How Should Families Deal with Child Custody Concerns?
Child custody cases can be complex and filled with emotion. Parents should reassure their children that the divorce is not their fault. However, their children’s lives will change forever. Because of this, the parents need expert advice when handling their child custody case. Child custody can be difficult to work out because there are several ways to handle these cases. The parents might fight over who will retain custody of the children, and one or both parents might plan to make a major move. Even if parents agree, it is difficult to compose a document that clearly details how the children will live their lives.
The Philadelphia divorce lawyers at Freedman & Lorry, P.C. can help parents navigate the process. Parents might want to end their marriage, but it may become more complicated if they need to split up the family. The following tips can be used to learn how child custody should be handled. It is best to hire a lawyer who will guide parents, children, and guardians through the process.
As a Parent, How Should I File for Divorce?
When a parent is ready to file for divorce, they might not know where to begin. The divorce process can be simplified if parents follow certain steps, which will include a child custody agreement. Additionally, parents should be transparent during this process because a divorce lawyer needs to know all the facts of the case while negotiating a final divorce settlement. The following steps help those seeking to file for divorce:
Hire a lawyer. At the very least, a lawyer can write up everything that needs to be recorded for the divorce. Lawyers know how to speak to other lawyers, and they even offer mediation when required. This is also a good time for parents to receive advice from a lawyer who can compose the divorce decree properly. When parents try to do this alone, they often do not use the appropriate language.
Determine how assets will be divided. Parents must be prepared to divide all their assets. The family must split up cars, homes, businesses, credit cards, and accrued debt. The parents can come to an agreement before they go to court, and a lawyer will submit that documentation to the court.
Decide who will be the custodial parent. The custodial parent is the parent with whom the children will primarily live with. This is important because the custodial parent determines where the child goes to school, whether the child attends religious services, and whether the child participates in extracurricular activities. Parents might choose to let the child stay in the family home, or the child might move in with the parent who is leaving the family home. If parents cannot agree on who will be the custodial parent, the court is left to decide.
Calculate child support payments and potential alimony. Moreover, parents must agree to a child support payment schedule. The non-custodial parent will be asked to pay child support because the custodial parent will bear the brunt of the child’s expenses. The parents must also agree to an alimony payment schedule where applicable.
Create a child custody schedule and parenting plan. Finally, parents must create a child custody schedule and parenting plan. If these documents can be created before going to court, the judge is likely to sign off on the divorce decree. At the same time, both parents should hire a lawyer who will represent their interests during the process. A child can even be appointed a guardian who will represent a child who is endangered, wants to be heard, or even wants to be emancipated.
Families should reach out to a divorce lawyer as soon as possible to organize the divorce. Without a lawyer’s guidance, the divorce can become contentious, confusing, and disorganized.
Who is the Custodial Parent?
The custodial parent, as mentioned, is the parent with whom the child will live with most of the time. The non-custodial parent will move out of the family home and pick up the child for visitation. Families must come to an agreement about who will take on each role. This distinction can be made for a variety of reasons, including the following:
- The parents want the child to attend certain schools.
- The parents want the child to be near their friends.
- The parents may want the children to live near family members who can help with babysitting.
- The parents cannot afford to buy two different homes, and the custodial parent will stay in the family home.
- The child does not want to move to where the non-custodial parent plans to go.
The role of the custodial parent can change at any time. The parents might agree to allow the child to live in a different home, or the child might ask to move in with the other parent. In these cases, a modification of the divorce decree is required. In certain cases, parents might argue over who will have full custody of the children. Therefore, it is important for each parent to hire a lawyer. Additionally, the couple should discuss how they can create a schedule that works best for both ex-spouses. An experienced lawyer can help the couple find different options that might make their custody situation better.
Can I Agree to Child Custody Plans Ahead of Time?
Parents are advised to create a child custody plan without the aid of a judge. There is no need to involve the court because a judge does not have an understanding of the family dynamics involved in the case. Although a judge is a professional, they do not know every detail that would speak to a proper custody agreement. If parents can agree ahead of time, they should do the following:
Discuss a basic schedule for the children. The children need to have a schedule that both parents will honor. Parents should address all concerns that they have when building a schedule for their children and ask the children for input whenever possible.
Have the agreement reviewed by a lawyer. All agreements that are reached should be processed through a lawyer who will record everything, file the paperwork, and help the parents obtain a stamped divorce decree. Lawyers can also let parents know when certain aspects of an agreement may not be approved by the court. An experienced lawyer who knows the Philadelphia court system will understand what the courts are willing to accept or deny.
Do not forget about holidays. Holidays can be tricky for divorcing parents because both parents may want time with their children. Additionally, grandparents may also want time with the children. If the parents can create a rotating holiday schedule, the children will get to see their extended relatives. Even in an extremely amicable divorce, it helps to notate a holiday schedule.
Come up with a plan for birthdays. Parents should consider where their children will spend their birthdays. The children may get to celebrate their birthday twice. Even so, the parents need to decide if they can allow for extra visitation for a child’s birthday. These days are special, and it might help to celebrate together. Although these details might seem inconsequential, parents do not want to argue over their child’s birthday. Putting these things in writing helps both sides work from a template that serves everyone well.
Discuss vacation plans for both parents. Vacation plans should also be listed on the schedule. Although parents cannot make vacation plans years in advance, they should agree on a certain number of weeks during the year when vacations will take place. Leaving a spot open on the calendar helps both parents create a schedule that works well for the children. The parents must agree to work together when scheduling vacations and holidays. If they cannot do so, the court may need to impose a rigid schedule with which the family must abide.
