As couples with children move through the divorce process, they often struggle to find common ground when it comes to child custody issues. In fact, custody quite often is one of the most contentious and emotional issues that parents must deal with during a divorce.
When parents can’t reach an agreement on custody arrangements, it may be helpful, if not necessary, for experienced child custody attorneys to step in and help. When one parent appears to be especially demanding and unwilling to compromise, an attorney with strong negotiating skills can be helpful in defending the interests of the other spouse and the children.
Defining Physical and Legal Custody. Of course, it’s easiest and often best for all involved when the parents can reach an agreement on the percentage of time each parent should spend with the children and how physical and legal custody should be addressed. Physical custody focuses on where the child will live, while legal custody establishes which parent can make decisions pertaining to the child(ren)’s education, medical needs and extracurricular activities.
Custody Arrangements. When it comes to custody, a judge could decide to:
- Award sole legal custody and sole physical custody to one parent.
- Award sole physical custody to one parent and joint legal custody to both parents.
- Award joint physical and legal custody to both parents.
- Award sole legal custody to one parent and joint physical custody to both (though this occurs very rarely).
Parenting Plan. When one parent is given primary physical custody, a parenting plan must be reached that addresses the non-custodial parent’s visitation rights. The plan usually covers where the child will spend his/her birthday, vacations and various holidays. In addition, a “handoff agreement” is sometimes needed that will set the times and locations where the child will be transferred between parents.
Changes in Custody Arrangements. Once the court has issued a child custody order, the agreement remains in place unless both parents agree that changes are needed or if certain circumstances take place requiring a change. This typically happens when an older child wants to spend more time with the non-custodial parent than the child custody order permits.
While you might be able to resolve some issues in your divorce without an attorney, you really can’t afford to risk losing time with or access to your child/children – especially if your spouse has hired a custody attorney.