New Year, New Custody Considerations: Important Tips to Make Co-Parenting Easier
As the New Year unfolds, it can be helpful to review co-parenting arrangements with your former spouse. As family law attorneys, we regularly stress the importance for parents to plan ahead, which in turn, makes shared custody easier for everyone.
Start the Year Right: Revisiting Your Parenting Plan for Success
For many people, the first few weeks of the New Year are a natural time to make plans, set goals and lay out a course for the upcoming months. At the same time, it’s also a good place to reflect on your successes, near misses and failures from the previous year. Child custody planning is no different. Think about where your child is in their development, what their needs will be, what your life will most likely entail and make a plan with your co-parent that’s in the child’s best interest.
Refreshing Your Parenting Plan for Yearlong Growth Opportunities
Childhood is a dynamic time for everyone involved, especially the kids. Children age. Their abilities and interests grow and mature. Their social networks expand. School demands increase. This is all part of growing up! The best plan for a four-year-old is most likely limiting when they turn eight.
Look at your time with your child versus what the plan outlines from a practical standpoint. What needs adjusting? Little League may take longer to get to than tee-ball. Vacation plans can shift. The same applies to parents after divorce. Career opportunities may lead to increased work hours and travel or even relocation. One parent may move across town, increasing transportation time and cutting into time with the child. Life happens! It’s always in the best interest of the child to reevaluate and readjust on a regular basis.
Making Changes to the Custody Arrangement
Most often, there does not need to be a formal change or revision to the parenting plan. The courts understand that family circumstances are not static. We suggest that co-parents communicate often and in a way that’s non-confrontational. Set a recurring time (like the first of the year) to review with the other parent. Undoubtedly, changes will arise during the course of the year, and that’s OK. Just be sure to communicate clearly with your ex. Document everything. Email and texts are fine; keep notes if you make verbal agreements. Remember, the other parent will need to adjust as well, so try to be cooperative on swapping days, for example. A little grace goes a long way!
If you come to an impasse, it may be necessary to return to court and revise the parenting plan. Situations like work relocation, a dramatic change in the child’s needs, a change in one parent’s ability to care for the child (good or bad) and repeated violations of the existing plan all warrant changing the agreement. Check with your attorney. Remember, all claims that you make must be documented.
Other Considerations and Tips for Revising Parenting Plans
One issue we’re seeing is post-COVID-19 Return to Work mandates from employers. This has the potential to drastically impact the demands on parents’ time and their ability to meet their parenting plan obligations. Keep this in mind when talking to your former spouse and be sure to vocalize your concerns so that they don’t come as a surprise should your work situation suddenly change.
One tip we like to give is for parents to consider using a co-parenting app such as Our Family Wizard. These apps feature shared calendars, internal texting capabilities, phone and message tracking and even the ability to upload and share receipts should one parent need expense reimbursement. We find these simple tools go a long way to ease the communication process.
I always remind my clients to try to separate their emotions from the practical aspects of custody arrangements. Put the child’s needs and well-being first. Control what you can control and communicate as clearly and respectfully as you can. Self-care is important! It sounds overly simple, but get some exercise, eat right and make some time for yourself. Divorce is stressful – there’s no need to create new obstacles.
Christen Ansuini is an associate at Boyd Collar Nolen Tuggle & Roddenbery. She is experienced in the full range of family law matters and her holistic approach advocates for the future well-being of the child and other family members.