Custody Planning Considerations for the New Year
January’s onset is traditionally a good time to reflect on the old year and make plans for a new one. For divorced parents, the month presents an excellent opportunity to evaluate your custody agreement and begin planning for the emotional and physical logistics of co-parenting with your former spouse in the new year.
Custody issues are typically outlined and delineated at the time of divorce. In Georgia, like most states, child custody can be thought of in two ways. The first is legal custody – who makes decisions affecting where the child lives, the child’s medical care, education, extracurricular activities and religious affiliation, among others. The second – physical custody – relates to with which parent the child lives. Ideally, both parents will agree to and share responsibility in those decisions.
As parents head into the new year, the following considerations will help make custody easier not only on the parents, but in the best interest of the child.
A Year Has Passed, How Has Your Child Changed?
Children have unique needs at various stages of their lives. Pay special attention to your child’s physical and mental state and discuss their development as openly as you can with your former spouse. Your children may be growing into their own as athletes or artists and need more time to devote to their interests. The child may need special attention for school.
Put those needs first and discuss ways to accommodate them with your former spouse, being aware that your own time with the child may decrease.
Consider Changes in Your or Your Former Spouse’s Lives
As you continue to create your own life apart from your ex, you may find that you are considering a move or planning to accept a new job that will place greater demands on your time. Your former spouse may also be experiencing similar changes. These important developments may very well impact the amount of time you spend with the child in your designated time period. Travel, work, or a new family or relationship can lessen the time you’re able to physically spend with the child.
Be Cognizant of the Need to Plan in Advance
Many times, parents fail to consider time that their children may spend apart from either parent. Grandparent visits, school, and team-sponsored travel and summer camp are prime examples. Many camps close registration in February and most other extracurricular trips are also planned well in advance. Most parenting plans also contain provisions whereby a parent can select their weeks of parenting time during the summer with a clear deadline to notify the other parent. Overlooked deadlines can create tension between parents negotiating precious time off with their children.
Review What Worked and What Did Not
Parents should examine the ease with which they were able to coordinate child visitation. Consider your work schedule, travel time to the other parent, job demands and the child’s changing schedule. Be ready to give a little to get a little. If Friday afternoons are a terrible time to pick up a child, see if you can arrange a Saturday morning meet-up in exchange for a Monday drop-off. Remember that most parenting plans in Georgia allow you flexibility by mutually agreeing to vary from the parenting plan.
Communicate Clearly and Positively with Your Ex
The key to making shared custody easier on everyone is for the parents to communicate with each other clearly and calmly. You may find this difficult, but it is essential for both the child’s development and your relationship with the child. Children are especially sensitive to their role in your divorce and your lives afterwards. Document the decisions you and your co-parent agree to or disagree on, and if you cannot reach consensus or make minor changes within your custody agreement, seek the counsel of your family law attorney.
Above All Else, Put Your Child’s Needs First
A child’s education, health and mental well-being should be the primary concern of any parent – divorced or not. Be open to change, be creative in the ways you approach parenting and make sure that you communicate clearly with your former spouse. You will find that the happiness of your children shows no preference and will enrich your own life.
Megan Wyss is an associate at Boyd Collar Nolen Tuggle & Roddenbery. She handles family matters, including high-asset divorce, annulment, contested child custody and modification of child support.