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Pick YOUR best child custody plan

Posted on : November 29, 2013

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Nobody wants to see children suffer because of divorce. It’s a tough enough ordeal for them as it is. But unless you and your ex-spouse are willing to cooperate on at least some child-related issues, that’s exactly what can happen. Your kids can suffer.

So to minimize the damage to your little ones, give some careful thought to what kind of custody arrangement would work best for your children. Ideally, you and your ex will be able to come to a meeting of the minds on this.

If you don’t, the Court will. A stranger in a black robe will step in and make the decisions for you.

Plus remember that your divorce isn’t an easy way to solve parenting problems. While you may be severing ties with your ex, the two of you may still have to communicate and cooperate for years in raising your children.

So here are your choices:

 
Joint Legal Custody. Unless there is domestic violence, physical, emotional or intolerable verbal abuse, or complications like drugs or alcohol in the way, Joint Legal Custody is most likely what the Court will order.

In Joint Legal Custody, both parents must discuss–and agree on–decisions pertaining to the health, safety and welfare of the children. It means you and your ex-spouse will cooperatively decide on schools, doctors, daycare, religion, and a host of other decisions both big and small.

A Joint Legal Custody agreement may or may not deal with practical issues like who lives where, but those decisions are always covered under:

Joint Physical Custody.  This type of agreement doesn’t just deal with who makes the decisions about the children, but where and how they live as well.

Where will the child live? How much time will he or she spend with each parent? What happens when it comes to vacations or holidays? These are all questions covered in Joint Physical Custody.

In Orange County, the Court has different suggested “parenting plans” for parties to choose from, or at least guide parents into creating their own best scenario.

Sometimes it is best for the children to have one main home base. The non-custodial parent might then see the children on, say, alternate weekends from Friday after school until Sunday evening, plus perhaps a dinner or two during every week.

Other times, especially with an older child over the age of 12, a “week on/week off” schedule is often used.

Of course, 7 days can seem a long time for a child (especially young ones) not to see Mom or Dad, so perhaps adding a Wednesday overnight every week or so to the noncustodial parent makes sense.

Under any plan you choose, the Court looks to see that it works for the best interest of the children first, and the parents second.

What happens if you can’t agree? That’s when then the battle begins. And it can be a long and expensive one, particularly if your relationship with your ex is particularly venomous.

One thing you don’t want to do here is use custody negotiations as a way to punish your soon-to-be ex. Being vindictive has a way of often backfiring.

To safeguard the well being of children, the Court may appoint a forensic psychologist to perform a Child Custody Evaluation, a process that can take weeks or even months and typically cost between $5,000 and $10,000.

Sometimes the Court will order a “Child Custody Investigation” through the Court’s “investigators” to perform a more cursory “investigation” as to what custody schedule is in the child’s best interest.

For older children, especially around ages 14 and up, the Court may even appoint “minor’s counsel,” an actual lawyer to be a voice for the child who wants to be heard.

You choose–or the Court will for you. Remember, a plan for how you’ll raise your children is an essential part of any divorce agreement. And it can be a very tricky area in which your rights can be severely limited without your even knowing it.

As with so many divorce issues, it pays to work with an experienced family law attorney and the resources your lawyer can bring to bear. Choosing a good attorney can be a very smart first step.

Need more divorce & family law information? Read on here.

Legally Barb is attorney Barbara E. McNamara, a Certified Family Law Specialist serving Orange County and nearby areas. For a consultation, reach her at 714-740-2542 or barb@LegallyBarb.com.

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