Now that you and your spouse have made the hard choice to separate, your family will begin the transition from one household to two necessitating the creation of a schedule that allows the children to maintain relationships with both households. Child custody and visitation schedules can be one of the most difficult and emotional aspects of any family law matter.
Below are some tips to help successfully navigate this important step:
Tip #1 – Educate Yourself About Child Custody and Visitation
You need to understand the issues before you can negotiate any settlement and custody matters are no different. No one hands us a parenting book when our children are born but when your family transitions through the family court system, we are suddenly confronted with defining our relationship with our children. Terms such as legal custody, physical custody, visitation and whether custody will be sole or joint will define your legal relationship with your children pending resolution and after the final judgment is entered. Anyone going through a custody case in Orange County should review the Parenting Plan Guidelines before initiating any litigation or negotiation.
Tip #2 – Prepare for Meeting with the Other Parent
Once you have become familiar with the basic legal terms, it is time to evaluate and draft how the children will spend time with both parents. A good starting point is to realistically review the role each parent had in the child’s daily life before separation and how it will change once the family separates. For example, if one parent works and his/her schedule prevents him/her from transporting the children to school or activities how will that change, if at all, after separation? Other considerations include the distance between the parents’ residence, the children’s community and the age of each child. Being realistic about your obligations along with the other parent’s responsibilities and the school and/or activities of your children is important to crafting a schedule that works best for all parties.
Tip #3 – Parenting Calendar/Journal
Now it is time to communicate your plan to the other parent. Creating and maintaining a Parenting Calendar is an excellent way to communicate with the other parent and technology provides several easy options for this communication. Include information about exchange times, school projects or events, medical appointments, extra curricular activities and shared costs associated with those activities. Whether you decide to email, text, call or use a computer program to communicate it is most important that you use a consistent means of communication so any misunderstandings can easily be addressed. If you find you are deviating frequently from the schedule, then a Journal should also be separately maintained keeping track of those changes and any communications about those changes. This can assist in the event of renegotiations.
Your children deserve a smooth transition into this new family which you can provide if you spend time considering the above tips. This also includes putting aside hurt feelings and respecting the other parent’s relationship with your children. All families are unique and you are best situated to clearly define your goals for any contact schedule. However, if you and your spouse are unable to reach a resolution, then the court will step in and make orders for your family.
If you need help negotiating a custody schedule or litigating a contested custody dispute, attorney Shannon R. Loeser is available to assist you through this process.