Married parents have joint guardianship and equal parental rights to their children under the law. When they divorce, each parent wants to hold on to his/her custodial rights, or perhaps demand full custody because he/she feels that the child will be better off with him/her. No matter what each parent wants, child custody is ultimately determined by the courts in the best interests of the child.
In a nutshell, this is what child custody is all about – although human behavior and egos add several layers of complications beneath this simple explanation.
Parents should understand that child custody is not about them, but about the child. They should get a deeper understanding of how to plan for child custody in a way that it does not emotionally harm the child, but before that, they should be aware of the different types of child custody – physical, legal, sole, primary, or split.
And here is how they should go about planning for it:
How to Plan For Child Custody
While thinking about child custody, keep in mind that it is not about you – it is about the child’s happiness, needs, and future. So, first and foremost you must be empathetic towards the child while creating a custodial plan. Here are a few pointers – just seek answers to the following questions and make a plan that works best for the child.
Your Child’s Convenience
- How quickly can the child adjust to living with each parent?
- How inconvenient will it be for the child to travel between two parental homes?
- How far is each home from his school?
- What schedule will be best suited to your child?
- Does your child have special needs – and if so, what works best for him/her?
Analyze the answers and minimize or eliminate the inconveniences caused to the child.
- How close will you live to the other parent?
- How long does it take to travel to the other parent’s home using public transport?
- Is the distance manageable?
- Are both homes near the child’s school?
- Are trustworthy childcare providers/babysitters available at both homes?
You need to be close to the child when he is with the other parent, perhaps within 20 miles.
Your Child’s Schedule
- How many days in a week does the child participate in extracurricular activities after school?
- Does his daily routine reconcile with your parenting plan?
- Do his vacation-related activities fit into your parenting plan?
- How will the travel between two parental homes upset your child’s schedule?
- What will the child miss out on in the schedule you have planned?
Ensure that your child’s routine does not suffer because of your conveniences.
Your Child’s Feedback
- Is your child okay with the schedule you have planned?
- If not, what are his preferences?
Keep in mind that if the child is very young, his inputs may not be realistic. However, if he/she has matured somewhat, and the situation is amicable between you and your soon-to-be ex, then you may discuss your plan with him/her, obtain inputs, and even incorporate them into your plan. Note: If you are fighting over child custody, it is best not to discuss litigation with your child or ask for feedback about possible parent-time schedules.
Your Lines of Communication with the Other Parent
- Are you open to communicating with the other parent despite what has happened in the past?
- Can you both put aside your differences and create a custody plan that best suits the child?
There is nothing like it when both parents sit across the table, negotiate, discuss, and come up with a custody plan that is in the best interests of the child.
What Not to Do While Planning Child Custody
- Do not allow your ego or personal conveniences to get in the way of the child’s best interests while making the custody plan. Your child comes first.
- Do not make a plan that interferes with the other parent’s custodial or visitation rights. Remember that the child needs the love and care of both parents. Ensure that your child custody plan is such that the child has a healthy relationship with both the parents after the divorce. Be prepared to make some sacrifices here and there.
- Do not think about winning or losing – a parenting plan is not about taking revenge from or making your ex-spouse feel humiliated, it is about what works for your child.
- Do not underestimate the other parent. He may not have performed the childcare tasks that you did earlier, but that doesn’t mean he cannot learn them.
- Do not compromise on anything that affects the child. For example, if your ex-spouse promises that he/she will surely rent a home nearby, do not take such promises for granted unless he provides evidence. Everything that is agreed upon must be tangible, doable, and in writing. There is no space for “ifs” or “buts.”
After creating a custody plan, you and your ex-spouse should ideally test it out for a few weeks and fix any glitches, and then present it to the courts for approval.
However, if you and your ex-spouse just cannot work with each other, then there is no other option but to allow your custody attorneys to negotiate. If even that fails, then you need to go for mediation or let the courts decide for you.