No one said co-parenting was easy—aside from maybe a few celebrities. But if you speak to parents like you in similar situations, they’ll tell you that some days will be great and others will be a disaster. There is no way to prepare for everything, but here are a few tips to try and prepare for some things.
Create a schedule
There are various ways you and your child’s other parent can create a co-parenting schedule. You and your child’s other mom or dad can informally work together and decide the schedule that is best. There is no requirement to obtain a lawyer during this time. However, it never hurts to consult an attorney who can fully explain your parental rights and options.
If you or the other parent prefer a formal schedule, approved by the court, then one of you must file to begin a child custody case. You should hire an attorney to represent you during a child custody matter. If you are going through a divorce, you two will be required to agree upon a parenting plan or the court will decide one for you. You should also have an experienced divorce and child custody lawyer during this process.
Whether you are going through a divorce or child custody battle, you and the other parent may choose or be required to utilize mediation to decide on a plan. Mediation consists of out-of-court meetings, guided by a third-party mediator, during which you and the other parent negotiate a schedule. Mediation is far different than litigation as it is not an adversarial process.
“The studies show that there is a higher probability of parents following the agreement and less likely to litigate in the future if they made the agreement in the first place,” says Beth Maultsby, a family law attorney and mediator at GoransonBain Ausley. “[Parents] can set out the road map for them to follow in the future. If the court sets that out for them then the court is not going to have the ability to take into account all of the issues that they would.” However, if you and the other parent can’t decide on a schedule, the judge will decide on a plan based on the child’s best interests.
Don’t forget the details
A parenting plan needs to be more than deciding who has your child which days of the week or which weeks of the month. Myers Law Firm recommends that your parenting plan be detailed and prepare for various scenarios. Not every day is your average school day, which means it is important to discuss:
- School vacations
- Unexpected sick days
Plan parenting time exchanges
The schedule should be more than a broad arrangement. You and the other parent need to determine what time you will make the switch, where, and who is in charge of transportation. You may decide that the parent who has your son or daughter at the time must always bring the child to the other parent’s home. Many parents utilize school or daycare as a buffer—one parent drops the child off, the other parent picks the child up at the end of the day. Also, some parents decide to meet at a neutral point between their two homes to make the exchange.
Stick to the schedule
Once you have a schedule in place, follow it as closely as possible. It doesn’t matter what you child’s other parent does. Do not fall into a tit-for-tat situation where you think that if the other parent is often late, you can be late too.
If you or the other parent consistently fail to follow the schedule, the Law Offices of H. William Edgar warn you could end up in court. If you were attempting to follow an informal agreement, then you or the other parent may file for custody for the first time. If you or the other parent violated a child custody order when you failed to stick to the schedule, then this could lead you or the other parent to file for a custody modification, in which a judge may adjust the schedule or even give you or the other parent more—or sole —physical custody.
Agree on the rules
You and the child other’s parent can have your own house rules, yet it may be better to have similar rules for both homes, according to the Office of the Attorney General of Texas’ Co-Parenting Guide. The guide recommends creating “kid rules” and “parent rules” that everyone follows at both homes. You should discuss how you will handle things like TV time, Internet access, sleepovers at home and away, R-rated movies, and discipline methods. You should also discuss with the other parent which items, like clothes and toys, may go back and forth or should stay at home parent’s house.
This assumes you and your child’s other parent get along. If you are unable to coordinate rules with your child’s other mother or father, speak with your attorney about addressing this issue in court during your child custody matter.
Hire an attorney
Hiring an experienced child custody lawyer when it is time to negotiate a parenting schedule can be very helpful, even if you and the other parent get along and want to stay out of court. This may be your first experience with co-parenting, but it’s not your lawyer’s. Your lawyer will ensure you understand your rights and all of the different scheduling options. A skilled attorney can ensure you and your child’s other parent create a customized schedule that works best for your family.
Having a lawyer who already knows your situation is beneficial if the other parent knowingly thwarts the co-parenting agreement. If you don’t already have a child custody order, it may be time to head to court and get one in place. If your ex is violating a court order, your lawyer can advise you on how to enforce the child custody arrangement or seek a modification. If you did not have a child custody lawyer before you and the child’s other parenting started having difficulties with the parenting plan, do not hesitate to call one now.