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Custody and Visitation

Splitting up with a partner is difficult. Every aspect of it can be a challenge. But there is usually no facet of a separation more trying than coming to an agreement about child custody and visitation.

Through both our professional and personal experiences, we recognize the flurry of emotions that can be stirred up while navigating this process. This is why we are committed to helping our clients minimize the amount of heartache and stress that they endure while determining custody and visitation arrangements.

Sometimes, prolonged legal wrangling is unavoidable, especially when one party isn’t committed to putting the best interests of their children first. But in many cases, feelings of ill will and anger can be overcome, resulting in an amicable, stable custody and child visitation agreement. It’s best for everybody when a satisfactory agreement is reached the first time around, rather than enduring years of prolonged and expensive custody disputes in court.

Our goal is to help you, as parents, reach reasonable agreements about issues such as child support, custody, schooling, frequency of visitation, holidays, and so on. It is possible to resolve all of this out of court, and to maintain a polite and civil relationship with your former spouse.

But it takes a lot of work, and requires both parents to be fully committed to putting the needs of your children first. Here are a few things you can do to give your child custody negotiation the best chance of success.

Don’t speak badly of the other parent in front of your children.

Before you allow your anger to speak for you in a heated moment, remember this: a child is the literal embodiment of the physical and psychological qualities of both parents. If a child sees you make judgmental comments about one of their parents, the child will see that comment as being a condemnation of themselves as well. It’s very easy for a child to come to the conclusion that if one of their parents is “bad,” then they must be bad as well.

Additionally, trying to sway a child’s opinion of one of their parents can cause serious damage to their relationship with both parents, as well as to their own self-image. It isn’t fair or right to try and get your children to be on “your side” against the other parent. Disputes between you and the other parent are only between the two of you, and should not involve the children. Arguments are likely unavoidable, but save them for when you are out of eyesight and earshot of your children.

Divorce is about you and your spouse. But custody is about your children.

You may believe that your ex was a terrible partner, and you may very well be right. But how are they as a parent? Maintaining a healthy romantic relationship with another person is not the same thing as having a healthy parental relationship with a child. There are many people who struggle with the former, but not the latter.

Don’t base your custody arguments on how your ex functioned as your partner, but rather, on how good they are at being a parent. Chances are, your former partner loves your children as much as you do. Do your best to remember that, and to remind each other of that. This will help both of you focus on the needs of your children, and not your own needs.

Find a way to keep the lines of communication open between you and your ex.

Chances are, like it or not, you’ll have to talk to your ex when your lawyers aren’t around. Much of the process of settling child custody takes place through informal channels of communication. Work with your ex to determine what works best for both of you, when you have to discuss something with one another. Sometimes early after a separation it is better to only communicate in writing whenever possible, but once a new kind of relationship–a co-parenting relationship–is established, speaking in person becomes easier.

Some people find that they communicate best when they meet in person, because it minimizes the chances of misreading the other person’s emotions. But for others, even the sight of their ex can provoke such strong feelings that it makes it difficult to remain controlled and civil. In these circumstances, sometimes phone calls, text messages, emails, or some other medium of communication works best. There are even free websites designed for exchanging photos, messages, and keeping a common calendar.

It is always best to convey important information in writing, so pick a form of communication for important messages and stick to it. That way no one can say they “forgot” an important doctor’s appointment or “didn’t know” about a parent-teacher conference.

However, if you do find that it’s difficult to have a conversation with your ex at all, then you (or both of you) should strongly consider spending time with a counselor to find a way to maintain an amicable relationship with your former partner. You are going to spend the rest of your life repeatedly sharing your child’s special moments with your ex: birthday parties, graduations, marriages, the birth of grandchildren, and so on. Always keep the future in mind while going through child custody negotiations.

We have a great deal of experience in involving third-party mediators and counselors in child custody negotiations, and can arrange for assistance if necessary.

Keep your day-to-day life in mind when negotiating child custody.

If your career requires you to be away from home on a frequent basis, or you are planning to go back to school while working a full-time job, it isn’t terribly realistic to insist upon full custody unless the other parent is abusive or otherwise unable to parent. More importantly, it may not be in a child’s best interests to grow up under those circumstances. There are many children who do grow up in those scenarios, when only a single parent is willing to be part of their lives. But if your children are fortunate enough to have two parents who are both committed to raising them, then work together to establish a custody arrangement that takes into consideration the schedules and life plans of both parents.

Allow your children to have input, at a level that is developmentally appropriate.

Quite often, children’s input in a custody negotiation is given far too little weight, or far too much. A young child should not be asked which parent they would rather live with, nor should a teenager be forced into a custody arrangement that strongly conflicts with their desires.

It’s important for children to feel that their feelings and opinions matter. With a five or six year old, this can be facilitated by allowing them to decide which toys they would like to keep at each parent’s home. For a child in high school, custody and visitation arrangements should take into account what school they want to go to, where their friends are, and what their schedule is like. But avoid placing your child in a situation where they have to make a choice that they are developmentally unable to make, is unfair for them to make, or they are not willing to make.

Things change.

Custody arrangements aren’t meant to be set in stone. As time goes on, the day-to-day circumstances of parents and children change. If one parent is promoted to a significantly higher paying job, then child support should probably be reexamined. If a parent’s situation changes so that it is less appropriate for them to have their current timeshare, then it may be wise to shift the balance of custody and visitation.

And most of all, as a child grows, their needs and priorities will change. A schedule that only includes weekends at the other parent’s house may be appropriate for a five or six year old. But as children grow up, it’s perfectly normal for them to want to spend time on the weekend with their friends, or participating in extracurricular activities. If a situation like this happens, it may be better to shift some of the time spent with the other parent to weekdays, for example.

Be prepared to revisit and revise your custody arrangement as necessary, in order to accommodate the inevitable changes in the lives of everyone involved. We are able to help you come up with a parenting plan that will work for the children and the other parent, or help you use the court system to determine a plan if the other parent isn’t open to working together.