In divorce, determining child custody is one of the most important battles you will ever face. It trumps financial decisions, because it is about spending time with your children--time that once gone, cannot be regained. And this consideration will have a profound effect on your children's lives.
Child custody is allocated in two delineations, physical and legal custody. While physical custody refers to where the child will reside, legal custody pertains to who will make decisions regarding health, education, religion, extracurricular activities and other major determinations on behalf of the child.
Physical and legal custody will be awarded to one parent or the other (in any combination) or to both parents as in joint legal and/or physical custody. The guiding principal that governs custody is that it is in the "best interests of the child". Custody and visitation schedules are then developed through the use of a parenting plan that dictates which days the children will spend with each parent.
The process of agreeing on a parenting plan with a specific visitation schedule is time consuming due to its complexity and importance. Today, there is much talk about the one-size-fits-all approach and that flexibility needs to be built in to accommodate children as they age. What is best for a toddler may not be best for a teenager. The goal of an effective family law attorney is to provide a framework that helps protect their clients from future disagreements but will also allow a certain amount of flexibility to benefit the children down the road.
As a starter, co-parents need to examine what a two week period with their children will look like. Typically, parents either alternate one week at a time or alternate a few days at a time and share custody every other weekend. The trick is to provide a plan that fits the child's and parent's routine best. Things to consider: Are alternating weeks too long between the co-parents? If you alternate a few days at a time, does that allow your children enough time to put down roots? Do your children have health issues that should be taken into consideration? You want what's best for your children and their lifestyle so plan with their wellbeing in mind...first and foremost.
Included in the parenting plan is a calendar of holidays such as Mother's Day, Father's Day, and major holidays dividing parent's visitation into even or odd numbered years. This allows both parents to alternate holidays. Other things to consider are birthdays-both parent's and children's.
There are many other issues that need to be addressed and agreed upon-such as allocating a time for the children to contact the other parent. Will there be a specific time to call or email or is it okay to call anytime? A lot of kids like to text which has become more popular than email. The more specific the rules, the less likely there is to be confusion later. Communicating with the other co-parent regarding child care issues should be spelled out. If your divorce was contentious, which many are, contact may be limited to emails and texts. It all depends on the particular case.
Your children are your most important asset. Plan with care...their future depends on it!
If you are facing a divorce and your children's future is at stake, Stange Law Firm, PC can help. Our attorneys are experienced in matters of child custody because we focus exclusively on family law and deal with cases like this every day.
For a confidential half-hour consultation with a Missouri or Illinois divorce attorney in St. Louis, Kansas City, Columbia and Springfield, call us at 855-805-0595 or contact us online.