When you're considering a joint custody agreement, the number of details to be considered seem endless, but most are necessary in order to achieve the best framework possible for successful coparenting of your child by you and your ex-spouse. If you've made some initial decisions regarding a possible joint custody arrangement, it's likely that your attorney will assist you in further developing your plan and giving it effect as your divorce progresses.
You should examine the purpose and motivation for seeking or opposing a joint custody arrangement, and whether you and your ex-spouse have the capacity for the joint effort required for success of your plan. Joint custody does bring satisfaction in parenting post-divorce to many people, but that success also takes work. It's also unfortunate that some parents may seek joint custody for the wrong reason, and thought must be given to the effort, resources and chances for success if modification becomes necessary down the road. Even if you and your ex-spouse agree to modify a joint custody plan, court approval for the changes may depend on whether the changes are in your child's best interests. If modifications are sought by one party and are contested, the burden to show that changes are necessary can be difficult to meet. Thus, a proposed joint custody plan means provisions for now and years down the road.
Motives for Joint Custody and Capacity to Succeed
- Is there a sincere desire by both parents to continue with active parenting?
- Is one parent trying to use joint custody to get back at the other parent, or to use the child as a weapon against the other parent?
- Is joint custody an attempt by one parent to avoid or minimize child support payments?
- Do both parents have the ability to cooperate, communicate and to work to preserve the positive qualities in their relationships with their child as they existed before the divorce?
Essential Terms to Include in a Joint Custody Agreement
Physical Custody and Daily Responsibilities
- Decide where your child will live-options include a primary residence, households for your and ex-spouse, or even the "bird's nest" approach, where your child stays in the house, and you and your ex-spouse take turns living there
- Provide for the day-to-day management of your child's life including attendance at school and extracurricular activities
- Travel restrictions and provisions-address who has responsibilities for your child's transportation, and whether there will be restrictions on where all of you will live and work
The Decision Making Process
- Decide who can make decisions, and about what subjects-is a joint decision required on all matters regarding your child's upbringing, or just major decisions? Define what a major decision is
- Start with how child-rearing decisions were made during the marriage
- Determine child support responsibilities
- Determine responsibility for maintaining health, dental and life insurance (including amounts not covered by insurance), and the assignment of parental life insurance policies
- Determine how the income tax dependency exemption will be allocated
Agreement Modification and Life Changes
- Provide for how custody modifications will be pursued, and how conflicts will be resolved, e.g., mediation
- Consider how events such as remarriage, job changes/relocation and death will be handled
- Provide for anticipated changes as your child grows up-the needs and daily life of your child will change dramatically, and agreeing to review the arrangement at predetermined times can be of value
Birthdays, Holidays and Visitation
- If your child has a primary residence, or if your child will spend extended vacation periods with one parent, you'll want to designate visitation periods for the other parent
- Determine how your child will spend holidays, major and minor, his/her birthday, and how vacation time will be allocated
- Consider whether you want to provide visitation periods for other family members, like grandparents, or if you want to provide for your child's participation in family events, which won't always line up with when your child is with you under your joint physical custody arrangement
Questions for Your Attorney
- Should I have an attorney help me write a joint custody agreement or should I do it by myself?
- Can I have a joint custody arrangement changed at a later date?
- How can I make sure the other parent follows the joint custody agreement?