How Do My Ex-Spouse and I Get Joint Custody of Our Children?
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Joint custody is one of the most common types of custody agreements. Under a joint custody system, each parent gets time with the child or children. While this time may not be exactly equal, typically it is closer to equal than with a primary or sole custody arrangement. So, if you believe joint custody is right for your family, how do you go about putting a joint custody agreement into place?
How Do You Get Joint Custody?
There are two main ways that a joint custody agreement can be put into place:
- Both parents can agree that joint custody is the best option and they can put together their own visitation schedule. The court may then review and sign off on this document, making it legally binding.
- The court can order joint custody if the parents are unable to agree on a custody arrangement and if the court believes joint custody is in the best interests of the child.
Getting Joint Custody Through Agreement
Creating a joint custody agreement with your ex-spouse outside of the court room is one of the best possible ways that custody can be divided. Since you both know what works for you, your kids and your family, you can make the agreement reflective of the way you actually live your lives.
In order to be able to successfully come up with such an agreement, it is important to keep emotions in check as much as possible. Never use the kids as a weapon in divorce, and be open minded and willing to concede on some points in order to come to a consensus. You may wish to use a mediator, a collaborative divorce coach and/or the help of your attorneys in order to come to this agreement, especially if you are having a hard time on your own.
Regardless of which method you use to create the agreement outside of court, it is key to make it as complete as possible. Specify who will get the child, when, and for how long. Include as many details as you possibly can. Address such things as how holidays and birthdays will be split, who will be responsible for dropping the child off, and what happens if a parent needs to make a change. Can the child spend an extra weekend at Mom’s for Grandma’s birthday, for example, if mom is willing to give up Jr. on father’s day? What happens on a three day weekend, does the parent with the child get the extra day? The key is to plan for as many eventualities as possible so the agreement doesn’t fall apart later.
Once a formal, written parenting agreement is put into place, that agreement can be submitted to the court. This is often done as part of a divorce settlement agreement in an uncontested divorce. It is important to take the steps of getting the court to sign off on the custody agreement in many cases, because that way it will have more legal validity and can be enforced by law enforcement or the courts if necessary.
Getting Joint Custody Through Litigation
If you are not able to come to an agreement with your ex-spouse that involves shared or joint custody, you may still be able to arrange joint custody by litigating the issue of child custody in court.
When a court decides a custody dispute, they do so by considering what is in the best interests of the child. Usually, this does mean having both parents in the child’s life. The court will, however, consider the details of your specific case. They may hear witnesses, appoint a guardian ad litem to investigate, and otherwise take steps to determine what is best for the child. Factors considered in making this determination generally include:
- How each parent and child relate
- Whether one parent has provided more daily care for the child than the other
- Whether each parent can create a solid, stable home and a sense of community and connectedness to extended family and the other parent.
By considering these and other factors, the court will determine if it is best for the child to split his time in a shared custody agreement. If so, the court will issue that decree, set the schedule and it will become legally binding.
Whether you intend to litigate or decide on a parenting plan outside of court, you should strongly consider hiring a lawyer to help you with any custody issues. An experienced family law attorney can help make sure you do the right thing for yourself and for your kids.