Making a Child Custody Agreement with the Other Parent
Is Your Child Custody Agreement Actually a Disagreement?
For many divorced and separated parents, the child custody agreement is actually a big disagreement. The mother and father can't agree on anything in the custody and visitation schedule and the terms of the custody arrangements. This can be very disheartening for both parents because it drags the process on and on. It is to everyone's benefit to get a solid child custody agreement in place as soon as possible. Here are some suggestions for working with the other parent.
Should You Try to Work With the Other Parent?
To begin with, you need to decide if it is even possible for you and the other parent to work together. Don't decide too hastily that it just won't work. Many parents overcome their differences and are able to create an agreement they both like. Even if you and the other parent continually argue, there is still a chance that you can work together. Some signs that you simply will never be able to cooperate include:
- The other parent hiring an attorney and refusing to speak to you,
- The other parent being secretive and not willing to discuss anything with you, and
- You have a situation where the other parent shouldn't be involved with the child.
In these cases, and others like them, you should work alone to make the best possible custody agreement and try to get the court to accept it. In most other cases, you should at least try to work with the other parent.
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The custody agreement generally turns out best if both parents give input to and agree on it. So, if you've decided to make the effort to work with the other parent, you will be rewarded in the long run. To begin, you need to sit down and do some individual work on the agreement. You need to decide what you must have in the agreement and what you can compromise on. Since you are working with someone else, you will have to make compromises. This doesn't mean that you can't get an agreement you like, though.
For example, you decide that you want at least half of the time with your child. However, you may be willing to compromise the exact schedule and visitation time. Or maybe you decide that you want to at least share legal custody. There is no compromising this. But, maybe you have some flexibility about what decisions each parent makes.
You also need to remember, and continually remind yourself, that this agreement is for the child. Focus on what is best for the child--not on what is best for you. This will help you to not try and thwart the other parent either.
Meeting with the Other Parent
You need to schedule a time to meet with the other parent and work on the agreement. How you set up the meeting can set the tone for the actual meeting itself. When you call, act like you are setting up a business meeting. Stick to the facts and don't start to argue or take the bait if the other parent tries to start an argument. You're dialogue could go something like this:
You: "Hi, I'm calling to see if there is a time we can set up to work together on the custody agreement. I'm free on Wednesday afternoon after 4 and Thursday evening after 6. Do you have an hour or two on either of those days to get together?"
OP: "No, I'm not free either day. You always try to tell me what to do!"
You (remaining calm): "I simply want to set up a time to meet and focus on the agreement. If you have other things to discuss, we can do it at another time. Since those times don't work for you, when is a good time?"
OP: "Well, I can meet Saturday around noon for about two hours."
You: "Okay. Let's meet at (wherever you meet) at noon until 2:00. Thanks."
Now, this conversation is a little simplified, but you get the idea. Stick to your purpose--you want to set up a time to discuss the agreement. Don't get distracted by arguments.
Once you have a meeting set up, plan an agenda and stick to it. Again, think of it like a business meeting. Make a list of everything you want to get done, and go through it. When you meet with the other parent--stick to the list! Don't argue about other issues. Remind yourself that your purpose is to create an agreement for your child. State that purpose up front to the other parent, and when things get off topic you can say "I think we're straying from the purpose of creating an agreement for Johnny. Let's get back to that."
If you and the other parent cannot work together on the agreement, you should consider going to custody mediation. In mediation, you have the benefit of working with a neutral third party who can keep you on topic and guide you through the process. Many parents, even those who had a lot of disagreements, find that mediation works for them.
Along with mediation, you can seek out other resources that will make creating the custody agreement easier. You can use these resources with the other parent to take away some of the stress and hassle of the agreement.
Once the agreement is accepted by the court, you will be in a good position. Remember that to keep you motivated when things are difficult. If you and the other parent can make something you both like, then you can enjoy it for years to come. Everyone will be happier in that situation.
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