1. Will we use a Family Specialist?
We recommend our clients work with a Family Specialist. They are specially trained professionals who can help you and your spouse craft a parenting plan in the best interests of your children.
As parenting specialists, they are aware of the latest research on the developmental needs of children, especially those going through a divorce. They do more than establish a time-sharing regime, they can help you plan for potential future challenges, such as introducing new partners, the teenage years, how you will communicate regarding issues and challenges that may arise. They are experts on children.
2. How will we make decisions?
Custody determines how major decisions about the children will be made. It does not relate to the amount of time each parent spends with the kids. Joint custody means both you and your spouse will make the major decisions together. Sole custody means only one parent will make the major decisions and the other parent has the right to information about the kids.
Major decisions include non-emergency health care decisions, the school they will attend, religious training they will be exposed to and activities they will be involved in.
Everyday decisions are in the hands of the parent caring for them at the time. There is a trend towards joint custody as there is a belief that children benefit from having both parents involvement. Although it may be difficult to imagine working cooperatively with your spouse in the future, it usually happens in time. If your situation is a high conflict case then perhaps sole custody is appropriate. The reality is that your parenting will evolve over time regardless of the title you use.
3. When will the children be with you and when will they be with your spouse?
Many spouses choose to divide the time spent with the children. Often, it is one week with each parent.
In this case, social workers advise that the best transition day is Sundays, as Monday is a structured school day.
In other arrangements, children reside primarily at one home and spend time with the other parent on a regular basis, such as every second weekend and one day during the week.
You and your spouse must find a realistic balance between the children’s school and extra-curricular activities, your work schedules and your availability to care for the children. Whatever you decide, it's important to maintain consistency and predictability for the children sake. What about the holidays?
You must also consider how to share time with the kids during special holidays such as Christmas, Easter, March Break and Thanksgiving.
If you embrace a different faith, perhaps you will have other special days you want to address.
Some alternate special weekends each year. For example, Dad gets Thanksgiving in odd numbered years and Mom gets it in even numbered years.
Others will share special weekends/ For example, Dad gets the first half in even numbered years and Mom gets the second half, reversing it in odd numbered years.
Sometimes summer vacation is divided equally (for example, two weeks alternating) while others will agree that the regular time-sharing regime will apply but each will get two or three weeks of vacation time with the children upon certain notice.
You may agree that Father’s day is with father and Mother’s day is with mother or you may just ignore these days and let them fall in accord with the regular schedule.
Some feel it is important to see their child on their birthday each year and make special provisions but others celebrate birthdays whenever their child is with them.
When trying to determine a holiday schedule, remember that your kids will enjoy having two Christmases and don’t really care about the date on the calendar. Also, reflect on what you did before your separation to give yourself a starting point for discussions.
4. Can we be flexible?
Flexibility is important even with a consistent and predictable schedule. If special opportunities arise that would benefit your children, you may trade some time with your spouse. For example if your spouse’s parents have tickets for the children to attend a show, trade that night for another night so the kids can attend the special event. Remember to treat your spouse as you would like them to treat you. Although your spouse may not always reciprocate, always take the high road and do the right thing for your children’s sake.
5. Do we need any special provisions?
If you are concerned about having a smoke-free environment for your children or there is a history of problems with alcohol abuse, you can include special provisions in your agreement.
Some parents whose children are asthmatic have provisions about pets in their respective homes. Remember that you cannot control your spouse’s parenting style so don’t try to make provisions about every detail of their life unless they provide safety and consistency.
6. Should we get a counselor for the children?
Often children benefit from having their own counselor. A counselor is a neutral and supportive party who keeps their conversations with the children confidential.
Divorce is a difficult transition for children. In time, they may not need the counselor to deal with divorce-related issues, but other issues may arise. For example, teenagers certainly have many issues and often an allergic reaction to anything their parents say. A counselor can help them through challenging years.
Initially, during the divorce, they may attend more frequently due to their need. Over time, they may go two or three times a year. Costs not covered by a health benefit plan would be shared in proportion to you and your spouse’s income or shared equally.