Managing Divorce and Break Ups with Joint Custody and Parenting Plans
After a Divorce or break up of a relationship, two people can raise their children successfully without living in the same house. One way to accomplish this is by the use of a joint custody agreement and a parenting plan. Joint custody (or shared custody) is a court order that awards custody of a child to both parents. Parents who can agree may request this type of custody arrangement. The Joint custody order designates both parents as custodial parents.
There are two types of joint custody; Joint Physical Custody and Joint Legal Custody.
Joint Physical Custody
Joint physical Custody allows the child to live at the residences of both parents on a predetermined schedule. Joint physical custody does not necessarily mean that each party will have exact amount of hours with the child. What it means is that parties get to spend substantial amount of time with the child. However, parties who are able to agree can make living arrangements that are comfortable for themselves and their children.
Joint Legal Custody
Joint legal custody allows both parents to make important decisions regarding the children such as decisions regarding medical care, religion and education. It also allows both parents to have equal access to health and educations records. Joint custody allows continued contact with both parents. As such, Joint custody creates a psychological benefit to both parents as well as their children. When parents have joint custody, the child is made to feel some semblance of normalcy after the breakup of the relationship. If one parent dies or becomes disabled, the other parent will assume full custody without need for another court order.
IMPORTANCE OF JOINT CUSTODY ARRANGEMENTS
Joint Custody allows both parents to be fully involved in the lives of their children. Many studies have shown that children who are raised by two parents are more likely to grow up normally and become successful adults. These children tend to do better academically and are less likely to engage in delinquent behaviors. Children whose step parents assume a greater role in their lives than their biological parents are often mistreated. For example, they are more likely to be sexually and physically abused. Many studies show that children who have parents with active roles in their lives are less likely to do drugs and alcohol and less likely to become victims of crimes and teen age pregnancies. Of all these children, adolescent have the worst time coping and may seek other sources of comfort outside of their homes.
PSYCHOLOGICAL IMPACT OF DIVORCE OR BREAK UP ON CHILDREN
Joint custody agreement may prevent common psychological impact of divorce or break up on children.
A divorce may result in feelings of confusion and rejection in children. Some children may believe that they are the cause of the break up. Some children may think that the parent who moved out no longer loves them causing feelings of rejection. Watching their peer's parents attend baseball games or parent teacher’s conferences can be very confusing causing children of divorced parents to feel less important.
Some children may start acting out. Children may start acting out because they want attention. For example, children may start fights at school. By starting fights both parents may be contacted by a school teacher and hence parents may be forced to confront each other about the child's behavior. Children may also try to get attention by directing their anger at one parent and taking sides against the other. Children may start utilizing ways of diverting attention from parents. This is often a strategy to get friends and relatives to focus less on the divorce.
Often times, mothers think that they are better at parenting and are entitled to primary custody of their children, with limited parenting time to fathers. This is wrong. Statistics have shown that when fathers are replaced by step fathers children often achieve significantly poorer outcomes.
One study compared the following outcomes (in relevant part) between children who were raised by two married parents as opposed to those in homes with a Step father: :
Married Parents with low Conflict
High School Drop Out
Non Marital Fertility
ANOTHER ADVANTAGE OF AGREEING TO JOINT CUSTODY
A joint custody agreement also have other advantages. A Joint custody agreement limits the amount of court involvement in the lives of parents. The last thing that a parent want is for Judges to make decisions for them. As such, instead of trying to sabotage the other parent because of anger, it is best to agree to the joint custody arrangements.
For instance, if you have a prior history of Child protective services involvement, you may have a difficult time making you case for sole custody before a Judge. While a prior CPS history does not necessarily make you a bad parent, many parents become involved with CPS for various reasons. For example; one single mother struggling to make ends meet and working three menial jobs often left her house in a mess when running out the door daily to catch the bus to work. She was accused of environmental neglect. Another single mom chose an incompetent babysitter who did not know that the baby had sustained a fractured leg while in her care.
CPS is the agency entrusted with the duty of Protecting Children. As such, a Court will usually defer to the findings of the CPS investigator. While these findings can be appealed, often times CPS may require temporary custody to be placed with the non accused paent The more time that a child spends in the custody of one parent the more difficult it is for the other parent to get a transfer in custody. A court may also feel that CPS has experienced Case Workers who thoroughly investigate allegations of Child Neglect and Abuse on a Regular Basis. This is not necessarily so. Many CPS workers are poorly trained and overworked with their case loads.
Another reason why court may rely on CPS findings is that courts are required to utilize the best interest of the child standard in making custody determinations. The Best Interest Standard examines certain factors such as: Where will the child get a good education? In which environment will the child get the nurturing needed? In which environment will the child’s safety be ensured? The Court may accept the CPS conclusion that a child will be unsafe in one home as opposed to the other. Again, this is not necessarily so as there have been many publicized cases where CPS workers made decisions that resulted in death or further abuse of children.
However, during custody disputes it is best not to put yourself in the position for a court to make those decisions. Agreeing to joint custody is a reasonable alternative.
Do you believe a parenting plan can be tailored to allow each party to feel fully involved in a child's life?
A joint Custody arrangement can be accomplished by a court order or via a parenting plan that is drafted and agreed to by both parents.
A Parenting plan is a document that sets out guidelines for parenting schedules and other guidelines for successful co parenting. Each parent may work on an individual plan. Both plans can later be merged into one plan outlining all items agreed upon. A parenting plan gives each parent a chance to decide how they want to raise their child together.
Each parent is encouraged to sit down and decide how he or she wants to stay involved in the child's life. If the children are old enough the parent may involve them in the decision making process. When drafting the parenting plan you should think about time factors, work schedules, new commitments, travel plans, finances, religion, and impact on other children.
