You divided your assets and debts, talked about and resolved issues of support, and now you only have one task left, which may be characterized as the most important one -- your parenting plan and child custody agreement. The decisions you make now will affect how you deal not only with your children in the future, but also with your former spouse.
In the midst of a divorce, it's often easy to focus on your feelings for your soon-to-be ex-spouse, and you might even find it tempting to say disparaging things about him or her to or in front of the children. This doesn't serve anyone in the family now or in the future.
Instead, putting the focus on your children may help move past the emotional issues you may have so that you can negotiate an agreeable arrangement regarding the children. It may help to remember that just because you no longer work as a couple, that doesn't mean that either of you is a bad parent.
You may have thought the first task would have involved living arrangements or something else, but finding a way to amicably communicate with the other parent often needs to come first since negotiations could easily falter otherwise. Once you agree on the "rules" for communicating, you can memorialize them in your parenting plan. You could even include ways to resolve any differences that will inevitably arise.
It may serve each of you to remember that not everything needs to result in a disagreement. Choose to argue about important issues and let little things go that don't really matter in the long run.
Now that you and the other parent can communicate, you can negotiate custody arrangements. First, each of you needs to be realistic about how your lives and work affect any time you intend to spend with the children. If you can't adhere to the agreement, there's no reason to make it in the first place. The following require consideration when deciding parenting time:
- The school and extracurricular schedules of each child
- The personality of each child
- The age of each child
- The social and business commitments of each parent
- The need for childcare
- Where each parent lives
- The family schedule
- The preferences of the children old enough to make a choice
Since every family is unique, other commitments may also require your consideration. In addition, holidays, vacations and school events require planning as well. The personality and age of each child often dictates the division of overnights in joint custody arrangements. As a general rule, the younger a child is, the more you should strive for overnights to be as even and routine as possible.
Revisit your final agreement once in a while
As time goes by and your children grow, your plan may need adjustments. There's no way to account for every possible eventuality, so including a way to modify the parenting plan without having to return to court could prove useful. As long as the major components of the agreement don't require a change (i.e., the amount of time each parent gets with the children), a Washington court may approve such a provision. Keep in mind, however, that certain changes or actions may require court approval.
Making sure your agreement will meet the court's approval
Your agreement must comply with current laws and public policies. Involving a legal advocate who understands California's current laws and stance on child custody and parenting plans and can advise you regarding protecting your rights and reaching an agreement that works for the whole family.