You love your child more than anything; all that you want is to make sure that he or she is cared for, and has his or her best interests taken care of by both you and your spouse. However, the two of you do not agree on how the custody arrangements should go, and it is causing a lot of stress. Perhaps you tried mediation, but found it did not work. Perhaps your spouse has already found an attorney, and you have heard that he or she is a real bull dog.
Or perhaps – if you are like many of the clients we have met and helped through the years – you and your spouse simply don’t want to be married anymore, and neither one of you has the appetite for a long, drawn-out battle.
We would never recommend trying to handle your own divorce; there are too many moving parts, and too many potential complications. But if you and your spouse are able to be amicable, there is no reason why you cannot come together to work on your parenting plan. These are five things you can do to help the process go more smoothly.
Always keep an open mind.
The goal is to create a plan together, that not only leaves both parents feeling satisfied and in control of their lives, but also ensures you can both parent your children. You may believe that you know what is best for your child, but your co-parent also has his or her own thoughts and perspectives about what is right for your children. When you keep an open mind, and are willing to listen and compromise, the process will run more smoothly.
Gather the documentation you can
Documentation – medical histories, sign-up sheets, special tutoring or programs, expenses and bills, etc. – helps reinforce and clarify what the most supportive access schedule and routine would be for your children and their needs. You may be surprised at how much time your child spends doing after-school activities. If your job prevents you from being home during the same hours as your child, perhaps your spouse is better suited to primary residential custody. Or, if your spouse plans on moving to another town, he or she may be more receptive to your child living primarily with you, because of how much driving and transport is involved.
This type of paperwork can help you and your spouse when it comes to addressing payment of expenses for your children as well. The courts do have specific mandatory guidelines for the amount of child support one parent pays to the other; however, you and your spouse can work out an agreement to split any additional costs of raising your child, such as extracurricular activity and uninsured medical expenses, in a way that is conducive to your particular financial circumstances.
Come prepared with several options regarding co-parenting
In Maryland, there are two types of custody, legal and physical. Physical custody pertains to where the children physically reside. Parents can have joint physical custody, which means the children reside with both of parents, or one parent can have sole physical custody, which means that the children primarily reside with one parent instead of the other. Legal custody entails decision making authority for major issues regarding the children, such as medical, religious or educational decisions. Parents can have joint legal custody, which provides them both equal decision-making authority with regards to major decisions regarding their children, or one parent can have sole legal custody, which gives them sole decision-making authority.
The process can be, in a word, confusing.
The parenting plan agreement outlines with whom the children actually live at any given time; specific information about the child’s health and educational needs; a summer vacation and holiday schedule; and any other stipulations required. Usually it contemplates both parents having input on major decisions involving the children and keeps both active in the children’s medical, educational and other activities.
Parenting plans are generally best when specific – but because life is not totally predictable, being too specific can leave both parents feeling frustrated. Consider also adding in special circumstances into the agreement – birthdays, vacations, family reunions, etc.
Even if you feel overwhelmed, attempt to find ways to remain calm and communicative
Even the most rational parents can be overwhelmed by the custody process. If you feel like your emotions are getting out of control, remember to take some deep breaths. You can always ask for a break so that you can leave the room and clear your head. The more calm, civil and composed you can remain during the custody discussion, the more effective you will be in reaching a fair resolution. Sometimes it might take more than one meeting to process the information and the important decisions you are considering for your children’s best interests.
Remember that it is all about your child’s needs
This is the most important thing of all. The best interest of the child is what is most important – not only to you, but to the courts. If you find yourself being a bit vengeful, or feel you are being treated unfairly by your co-parent, stop the conversation. You can pick it up another day.
Finally, keep in mind that if you cannot come to an agreement together, neither of you has “failed” as a parent. Sometimes, we need a third-party to point things out. Sometimes, you need an attorney who will fight to protect your child, and who can prove that your best interests are aligned with your child’s.
At Cynthia H. Clark & Associates, LLC, we are your advocates. Our attorneys treat you and your goals with respect and dignity, and know how to build a case designed to protect those goals. To reserve a consultation at our office in Annapolis, please call 410.921.2422 or fill out our contact form.