Saturday, February 04, 2006

Guidelines for Formulating a Custody Plan

Custody

Many parents do not know where to start or what to consider when faced with the possibility that they may have to share their children between two households. To make it easiest on the children, it is important to have a clear plan.

Here is a checklist to consider as you begin to think of a custody plan. Of course, this list is not all-inclusive. The law differs from state to state and procedures can differ from county to county. However, this should give you some guidance as to the factors you should consider:

Preparation

Before you sit down to formulate a custody plan, have a yearly calendar to refer to, the children’s school schedules, activity schedules and the parents’ work schedules.

Also, try to calculate the driving distance between the parent’s homes and schools or other drop-off points to determine if the schedule is workable.

Finally, keep in mind the children’s routine: bedtime, bathtime, mealtime, etc., so that you can come up with a schedule that disrupts them as little as possible.

Schedule

- Start with a two week schedule and build from there. A chart that looks like this can be helpful to visualize the schedule:
Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat Sun
Wk 1
Wk 2
- Include who will be responsible for transportation.
- Include specific pick-up and drop-off times.
- Vacation - usually taken during the summer. How will parents pick their weeks?
- Holidays - usually alternated and rotated, based on even and odd years. Remember to include religious holidays, government holidays (Labor Day, Memorial Day, etc.) , special days (Mother's Day, Father's Day, birthdays) and kid friendly holidays (Halloween).
- School Breaks - have the school calendar available.

Decisions/Cooperation

- Guidelines regarding day-to-day decisions.
- Guidelines regarding major medical or educational decisions.
- How will parents work together to make switching between households as easy as possible on the children.
- Will there be similar guidelines and rules in both households?

Communication

- How and when will parents communicate with each other?
- How and when will parents communicate with the children when they are with the other parent?
- What happens when a parent has to change the schedule due to emergency or a necessity?
- How will the parents share information with each other regarding the children like school progress, health issues and other concerns?

Financial

- How will the custody schedule affect child support?
- Who will be responsible for purchasing clothes and other necessities for the children?
- Can/will anything be shared between the two households?

Attorney Review

You should speak with an attorney before you negotiate with the other parent to determine your rights and also to obtain guidance as to what kind of custody arrangement would be best for your situation. Additionally, children’s lives change dramatically as they age. What might be an acceptable schedule for a toddler or preschooler might be unacceptable once the child starts school, and then progresses through elementary school and high school. So, use the above guidelines to help you start to formulate a plan for your children and discuss your thoughts with your attorney. Then, if you come to an agreement with the other parent, your attorney can draft a final version with you and file it with the court so that you have an enforceable court order. If you cannot come to an agreement and must go to court, you will have a helpful outline to use as you formulate your court strategy.