Consider sporting events. Many children want their parents to come to their sporting events. Sporting events can be unpredictable, and it helps for parents to agree on who will take the children to these events. The parents can rotate who will appear at these events, as well as practices, banquets, and traveling tournaments.
Consider the distance both parents will travel for the custody arrangement. In all of this, the parents need to consider how far the non-custodial parent will travel to see their children. The travel time will change the way the parents compose their schedule. Parents are encouraged to reach out to a divorce lawyer for help creating a schedule for the children because there are many things to consider that are easily overlooked.
What is a Parenting Plan?
A parenting plan works with the custody schedule to give the children as much stability as possible. Parents often forget portions of the plan that are necessary. Lawyers do not want their clients to go to court with incomplete documentation, and parents should not agree to an incomplete parenting plan. A quality parenting plan should include the following details:
School and activities. Parents must agree on schooling and activities for the children. Some parents are allowed to freely pick up the children from school, while others are not. The children must have religious services added to their calendar when needed. These basic items must be included in the parenting plan because the children deserve a level of consistency.
Travel plans. The parents must also agree to travel plans that are appropriate for the children. Some parents will allow their ex-spouse to freely travel with their children, while other parents may have serious concerns. This is especially true when the parents have overseas relatives or abuse has occurred within the marriage.
Paying for activities and special accommodations. The parents need to decide who pays for the child’s activities and agree to payments for special accommodations. When children need accommodations, they can be expensive. If parents do not have a plan to pay for those accommodations, there could be frustration, disagreements, and even a legal battle.
Activities that are forbidden. The children might be barred from certain activities for their safety. For example, a parent might believe that a certain activity is unsafe. If the children are allowed to participate in this activity, the parent is in breach of the divorce decree.
Medical decisions. Parents need to discuss who will make medical decisions for the children.
If these parameters are not included in the parenting plan, confusion and anger will ensue the moment one parent feels offended by a simple violation that could have been prevented.
Are There Any Unique Child Custody Arrangements?
Traditional custody arrangements are easy to imagine, but parents can create a plan that works best for them. Some couples split amicably in such a way that they do not even move out of the family home. In some cases, the non-custodial parent might move across the street or next door. Parents can choose from a few basic custody plans, which include the following:
- The custodial parent stays in the family home, and the children spend time with the non-custodial parent at another house. Most families choose this option.
- The custodial parent has the children the entire school year except for the summer and major holidays.
- The custodial parent has the children all year except for the summer when the child travels to stay with the non-custodial parent.
- The parents both nest in the family home; a rented or additional home may also be used. When a parent is allowed visitation, it occurs in the family home.
Do Children Have a Voice in the Child Custody Process?
Children have a voice in the custody process, but they often cannot make decisions for the parents. When a child is old enough to understand what is going on, they should be consulted. When appropriate, children should be asked about the following matters:
- The parent with whom they want to live
- The activities they enjoy the most
- If they are excited to have a room in the home of both parents
- The holidays that are most important to them
- How they want to celebrate their birthday
Some children are too young to understand what a divorce is, and they may not have an active voice in the process. The parents must make difficult decisions for the benefit of the children. At the same time, the children might want to spend certain holidays with their parents. Children might have a special request for their birthday, or they might enjoy staying with certain family members during the winter and summer holidays.
If children are older, they may be an active part of the conversation. Although teenagers cannot force their parents to make certain decisions, they should be involved to avoid animosity during the divorce. If mediation is needed, a divorce lawyer can talk with the parents and children about how custody will work. An upset child might make the process more difficult for everyone. Therefore, a lawyer should get involved to help the child understand the process and their needs.
What is a Guardian ad Litem?
A guardian ad litem is appointed by the court to research what is in the best interests of the children. This attorney or representative will help the child during a divorce case, but they are appointed only in extreme situations. A divorce lawyer may ask a partner to serve as a guardian ad litem for a child in a bitter divorce case. Bringing another lawyer into the case helps avoid a conflict of interest, and the child will receive the guidance that is needed.
Can a Child Custody Agreement Be Modified?
Child custody agreements can be modified at any time with the aid of the parents. A lawyer can rewrite portions of the divorce decree as needed. A child custody agreement cannot be changed without the consent of both parties. If the two sides cannot agree on a modification, they may need to take matters before the court. The court can make any decision that is in the best interests of the children, but the court does not always know what the family can manage. Common modifications include the following:
- When the children are old enough to decide if they want regular visitation
- If a teenage child decides they want to move in with the other parent
- If a child reaches the age of majority and no longer wants to be included
- If one parent cannot afford to travel a great distance for visitation
- If there is a major life event that necessitates a change
When the modification is made, the parents will receive a new version of the divorce decree. It is important to remember that these changes are made by the court, and parents have legal recourse if their ex-spouse is not abiding by the terms of the new agreement.
Philadelphia Divorce Lawyers at Freedman & Lorry, P.C. Help Clients with Child Custody Matters
Reach out to the Philadelphia divorce lawyers at Freedman & Lorry, P.C. when you are involved in a child custody case. We will help you and your children work through what can be the most difficult time of your life. Call us today at 888-999-1962 or contact us online for a free consultation. With offices in Philadelphia, Cherry Hill, New Jersey, and Pinehurst, North Carolina, we serve clients throughout Pennsylvania.