When married parents decide to divorce, their roles and responsibilities remain unchanged. However, they must account for their new, separate living situation and come to terms with child custody. If they cannot, the court may decide for them. However, it’s generally best for divorcing parents to make every attempt to mediate their child custody determinations to avoid the time and expense required of litigation. This requires developing a mutually agreeable and legally enforceable parenting plan during divorce proceedings that outlines the parents’ rights and responsibilities going forward.

A Midwest family law attorney is the best possible resource for any divorcing parent. Most divorce attorneys in the Midwest will encourage their clients to mediate their divorce agreements and help them avoid litigation whenever possible. If you believe you and your spouse can civilly negotiate a child custody agreement, it’s best to explore this opportunity to have the greatest level of control over your future custody terms.

How Would the Court Decide Custody?

It can be difficult for some divorcing parents to imagine negotiating anything civilly with their soon-to-be ex-spouses, let alone something as serious and deeply personal as child custody. If a divorcing couple cannot peaceably negotiate and settle the terms of their divorce through amicable mediation, a judge will make a ruling in family court much like any other civil case. The two spouses will have the opportunity to call witnesses, offer evidence and testimony, and answer questions from both legal teams participating in the case.

While litigation may seem like it offers the fairest possible outcome, most divorcing parents who undergo divorce litigation realize that the ultimate decision about child custody rests solely in the hands of the judge. This means that cold legal statutes and the judge’s neutral interpretation of the available facts are the factors that are most likely to influence the final result. When divorcing parents opt for mediation, they retain control over the outcome of their divorce as long as they can negotiate mutually agreeable terms.

If you are planning to divorce in the near future and are uncertain whether mediation will be an option in your case, call our firm. It’s best to consult a Midwest divorce lawyer as soon as possible to determine whether litigation or mediation is the most likely route to resolving your divorce. In the event a judge delivers a ruling on child custody, you can expect the judge to consider many different factors when reaching this decision:

  • The judge will use the facts available to determine each divorcing parent’s availability in terms of raising their children. This is one of the most important factors in determining physical custody, or where the children will spend their time.
  • The judge must award legal custody, or the ability to make major decisions on a child’s behalf, based on each parent’s demonstrated parenting ability. Past incidents of negligence, abuse, or criminal activity can significantly reduce a parent’s perceived eligibility to receive legal custody.
  • The judge will assess each divorcing parent’s income to determine each parent’s ability to financially support their children and eligibility to receive or pay child support to the other parent.

While fitness for legal custody, physical custody, and the ability to financially support a child are the three most prominent factors a judge must consider in a child custody determination, many other variables can come into play during these deliberations. It’s unrealistic to expect a judge to relate on a personal level to many aspects of this decision, so it’s generally best for divorcing parents to take control over child custody determinations and develop their own parenting plans through divorce mediation.

Developing Your Parenting Plan

Just like a judge must determine physical custody, legal custody, and financial responsibility for the children in a divorce, you and your spouse must negotiate these issues during your divorce mediation sessions.

Your Midwest divorce attorney can help you gather the evidence and documentation you may need to build a very strong case for custody and help you prepare for your mediation sessions ahead. Some of the factors you and your soon-to-be ex-spouse and coparent must negotiate include:

  • Physical custody, or where the children will spend their time. It’s common for divorcing parents who live relatively close to the same area to develop joint physical custody agreements. A joint custody agreement generally strives to allow for as close to 50/50 physical custody as is reasonable given the family’s lifestyle and everyday schedule. If you or your spouse plans to move any significant distance away, you must prepare for this to influence physical custody negotiations.
  • Legal custody, or who will retain the ability to make major decisions for the children. Unless either parent has done anything that would indicate they present a danger to their children, it’s likely for both parents to have equal claim to legal custody. Issues that would change that include causing an injury or illness through past negligence, committing any type of child abuse, or having a criminal record. Divorcing parents who decide on 50/50 legal custody must also develop strict processes for handling major decisions and communicating with one another about their children.
  • Financial responsibility. You and your spouse must also negotiate child support as part of your parenting plan. The only way it is possible to avoid child support is in the event both you and your spouse earn the exact same amount of income and spend the exact same amount of time with your children, which is highly unlikely. However, a detailed parenting plan that outlines parenting rights and responsibilities as close to 50/50 as possible could potentially lead to a lower child support amount than a judge may have decreed when you mediate your divorce.

It’s vital to remember that a parenting plan will be incredibly detailed, often going so far as to outline the family’s week-to-week schedule for years to come based on the divorced parents’ negotiated parenting plan. Divorce mediation is often faster than litigation overall. However, it’s vital for divorcing parents to devote sufficient time to these proceedings so they can feel more confident about their parenting plans and child custody determinations. If you are concerned about an impending divorce and want more specific answers about your situation, speak to an experienced Midwest divorce lawyer as soon as possible.