When parents separate they will need to address issues associated with the custody of their children. This is so both when the parents are married and when they have never been married. It also applies when the parents never lived together. Simply put, decisions need to be made concerning where the children are at any given time, who is responsible for providing their care and how important decisions are to be made about the children. Decisions will also need to be made when the children’s or the parents’ situations change necessitating a modification of the already set in arrangements. When the parents cannot decide this themselves, they can benefit from the help of collaborative professionals.
The legal standard applied to all custody cases is the “best interest of the child”. In other words, the only thing that matters in custody cases is what will be best for the child. Of course the parents’ wishes and input are important, and children are not happy when their parents do not feel that their concerns have been heard and considered. One of the primary goals of your collaborative professionals is to make sure that your thoughts and concerns about the custody of your children are heard and considered.
There are two types of custody. The first involves who will be responsible for your children’s day to day physical well-being and who will be making routine daily decisions about your children. This is the category of custody that deals with exactly where your children will live. This category of custody is referred to as “residential custody”. There are numerous ways parents can work out the residential custody for their children. It is dependent on the personalities of the parents and the children, the geographical distance between the parents’ homes, the age of the children and the routine that has been established by the parents for their children prior to the issue of residential custody being decided. Anything else that the parents think is important will also be considered in the collaborative process of resolving your children’s custody. A residential custody schedule can be traditional, where one parent is the “primary residential parent”, meaning that the children live primarily with that parent and have access to the other parent on a set schedule. The access schedule is designed by the parents in collaborative sessions taking their schedules in mind as well as considering the schedules of the children so that homework can be done and extracurricular activities or medical needs can be accommodated. Residential custody schedules can also provide for more time with both parents. This is referred to as “joint residential custody”. Although many people believe that joint residential custody means that the children spend equal halves of their time at the home of each parent (often described as “50-50″) the residential schedule can be as individualized as each family is unique. It is the job of your collaborative professionals to help work out the best schedule for your family.
The other type of custody is known as “legal custody.” This refers to the important decisions that parents make for their children having to do with health, education, religion, etc. The parents can agree that 1) they make these decision together, 2) one parent can make all decisions without having to consult the other parent or 3) one parent can have the responsibility for one category of decisions while they decide all other categories together. Decision making together is referred to as Joint Legal Custody while decisions made by only one parent is referred to as Sole Legal Custody. Your collaborative professionals will work to help you make the choices that are right for your family.
Modification of Custody
Custody and access, whether it is agreed upon by the parents or imposed by a court is never final. As children change and the parents’ circumstances change so must custody arrangements be permitted to change. The children’s needs may change as they age so that the arrangement put into place when they were younger does not fit their current needs. A parent may move so that the arrangement no longer fits the distance between the parents. The parent’s situation may change in other ways, such as in the amount of time they must put in at a new job.
Whether there is a need to change access schedules or any other aspect of physical or legal custody, collaborative law provides an effective way to address changes that arise. Whether establishing the first impression custody/access and legal custody arrangements, or modifying an existing custody arrangement, the collaborative process allows parents to work directly with each other, with the help of collaboratively trained attorneys and mental health professionals, to modify their custody arrangement to suit their changing needs.