When a couple begins the process of filing from divorce, they have the option of drafting a mutually acceptable separation agreement at any time. This document must detail the spouses’ approach to any potential areas of dispute. Child custody issues can often be the most difficult to resolve when drafting a separation agreement. However, the vast majority of such disputes are resolved before a judge must issue a ruling on the matter. Here are a few things to keep in mind when considering how to resolve child custody issues.
There are two types of custody:
• Legal custody refers to decisions made on a minor child’s behalf regarding important issues such as their education, religious upbringing and medical care.
• Physical custody refers to how much time a child spends with both parents.
In both cases, parents may have joint or sole custody. In the former, both parents have equal input in all decisions and spend an equal amount of time with their child. If sole custody is awarded in both cases, one parent makes all the decisions concerning their child’s welfare and the other parent is not allowed any visitation whatsoever. This is very unlikely to happen unless one spouse has been found guilty of domestic abuse. Most parents will be able to negotiate some form of joint custody.
When negotiating the terms of their separation, some child custody issues that must be resolved include:
• How much time the child will spend every year with each parent
• How transportation between the two parents’ residences will be arranged
• What information about their child both parents should keep the other appraised of
• How often parents will communicate and by what means
If a couple agrees on the importance of resolving their difference prior to a court appearance but are unable to negotiate a resolution on any of these issues, in many states a judge will order them to attend mediation. In this process, a neutral third party helps guide conversations with the purpose of creating a mutually acceptable solution. While this mediator may be a lawyer, in many cases they will be a non-attorney with specialized experience in the field.
Assuming both parties agree to complete the negotiations in good faith, divorce mediation sessions can often help resolve child custody issues. A mediator will encourage both spouses to be open and honest in explaining their objections to their partner’s proposed terms of separation. Completing a separation agreement before appearing in court will help both spouses avoid the expense of hiring a private attorney.
Many states allow for a child that is old or mature enough to express a preference about which parent they would like to live with. Regardless of the state, every court system is required to approve a separation agreement or issue a ruling that keeps the child’s best interests in mind at all times. The final decision about all child custody issues will be made by a judge.