One of the most common concerns I hear about parenting during the separation and divorce process regards co-parenting issues. Communication is difficult, parents have different household rules, one parent withholds the kids from the other parent, and so on. When there is co-parenting conflict, you feel caught between a rock and a hard place. On one hand, you want to see and spend time with your kids. On the other hand, there is nothing you have that can enforce your rights and you don’t want to put your kids in a difficult spot.
First and foremost, without a legal document (a court order), no one parent has sole decision making power! So what can you do, what’s the best advice? Let’s talk briefly about three topics: 1) both parents cooperative, no signs of trouble, 2) parenting trouble is occurring, and 3) what to put in the co-parenting agreement
Cooperation, No Signs of Trouble
Draft a custody and parenting time agreement and get it signed and notarized by you and your spouse. This is thee most missed step I have seen in dealing with co-parenting and parenting time divorce issues. An agreement documents how you will make decisions (joint legal and physical custody), when each parent will see the kids or address any other concerns you may have (like child support or sharing expenses). Although not a legal document yet (a court order) it is proof that both of you have agreed on many things.
Then, if or when your divorce/legal separation case begins (legal papers filed with the court), file this agreement with the county to make it legal. This is important for two reasons:
- When custody and/or parenting time negotiations are difficult, court decisions about parenting time usually align with recent custody and parenting time schedules.
- If issues occur, you can call your law enforcement officer to uphold the agreement.
Parenting Trouble is Occurring
If you have not filed the separation or divorce paperwork, start this immediately as it creates a legal way to make and enforce decisions. To start the process you’ll file a petition (the formal initial divorce paperwork). In your petition, describe your parenting desires and address any financial support concerns (consult with an attorney).
Also, until there is a court order both parents have the same legal right to parenting their children equally (again, consult with an attorney); you have the same rights to go to day care or school early and pick up your kids.
The agreement should address three areas: legal custody (education, medical and religious decisions), parenting time and any financial support.
- Legal custody: be specific on how decisions will be made (a. do both need to agree, b. only one person can make decisions, and, c. how you will resolve disagreements).
- Parenting Time: be specific when each parent will spend time with your kids. And most important, this agreement will most likely be the agreement when your divorce is final, so don’t agree to anything less than what you want when your divorce is over.
- Financial Support: Many states have a child support calculator. Plug in your and her information to understand what amount of child support you or your spouse may need to pay. If one parent is unemployed or under employed, ask an attorney about “imputed income,” income that you or your spouse is capable of making based on job history and/or education.
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