Many potential clients that are going through a contested divorce express strong interest in shared parenting time with the other parent, where each parent has physical custody of their child(ren) for approximately fifty percent of the time. While many people do enter into settlement agreements that provide for these types of arrangements, a Court is not likely to enter a final decree affirming this kind of arrangement absent “exceptional circumstances”. While the Courts have identified certain circumstances as exceptional, they have also stated that brief and alternating shared custody arrangements will rarely be in the best interest of the child. In other words, a Court is going to pick a winner and a loser.
However, I tell my clients it is usually preferable to settle their dispute before a judge decides such important issues as custody and visitation. Any settlement will usually require the other party to feel a sense of risk in a trial. In instances where custody is at issue, this means that the other party feels there is a risk they might not be awarded primary custody of their child. Additionally, settlement is usually preferrable because clients get to craft their own custody and visitation arrangements rather than placing their fate in the hands of a stranger wearing a black robe.
So how can a parent that is contemplating divorce prepare for a custody dispute with their partner?
- Help with the daily needs of a child. For younger children, this means feeding them, bathing them and putting them to bed. For older children it means making sure they keep up with their homework and extracurricular activities;
- Go to doctor’s appointments. When new clients come into my office, I always ask for the records from their child’s pediatrician. These records usually note which parent took the child for the doctor’s visit;
- Be cordial. You should assume any communications you have with the other parent is going to be read by a judge. Parents who look like they are unreasonable and unwilling to let the other parent have a loving relationship with their children post separation are frowned upon by the Court.
While these simple guidelines are a good start to preparing for custody litigation, they are by no means a comprehensive list of actions you can take to protect your relationship with your child during a divorce. For more information, please call Robert Jackman and set up a consultation today.