After separation or divorce, it can be difficult for parents to come up with a child custody arrangement they both agree on. If you can manage to come to some sort of an agreement, consider yourself lucky – custody conferences and hearings can be emotionally trying for the parents, children, and other family members who are involved. If you are creating a custody Court Order with the help of your co-parent, with or without an attorney, here is a ‘top ten’ list of factors I think you should consider:
Physical Custody: Deciding physical custody answers the question of where your children will physically be residing. Do you prefer to have your children on certain days of the week over others? Will one parent have the majority of overnights with the children, or do you both prefer a 50/50 arrangement for overnights? Answering these questions will assist you in making a specific agreement of who your children will be residing with at certain days and times.
Summer Schedule: When your children are out of school, this could be a prime opportunity for a parent with less custody during the school year to have more time with their children. An example of this would be to share physical custody of the children during the summer. Or, you could even switch custody of the children during the summer, so that the children primarily reside with the parent typically out of physical custody, and the other parent has partial custody periods during this time.
Vacations and Holidays: Many families like to plan family vacations or reunions during specific times of the year. You can plan for those in your custody order, either by having physical custody of certain dates which are important to you, or by reserving for yourself the opportunity to have vacation time with your children. One of the common disagreements among parents can be whether or not the non-vacationing parent was given enough notice of the vacation, and whether or not the non-vacationing parent was given enough information about the vacation to feel comfortable with it. Dealing with these issues in an agreement can put both parents’ minds at ease.
It is also important to consider a holiday schedule for your children. Do you have a Christmas tradition that you would like to continue with your children after your separation? Is Halloween or Thanksgiving important to you? Do your children receive a Christmas Break or Spring Break from school? Consider these issues carefully when you enter into a custody agreement.
Supervised Partial Custody: Unfortunately, sometimes parents have a severe mental or physical handicap, alcohol or drug addiction, deplorable living conditions, or reside with someone that has a concerning criminal record. In those cases (and others too limitless to mention), it is possible to ask that a parent’s time with their children be supervised. If you both agree that a certain person can supervise visits, you can ask that a parent’s time is supervised by that individual. In some limited cases, it is also possible to have Centre County Children and Youth Services, or another agency, supervise visits between the parent and children. However, you routinely need a specific Order of Court allowing that type of supervision. Being as flexible as possible with supervision provisions can provide ease to a potentially bad situation.
Concerns over Certain Family Members: Do you have concerns over family members or friends of your co-parent? If so, you can always ask that those specific individuals not be permitted around your children while they are with the other parent. You can also ask that neither parent shall be under the influence of drugs or alcohol, nor shall he or she permit others in the children’s presence to be under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
Long-Distance Parents: Sometimes it is not possible for parents to live in the same county, or even in the same state, as each other. In this type of situation, one parent has to have primary physical custody of the children while the non-custodial parent has partial custody rights. Depending on the age of the children, it’s possible to have one parent enjoy custody of the children during most of the child’s summer and vacations, while the other parent enjoys custody of the children during the children’s school year. Another possibility for parents who live within a few hours’ drive of each other is to have the ‘partial custody’ parent enjoy extended weekends with the children, such as when the children have in-service days from school or other days off from school resulting from scheduled ‘snow days’ which were never used.
Telephone Contact: It is frustrating for a parent without physical custody of their children to call their kids and never be able to speak to them on the phone. If this is an issue for you, it is possible to have your custody Order cover this issue, such as by specifically designating dates and times for phone calls with the children. In addition, with the invention of Skype, it can be possible for a parent to have a ‘video chat’ with their children, which is an excellent way to keep in touch, especially for long-distance parents. Another idea would be to buy a child his or her own cell phone so that the child has direct and immediate access to phone contact with the out-of-custody parent.
Transportation: In my experience, both parents typically share transportation in some form. Sometimes, parents meet halfway between their residences, and sometimes the parent out of custody is responsible for their own leg of transportation. However, if one parent doesn’t have regular access to transportation, or has an unreliable vehicle, making alternative arrangements in your order can be helpful. One idea is to ask that the parent providing all of the transportation be reimbursed gas mileage. Another idea would be to ask that one parent provide all of the transportation for six months, while the other parent contributes to the transportation in whatever way possible after that time. This may allow the parent with less reliable transportation to obtain access to transportation without the worry of never being able to pick up their children for custodial periods.
Child Care: Do both parents agree on child care arrangements for their children? Does one parent want to have the right to watch their children if the other parent is unavailable? Sometimes, parents will insert a ‘right of first refusal’ clause into their custody agreements, so that if one parent is unavailable, as an example, for a period exceeding three hours, he or she must call the other parent to ask if they are available for child care. It also may be helpful to have the child care agreed upon by the parents written into their agreement, so that both parents are on the same page regarding child care.
Flexibility: It is always important to remember that just because you have a Court Order stating specific custodial periods for each parent, this does not need to strictly be adhered to. This is because if both parents want to make other arrangements for their children, they can. The best custody arrangements, in my experience, seem to be the ones where parents can be flexible with custody to meet the needs of themselves, the other parent, and their children.
This article is not intended to provide legal advice for any specific legal problem.