[10 Tips] to Determining Child Custody

What is joint custody? Who gets the children on holidays? Who gets the children when they don’t have school? You may be asking yourself these questions if you are considering a child custody arrangement. Below are tips to consider before creating an agreement.

Tip #1: Put your children first. What you may want may not be best for your children. It’s typically good if both you and your spouse want joint custody of your children. This means that both you and your spouse care. You’ll need to put your differences aside to determine what’s best for your children.

Tip #2: Know the different types of custody. Joint legal custody is when your children live with one primary parent and see the other parent on less frequent timesharing basis. Joint physical custody is when the children live with both parents an equal amount of time. In both types of custodial arrangements, both parents are responsible for having input for matters relating to regarding the children’s health, education and religion.

Tip #3: Determine whether you want to litigate or mediate. If you litigate, a judge will determine your custody arrangement. The court will determine the custody arrangement that the Court finds to be in the best interests of the child. If you mediate, you and your spouse will create the terms in the agreement.

Tip #4: If you litigate, keep in mind that the judge will decide the custody arrangement, often with input from a custody evaluator. Courts generally assume that children are more likely to have a healthy childhood when they’re able to spend time with both parents. Courts take into account several factors including the best interests of the children, any history of domestic violence, preference of the child (if 12 or older), and parents’ employment responsibilities. Ask yourself: do you want a judge to decide your custody arrangement, or do you and your spouse want to come to an agreement?

Tip #5: Change the way you think. This is not about getting revenge on your spouse. Coming up with a custody agreement means doing what is best for your children. To do that efficiently, both you and your spouse may have to put your differences aside.

Tip #6: Focus on the future. It may take hours, days, or months to reach an agreement. Ultimately, that agreement will last until the children turn 19. While the agreement may take months to make (which may feel like years), it will have lasting impacts.

Tip #7: When discussing child-related topics, create a list of questions you want to review with your spouse. Here’s a few to get you started: Will there be a joint legal custody arrangement? What will the parenting schedule be for each parent? What time is pick-up and drop off? What parent will transport for pick-up and drop off? How will emergent issues related to children be handled? How will holidays be handled? Create a list that works best for your specific case.

Tip #8: Consider parenting time for special days. For your child’s birthday, you may agree that the non-residential custodial parent celebrates with the children from 12:00 p.m. (or, if a school day, from end of school day) until 6:00 p.m. You may also consider spending time together on the children’s birthdays. Consider your and your spouse’s birthdays as well.

Tip #9: Determine a method for modifying the agreement. In the event that one parent needs to relocate, try to determine how the agreement would be modified. If you litigate, you’ll need to file the modification with the court. The judge will decide whether to accept the modification. If you mediate, you and your spouse can reach another agreement that incorporates the modification.

Tip #10: Don’t forget to breathe. Your custody arrangement might be a battle, or you and your spouse might settle amicably. Either way, take a deep breath and realize that this stress will not last forever.

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