10 Pre-Custody Planning Considerations

While financial issues often appear as the most difficult issues, the contested custody dispute between parents  can often make the financial issues seem small by comparison. Clearly both issues can often be resolved without litigation. However, when a custody agreement is not reached early on then the question of the best interests of the child and stability of the child's relationship with the parents become a major issue to be addressed. Below are some items (not in any order of importance) that need to be considered in preparing for a custody dispute.

1. Is it possible to work with the other parent and discuss major issues that affect the child such as educational decisions, medical treatment and religious determination (if not already resolved)? Can the parents civilly communicate even if they have different ideas?

2. Is it possible to work out a parenting schedule that provides for meaningful time with both parents? Typically a schedule (when not 50-50) will provide for alternate weekends, dinner visit during the week, alternating legal holidays, birthday visits for child and parents, Mother's and Father's Day, alternating school recesses and providing a schedule for summer vacation.

3. If the parents do not live within a reasonable driving distance how can the parenting schedule be modified so that the child does not spend as much time traveling back and forth and instead can spend longer periods of time with the parent who is further away?

4. If either or both parents have unusual work schedules perhaps as a police officer, fireman, pilot, flight attendant, real estate agent then what accommodations can be made to provide parenting time on days off and can the parent's schedule be provided in advance to allow for planning?

5. How old is the child and what flexibility needs to be considered for the child's extra-curricular activities or the reasonable wishes of the child?

6. If there are other children not of the relationship (half-siblings) can the schedule be made so that the children will be able to see each other during parenting time thus maintaining the blended relationship of the children?

7. If one parent needs to have supervised visitation for any of several reasons, who would be an acceptable supervisor, what would be the duration and frequency of supervised visits and what will be necessary to occur for visits to either be extended or unsupervised?

8. Are both parents supportive of the child having a healthy relationship with the other parent (this is often the single most important issue for judges in contested custody cases)? The issue of parental alienation can often change the outcome of a custody dispute so it is important to be aware that if visitation is denied there have to be good and approved reasons for doing so.

9. What are the abilities of each parent to provide a stable living environment for the child? That does not mean that the residences have to be equal in size or neighborhood quality but rather that the child has an area to reside in that is safe and nurturing. Clearly parents often have vastly different financial resources but the child needs to be comfortable in both residences.

10. Can the parents work out a method for decision making if they disagree regarding a major decision? Can either parent have final say on certain types of decisions, should the parents if not in agreement follow the recommendation of the educational or medical professional? What happens when the professionals are not in agreement?

Having children is a life long process that while legal decisions may end at age 18 the parenting relationship always continues. Building strong and healthy relationships with your children will provide a lifetime of rewards. So even if there are difficulties between the parents the goal is to minimize the affect on the children as they are growing up. Try to avoid having the children put in the place of having to make the choices so that they are not afraid to show affection to both parents.