Studies have shown that in most cases, a child is better off with a joint custody living arrangement than with sole custody.
Having both parents willing to set aside their relationship issues and concentrate on what’s best for the children involved will be in the child’s best interest. This may seem easier said than done, especially with the heartache of both divorce and the fact that you won’t be with your children all the time any more, but coming up with a custody plan will help you know what to expect and ease your fears.
With the child’s best interest in mind, you’ll want the joint custody agreement to be based around the child’s relationship with each parent, the distance the parents live from each other and the best home environment. The agreement should be thorough enough to include basic custody guidelines and exceptions for when custody needs to be temporarily changed.
When the child will be with each parent
Joint custody means children will spend a significant amount of time with each parent. The time is not always split in half. Common joint custody schedules include: alternating weeks the child is with each parent; 2/2/5/5 meaning the child stays with one parent for 2 days then the other for 2 days, then the first parent for 5 days and the other for another 5 days; 3/3/4/4 similar to last description except with 3 and 4 day increments, weekdays at one parent’s and weekends at the other, and school days at one parent’s and weekends and breaks at the other.
Some children do fine trading off living with parents, whereas others do better with staying for longer periods of time with each parent. Holidays and special occasions will also need to be worked into the agreement. Some parents either trade off holidays, such as Thanksgiving with one parent and Christmas with the other then swapped the next year. Others like to celebrate a day early with one parent and the day of the holiday with the other. Having these living details set in the custody agreement can help avoid confusion later on and give the child a sense of consistency.
Making adjustments to the schedule
Although you should generally try to stick to the living schedule outlined in the custody agreement, at times there will be situations that cause for a change to be made. This may include certain family events or new activities that come with growing older, such as, starting school or playing sports. If the change to the agreement is going to be long-term or permanent, it’s important to go to court to have it changed on the agreement. Always keep the child’s best interest in mind when making any changes to the agreement and explain beforehand to the child what they can expect.
One of the most important things to plan for is how to provide for your children physically. Number of children and the age of each child should be considered in figuring out the cost of living. Keep in mind that expenses go beyond basic shelter, food and clothing to include things like medical and dental bills, school, hobbies and gifts for special occasions. Are these expenses shared 50/50 or is one parent expected to pay more? Do you plan to divide some expenses, such as cost of living and meals and pay others separately like gifts and new clothing? These are some things you’ll want to determine in the agreement. Also, sometimes, but not always, sharing expenses can be based on how often the child is living with each parent.
Defining roles and responsibilities
Children thrive from having a schedule and routine in their lives. Parents that seek to have equal responsibility in caring for the needs of the child are going to be more effective than parents that show inconcistent or vastly different care. The child(ren) should have a comfortable bed room and living space in both homes and a basic daily schedule that could include meal times, school, homework, play time, quiet time, family time, nap time, and or bedtime. Even if the schedule is a bit different at each home, a general scedule is going to provide a sense of stability.
Having the attitude of putting the children first can make it easier for a divorced couple to have effective communication about the needs of their children. The key is to have calm, consistent and purposeful communication. This doesn’t mean that you always need to agree with the other parent, but that you work out together what is best for the children. Putting aside your differences and focusing on the decisions that need to be made can ease the stress of feeling so much like you’re alone in parenting. Your children in turn will greatly benefit from your combined efforts.
Once your custody agreement is in place, there can still be times when you won’t agree with a custody matter. This could be wanting your child with you for a certain event, but it is legally his time to be with the other parent, as well as issues with mix-ups about pick up times or lateness. Whatever the problem is, discuss it privately with your ex, trying to remain positive and calm while you find a solution to the issue.
If you need permanent changes to your child’s custody agreement, you’ll need to go to court and make the changes. By putting your children first in the custody agreement and in the way you resolve conflict, you can ensure you are doing what is best for all involved.
For more information about child custody, visit PhysicalCustody.com.