An attorney for each side may review the plan before submission to the Judge. An Attorney is not required for review but it is often a good idea to use one. A parenting plan may be detailed or just set out points that are important to each parent. A good parenting plan should focus on the area listed in the table below. The parenting plan may be tailored based on the age of the child and the number of children. It should also be revised or modified as the needs of the child or children change, or as they mature.
A judge will then sign off on the completed parenting plan that will become part of the court order.
MAIN AREAS OF A PARENTING PLAN
RIGHT OF FIRST REFUSAL
ACCESS TO INFORMATION
MODIFICATION OF AGREEMENT
Sample Proposed Parenting Plan
Harry Wood and Mary Brown agree to the following parenting plan:
- Harry and Mary will have equal amount of parenting time.
- Parents will alternate the custody schedule weekly starting Sunday February 15, 2014. The week will start on Sundays. Harry will deliver the child to Mary’s house on Sunday at 6:00 pm and Mary will return child to Harry’s house the following Sunday at 5:00 pm.
- Both parents upon written notice have an option to amend the receiving time of the child to accommodate other activities.
Harry shall have the child on all odd years and Mary shall have child on all even years. Both Parents will use the following holiday schedule:
Christmas: One Parent will deliver the child to other parent’s home Christmas Eve (December 24) at 4:00 PM. The child will remain with recipient parent until December 26 (the day after Christmas) Recipient parent will deliver the child back to other parent on December 26 at 5:00 PM.
New Years: One Parent will deliver the child to the home of the other parent at 4:00 PM on New Year Eve. The child will remain with parent until the day after New Years day (January 2). Recipient parent will deliver child back to other parent on January 2 at 5:00 PM.
Thanksgiving: One parent will deliver the child to the home of the other parent on Thanksgiving Eve at 4:00 PM. Parent will return the child to other parent’s house at 5:00 PM the day after Thanksgiving.
Labor Day: One parent will drop child off at other parent’s home at 5:00 PM on the Saturday before Labor Day. The child will be delivered back to the other parent at 7:00 PM the Tuesday after Labor Day.
Memorial Day: One parent will deliver the child to the other parent’s home at 5:00 PM the Saturday before Memorial Day. The child will be delivered back to other parent at 7:00 PM the Tuesday after Labor Day.
Easter: Parent shall deliver child to other parents home at 7:00 PM Friday. Other Parent will return child to other parent’s home at 6:00 PM the following Monday.
July 4th: Parent will deliver child other parent’s home at 7:00 PM on July 3rd. The other parent will return child to other parent’s home at 6:00 Pm on July 5.
Halloween: Parent will deliver child to other parent’s home at 5:00 PM Halloween day. Parent will return child back to other parent at 6:00 pm the day after Halloween.
Child’s Birthday: Parent will drop child off the day before child's birthday at 7:00 PM and return child home at 7:00 PM the day after his birthday.
Father’s Day: Father will have child every father’s day from 7:00 PM the previous night until 7:00 the next day
Mother’s Day: Mother will have child every mother’s day from 7:00 PM the previous night until 7:00 PM the next day.
Father's birth Day: Father shall have child on all his birthdays starting 7:00 PM the previous day until 7:00 PM the next day.
Mother’s Birthday: Mother will have child all of her birthdays form 7:00 Pm the previous day until 7:00 PM the day after her birthday.
MODIFICATION OF AGREEMENT: Any Modification in the schedules will be made in writing requiring the signed consent of the parent who did not request the modification.
RIGHTS OF FIRST REFUSAL: In the event a parent is unable to care for the child on his parenting time, the other parent will be giving the first choice of providing baby sitting or parenting services. Other family members, day care centers and friends will be given the second option.
CONFLICTS: In events of conflicts in days, special days and holidays will take priority over regular parenting time.
VACATIONS: Each parent is entitled to two weeks uninterrupted vacation with the child. The vacation will be planned in such a way that it does not conflict with the child’s birthday or any holiday or special day. Parents will give each other at least 30 days notice of a planned vacation.
EXPENSES: Each parent is responsible for all expenses incurred while the child is in his or her care. Medical expenses will be split equally. Expenses of education will be split equally.
COMMUNICATION: Parents will provide each other with the names, addresses and telephone numbers of all individuals who the child will visit on the other parent’s parenting time. Each parent will provide the other with the emergency contact information of each parent. The child will be allowed to communicate with either parent via phone while on his parenting time. Parents will not contact the child after 10:00 PM while at the other parent’s home during regular parenting time.
ACCESS TO INFORMATION: Each parent will have equal access to medical, school records and all legal records of the child. All Record custodians will be made aware that both parents have shared custody.
Parents agree that they will not argue or demonstrate any form of disagreement in the presence of the child. Parents will not disparage each other or use negative words to refer to the other parent while in the presence of the child. Both parties will mutually agree to the school, social activities or after school activity of the child. Parties may take child to any medical facility of his or her choice during an emergency. Parents agree that step parents may seek emergency medical care for the child. Parties agree that step parents may transport the child as needed. Step parents should not contact the child during parenting child with the other parent. Parents agree that only parents and not step parents may not use corporal punishment on the child.
RESOLUTION OF DISPUTES:
- Parties agree that they will try to resolve all disputes themselves before involving third parties.
- Parties agree that any dispute that they cannot resolve themselves will be resolved via a mediator.
- Parties will equally split the cost of any required Mediation.
- Parties must make all requests for mediation in writing.
HARRY WOOD/ FATHER’S ATTORNEY
MARY BROWN/ MOTHER’S ATTORNEY
Parents who agree to joint custody may raise their children successfully after a break up or divorce. Joint custody allow children to have continued contact with both parents. A parenting plan allow parents to stay involved with their children and participate in activities that affect their lives. Children who are raised in the custody of two parents are more likely to grow up normally.