During a divorce where children are involved, the parents are responsible for coming up with a parenting plan detailing a proposed child custody arrangement. The parents then present this plan to the court, and, assuming everything goes smoothly, the judge finalizes the plan and child custody arrangement, making it a legally binding contract.
If one or both parents refuse to compromise and create a parenting plan, the responsibility of creating a fair and equitable child custody arrangement is left to the judge. Putting a parenting plan in the hands of a judge can be risky since the judge's own preferences and parenting philosophies can influence the resulting child custody arrangement.
If possible, it's important to negotiate with your ex and come up with a mutually beneficial parenting plan. Today, we're giving you some best practices for drafting a parenting plan that should help you do just that.
Be Open to Compromise
If most parents had their way, they would receive total custody of their children. After all, you love your kids and want to spend as much time with them as you can.
However, courts pursue a 50/50 joint custody arrangement in the majority of cases. Unless one parent has a record of child abuse, substance addiction, or other actions and habits that make them unfit as a parent, the court will try and ensure both parents see the children consistently via joint custody.
Given the reality that courts prefer a joint custody arrangement, be open to compromise. There's an old quote that goes something like "a good compromise leaves both parties dissatisfied." You probably won't end up with a child custody arrangement you think is perfect. But, if you're willing to compromise with your ex and draft a mutually beneficial parenting plan, you'll probably end up a lot happier than you would with a court-dictated child custody arrangement.
Prepare for Everything You Can Think of
The COVID-19 pandemic has left a lot of parents in joint custody arrangements realizing they never figured out where to exchange custody if school was closed, or how to handle video-chat if one parent can't see the children.
If you're drafting a parenting plan now, these are the kinds of details you should take into account. You'll want to discuss the following details (among others):
- Who gets custody on which days of the week?
- Where will you exchange custody? Where's your backup location if the first isn't available?
- How will you discipline your child? What kinds of disciplinary actions are allowed?
- Are there any restrictions for your child's education? What school do both parents think is best for them?
- What about culture? Are both parents fine with exposing their child to religion, for example?
- How will your child receive medical care? Do they have insurance through you or your ex's plan?
- If one parent can’t see the child, how will you handle that? Will you arrange video chats?
- If one parent is sick or has an accident, how will you broach that topic with the children?
- How will you handle events like parent-teacher meetings? Will both parents go, or just one?
- Even if you have a 50/50 joint custody split, only one parent will be considered the custodial parent (and receive the accompanying tax breaks). Will you exchange custodial status every year?
- Looking into the future, how will you handle it if one parent relocates out of the city or state they currently live in?
The more comprehensive your parenting plan is, the better it will be for your children. Spending time on it now saves time later. A thorough parenting plan also provides stability for the children, which they may be desperate for during this time.
Understand How the Court Views Custody
It's important for parents to understand that the judge presiding over their custody case has no first-hand experience for how both parties approach their roles as a parent. The judge on your case doesn't know that your ex raises their voice unnecessarily, or leaves dangerous objects within reach of children when they're doing housework.
These are the kinds of details you need to discuss with your attorney. Courts default to assuming both parents are equally capable of caring for their children, which is why they pursue joint custody. If that's not the case for your family, you need to come up with a way to demonstrate your ex's lack of parental aptitude to the court.
However, this doesn't mean you should start documenting 'evidence' of your ex's bad parenting and presenting it to the court of your own volition. The court may see you as being needlessly vindictive or petty depending on what you show them, which could bring you down in the eyes of the court. For example, if a parent tries to use a photo of their ex and kids on a skiing trip as evidence that their ex endangers the children, they’re more likely to get rolled eyes from a judge than sole custody.
You should discuss ways to collect evidence with your attorney, and follow your attorney's advice to the letter. They're a legal professional who understands the ins and outs of custody and know the preferences of your judge. Asking your attorney to coach you on how the judge realistically sees your custody arrangement can help you prepare a better parenting plan for the court.
At Sutton & Janelle, PLLC, our attorneys have a wealth of experience helping clients navigate child custody cases. For a consultation with our team, contact us online or via phone at (304) 867-0049.