuck in traffic” so you are probably going to be late to your husband’s company party. (The one you were encouraged to bring your children to.)
Your oldest daughter (from your first marriage) is scheduled to appear in the school Christmas play on Wednesday night and your ex has plans so your other kids are going to miss it. She’s upset and throwing a fit about it.
Your step-son’s (from your third / current marriage) mother doesn’t have a child visitation schedule near as fabulous as yours and is always late, flaky, and drops him off wearing stained up clothes while keeping the good ones you sent him in at her house.
Your ex just arrived with the kids and apparently thought chocolate ice cream was a good “on the way home treat” (right before dinner!) and your kids pile out of the car looking worse than your step-son does when he gets dropped off.
Stress? Sure! Life is complicated. Events are unexpected. Chocolate ice cream happens. So you breathe, grab a washcloth for the sticky hands and faces, throw some clean clothes on your little ones, pile into the car and head out to your husband’s party, calm and stress-free.
How is this possible? Perhaps it is because you realize that at the end of the day, it is your children that are most important to you. It is your children that keep you grounded and as crazy as they may make you feel at times, they keep you sane.
You also have the confidence a good child custody agreement brings you.
You know that the custody agreement you made with Custody X Change covers everything you needed to include in your court order.
You know that the holiday visitation schedule you agreed on is comprehensive and fair to you, your kids, and your ex.
You know that even though your kids won’t be able to make your older daughter’s play, the next time you ask to bend the rules a bit, your ex will probably concede since you’ve been getting along a lot better now that everything is settled and there is less to argue about.
You also know of a really good bakery you can stop at on the way home since it was just announced form the backseat that you are responsible for bringing three dozen cupcakes to school tomorrow for the Christmas party. No problem.
Communicating with the other parent during your divorce proceedings can be hard due to the high emotions involved. You may harbor plenty of negative feelings toward the other parent and feel threated that your children are at risk.
It may feel like negotiating a parenting plan on your own is impossible.
However, if both of you can put your emotions aside and treat negotiating a parenting plan more like a business deal than an emotional war, you will see several benefits. You can save money in legal and mediation fees when you negotiate your parenting plan between the two of you.
Use basic negotiation skills championed by business experts to reach agreements concerning your children.
Negotiating a custody schedule and a parenting plan isn’t easy, but these 5 tips can help pave the way for smoother communication:
- Prepare—Learn as much as possible about child custody laws in your state. Get up to speed on the needs and wants of your children and what factors impact healthy development. When you can articulate what goals you have for the parenting plan, you’ll have a better chance in presenting your points in a clear, persuasive manner.
- Be patient—Make a proposal about something, then listen to what the other parent has to say. Don’t propose something, then rush to re-negotiate in an attempt to make it sound more attractive. Start out firm, listen to the counter proposal, and then address each point.
- Listen—It’s tempting to lay all your ideas out on the table, and then refuse to listen to any counter-proposals. Some people feel that being loud and forceful will convince the other parent to agree to their ideas, when the opposite is true. Open your mind and really hear what the other parent’s concerns are, then propose compromises that best fit your children’s needs.
- Stay professional—Keep your emotions in check and avoid negative attacks on the other parent. The well-being of your children is the most important thing now, not dredging up the past. Treat the negotiations as you would with a business client or associate. High emotions can cloud your judgment and prevent you from being flexible.
- Compromise—You aren’t going to create a parenting plan that reflects every one of your desires, but neither is the other parent. Be prepared to give and take when it comes to setting up how you will raise your children from now on. As long as their most important needs are being met, you and the other parent must put aside your own wants and desires to satisfy theirs.
Try to find common ground early in the negotiation process so that you can establish a pattern of agreeing and practice communicating. You will see your parenting plan grow and solidify as you come together on behalf of your children.
Children thrive when they have two parents involved in their lives who care about their growth and development. You and the other parent owe it to them to negotiate a parenting plan that meets their individual needs.