Legal Child Sharing (Custody): Concerns the ability of parents to share information and make decisions regarding the child's medical, educational, and general welfare needs. Legal custody allows a parent to talk to teachers, obtain copies of school records and attend conferences. It allows a parent to get copies of medical records and seek medical or dental help for a child.
Physical Child Sharing (Custody): Considers actual times the child may spend with each parent. There are no set formulas for arrangements as each case is unique. For example, a parent can have joint physical custody and have fifty percent of a child's time - an equal timeshare. Another example would be for the parents to have joint physical custody with one parent to have primary physical custody and the other to have secondary physical custody. Secondary physical custody could be every weekend; one hour per week; alternate weekends or any other period of time. There is no "standard schedule" as each family and each child has unique needs. It is important that you consider what works best for your child and that you not focus on a percentage of time.
THE COURT WILL CONSIDER NUMEROUS FACTORS IN MAKING A DECISION ON HOW YOU WILL SHARE YOUR CHILD BETWEEN THE TWO OF YOU IF YOU ARE UNABLE TO REACH AN AGREEMENT WITH THE OTHER PARENT. YOU SHOULD HAVE A CLEAR IDEA OF WHAT YOU WANT AND WHY IT IS BEST FOR THE CHILD TO PRESENT TO THE COURT. BELOW ARE SOME OF THE FACTORS THE COURT CONSIDERS AND STRATEGIES TO HELP YOU PRESENT INFORMATION TO THE COURT.
1. BEST INTERESTS OF THE CHILD: Under all circumstances the court will attempt to make an order that is in the child's best interests. It is important that you remember this and keep it in mind before you present information to the court. Every request must take into consideration the child's best interest, not your interest or what you want. A common example of this is a parent who will not want the new boyfriend/girlfriend to be around the minor child because they don't like this person. That is an unacceptable reason. Present a reason that focuses on your child. Why shouldn't your child be around this person? Are they abusive to the child? Do they say things that are inappropriate to the child? Do they have a drug or alcohol problem? Ask yourself how each request will affect your child.
2. TIME DESIRED: The time each parent wants to have the child. Have a clear idea of how much time you want to have the child with you. Have a clear idea of what you will do with the child during your time. What activities you will have planned. If you are working, where will the child be? If the other parent is available, why should the child be with you? Why is this best for the child? Strategy: Have a clear plan rather than vague answers. Have reasons why it is best for the child to be with you during the time that you want the child to be with you. Is the time that you want the child to be with you homework time and you are the parent who keeps in touch with the teachers, are you the parent who makes certain homework is done and reads with your child? Is the time that you want the child to be with you during an extra-curricular activity that you have been the parent who was the one who regularly participated?
3. HOLIDAY TIME: Look at the holidays. Usually, the court will alternate holidays so that you will have the child one year on a holiday and the other parent will have the child the next year. Some parents will only have the child for a day at Christmas; some parents split the holiday school break. Some parents want to split the holiday at noon on Christmas day and others at 9:00 am. These are important things to think about in advance. Does your family usually celebrate on Christmas Eve and the other parent usually celebrates on Christmas Day? If so, it may make sense to always have the child in every year on that holiday. The same is true for Easter and Thanksgiving. How many weeks vacation do you want? Do you want to share summer week to week or in larger blocks of time? Will you be spending this time with the child or have the child in camp or daycare? What plans will you have? The more planned you are, the more seriously you will be taken by the mediator and the court.
4. TIME AVAILABLE: The time each parent has available for child. How does each parent's work schedule affect the child? Does a parent leave early for work or get home after bedtime? The Court prefers for a child to be with a parent rather than a third party, such as daycare. Strategy: Have a plan that shows you are willing to let the other parent have time while you are working. Is it appropriate for a parent to pick the child up from school or return the child to school? For example, a parent who is off work at 3:00 pm could have the child in the afternoon while the other parent is working. If that parent does not return to work until 7:30 or 8:00 am, that parent could return the child to school the next day. Weekends could be from Friday after school until Monday morning return to school. If they work late, the parent could pick the child up at 7:00 pm on Friday, but return the child to school on Monday. However, if a parent goes to work at 5:00 am while the other parent is at home to get the child ready for school, the parent who is available should get the child breakfast and take the child to school, so the child should be returned the night before. This would also be true on mid-week visits. Remember: it is always best for a child to be with a parent rather than a third party.
5. PRIMARY CAREGIVER: Who has been the primary care giver for the child? The primary caregiver is determined by the parent who has been responsible for the child's needs, (bathing, feeding, and general care.) This also takes into consideration medical care, education and involvement in the child's life. However, if one parent has focused on working to support the family while the other has been at home to care for the children, the court will consider that this may change. A working parent may have been willing to work many hours of overtime to allow the child to be at home with a parent because they were able to tuck the child into bed each night or have breakfast each morning. When a family separates, this may change and the court will consider a new work schedule. Strategy: Get a Declaration from a neutral third party who can show that you are the parent who is the primary caregiver. This would be the nurse, the teacher, the coach, a neighbor, a priest, or any one else who has observed the interaction between you and the children.
6. THE CHILD'S WISHES: Children do not decide where they live until they are 18. However, The Court will listen to a child and will take their wishes into consideration. A child with well thought out, mature reasons will be taken more seriously than a child who wants to be where there are no rules. Strategy: Do not talk to your child about this. The mediator and court will know if a child has been coached. If your child asks about court, simply tell the child that it is between the adults. If your child wants to know what will happen, tell the child that the adults will decide what is best. It will be hard when your child tells you what the other parent is saying, but keep responding that the child doesn't need to worry and that the adults will decide.
7. ABUSE: The Court will consider a parent's drug or alcohol abuse. The Court will also consider a parent's history of physical, emotional or verbal abuse. Strategy: Declarations will help with this as well. If there are police reports, arrest records or court cases, bring these to The Court's attention by filing them properly.
8. BE PREPARED: Prior to mediation and court, schedule an appointment with us to discuss your specific issues and to develop a way to present your information to the court. File all paperwork timely with the court. If you receive paperwork from the office written by the other party, write down your response and file it with the court if necessary. Keep a record of everything that is going on; how often each of you have the child with you; how often the other parent calls; and any incident that is relevant.