Parenting schedule. If you are in the middle of a divorce, with children, then these two words are likely quite familiar to you.
Contested divorces typically take a long time and wind up costing tens of thousands of dollars due to custody being one of the hot-topic issues between the parents.
When there are major custody battles in a divorce, everyone loses. The parents lose because they end up spending whatever assets they have on litigation; the children lose because they observe, and are exposed to, their parents constant fighting and often develop their own behavioral issues, which need to be dealt with in therapy or in another professional manner.
And, finally, the courts lose—because they are forced to decide a family’s custody issues, which divorce judges don’t like to do, so the divorce can become final, and the case close. Custody battles are lose-lose for everyone involved.
If parents are unable to agree on custody, or a parenting time schedule to accommodate their new divorced lifestyle, then divorce courts will force them to obtain an “objective” professional custody evaluation, which is then shared with the court for consideration and a final determination of all custody issues.
Custody evaluations can easily cost upwards of $10,000. That’s not a typo. They take months to complete, and once the meetings with the evaluator have been conducted, that person is tasked with writing a final report with recommendations on what the court should rule regarding issues of custody and parenting time.
These custody evaluators mostly have good intentions and try to do what they feel is best for the children, but like judges (and everyone else), they are human and tend to come to the table with their own biases and opinions. If one parent disagrees with the recommendation of the custody evaluator—which is often the case—a court may allow he/she to obtain a separate private evaluation, but that parent is required to pay for it.
Another $10,000, or more, and months of evaluating—tacked on.
The key to avoiding custody evaluations and long, drawn-out battles in a divorce is to agree on a parenting time schedule early on—and get it in writing, approved by a court order, if possible. That way, if ever there is an issue, and a motion has to be filed in court, you won't be starting at ground zero.
If you don’t have a parenting time order, and your divorce process has begun, you may potentially be playing with fire. If your attempts have been rejected by the other parent, and an agreement cannot be reached on a proposed schedule, you may file a motion allowing the court to finalize one for you.
While this may not be the ideal option, it's still better than not having an agreement in place; once a court order is filed, both parents will fully understand what their obligations are, as well as the consequences if these are not followed.
Following are some helpful hints to negotiate a parenting time schedule that works for your divorce:
Consider how the other parent feels.
No matter how you feel about your soon-to-be ex, he/she is the parent of your child, or children. You may not care what your spouse thinks, but in order to settle on a parenting schedule you can live with, you need to approach the task from an objective, rather than emotional, perspective. For example, don’t propose a schedule that gives you all the holidays, or prime weeks of vacation. Consider if you were given the same parenting schedule from the other parent—how would you feel about it?
Once the parenting time order is in writing, this doesn’t mean it has to be set in stone. Things may come up at the last minute. If the other parent wants to change overnights, or pick-up/drop-off times temporarily, consider if you are able to accommodate. Why? Because there will likely come a time when you will need a similar favor and will want the same considerations. As long as both parties consent, you can deviate from the court order, though it's advisable to obtain these allowances in writing.
What do your children think?
Most divorce courts have statutes and laws considering what's in the best interest of the children, a common standard when deciding custody issues. Depending upon their age, you should consider how your parenting time decisions will affect them. If your child is precluded from having experiences with the other parent because of your own resentments, this approach may have longstanding adverse affects on your relationship with your child.
Written by Jason Levoy
Jason Levoy, aka The Divorce Resource Guy, is a divorce attorney and founder of Divorce U, a premier program designed to coach those who can’t afford an attorney on how to represent themselves with confidence and integrity. Learn more about Jason and Divorce U at JasonLevoy.com.