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TalkingParents' Guide to Custody

Child custody guidelines that can help co-parents understand what an agreement entails.

For parents going through a divorce, child custody often becomes a primary topic of discussion. Determining how children will navigate their day-to-day lives and go through various milestones while dividing time between households is complex in even the most amicable splits. Understanding everything that custody involves is a complicated undertaking, but it's not impossible. These child custody guidelines help break down how custody works and answer many common questions that future co-parents have.

How do parents decide how custody works?

At its core, custody is determined in a legal document called a custody agreement or parenting plan. Usually created with collaborative efforts and legal guidance as needed, your custody agreement outlines how you and your co-parent will provide for the care and well-being of your child. Once it's reviewed and approved by a judge, a parenting plan is legally binding and can be enforced in court if not followed.

Some essential parts of your custody agreement may include:

  • Which parents have which types of custody
  • What schedules your children will follow
  • How drop-offs and pick-ups should work
  • How parenting expenses will be handled
  • Where your children will attend school
  • Which parent is responsible for medical care
  • How parents will communicate with each other

What are the different types of custody?

There are two types of custody: physical and legal. Physical custody involves who the child lives with, whether the child splits their time between two households, and how visitation is handled if necessary. Legal custody pertains to a parent's right to make significant decisions on behalf of the child, including decisions about healthcare, education, and legal rights.

Both types of custody can be either sole or joint. Sole custody means one parent is entitled to physical and legal custody of their children, while joint custody grants physical and legal rights to both parents. The courts and other professionals generally prefer that parents file for joint custody, as it is commonly in the best interests of the children involved. In cases where joint custody is challenging to facilitate, both parents may have joint legal custody but not joint physical custody.

Lawyer talking to clients

How do I start working on a custody agreement?

Before you start taking steps in the custody agreement process, it's helpful to understand the potential child custody case costs and determine whether hiring a lawyer for your case is necessary. Suppose you're going through a contested divorce or cannot agree on significant decisions related to your parenting plan. Working with a family law attorney or another legal professional may be best to avoid considerable conflict and additional expenses.

In some situations where co-parents cannot work together, participating in child custody mediation sessions can offer a successful way to create a parenting plan. Mediators are a more affordable alternative than a lawyer and can be appointed by the clerk of courts in your county, as each municipality has a specific process to follow. Similar to mediation, arbitration is another valuable option that offers comparable and unique benefits for both parties.

What can prevent shared custody?

While family law professionals prefer to find a solution that allows children to maintain relationships with both parents, some situations that can prevent shared physical or legal custody may include:

If a parent is denied custody or given limited visitation rights to a child due to their situation, they can regain their rights in the future. If a parent can demonstrate that they have taken steps to change the circumstances that caused limited custody, courts will consider the new information and potentially re-evaluate the situation. Regaining custody is a complicated process, and most experts highly recommend that a parent in this situation seek legal counsel.

Is a custody agreement final?

While your parenting plan is legally binding, it's not a one-and-done arrangement you're stuck with until your child turns 18. As long as the cause is related to your child's well-being, you or your co-parent can modify your custody agreement by filing a motion with the courts. The process is similar to what you follow when creating a parenting plan, although the specific requirements can vary by state.

Mother and son holding hands

How should I handle custody over holidays?

Holidays can be stressful regardless of your family's situation. For co-parents and their children, splitting special occasions between two households adds even more complexity. Creating an agreement incorporating a detailed holiday custody schedule can allow co-parents to prepare themselves and their children for smoother holiday seasons before getting swept up in special plans.

When creating a holiday custody schedule, start by considering which holidays are most important to you. Aim to create a sustainable schedule that reaches as close to a compromise as possible. Once you fine-tune your preferences, your schedule can be replicated year after year for consistency.

How does custody work for children with special needs?

If your child has special needs, additional considerations must be included in your custody agreement to ensure they have stable care and access to relevant resources. Because of the unique circumstances surrounding your child's care, it may be best for either you or your co-parent to have sole physical custody to ensure consistency. Further stipulations can be added to clarify responsibilities for specialized medical care, financial expectations, and other requirements.

Mother and child video calling

Can a co-parenting tool help with custody?

Whether you're creating your first-ever custody agreement or following the same parenting plan a few years in, managing everything related to your plan can be challenging. Between your custody schedule and any expenses you need to split with your co-parent, you need an effective means of collaborating with them for the benefit of your child. Fortunately, there's a simple solution for co-parents looking to handle these responsibilities through a single service.

TalkingParents is a co-parenting communication service that helps thousands of families manage their day-to-day and long-term shared parenting responsibilities. Through our comprehensive features, our all-in-one service equips co-parents with ways to manage shared expenses, communicate securely, manage important appointments and dates, and much more. With every action and interaction documented on an Unalterable Record, parents can confidently navigate shared parenting, knowing their co-parenting situation is more accountable and streamlined.

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