Custody: Decision Making
Nowhere in family law matters are there more misunderstandings than about “custody”. These misunderstandings can lead to false expectations and feelings of being marginalized in a child’s life. Because of this, we often prefer to speak in terms of “parenting plans”.
Children need stability, security and responsible parenting. Their parents’ ability to make decisions about their health, education and religious upbringing without conflict is essential to their well-being.
Custody is a privilege that must be exercised in the best interests of the children. It is the ability to make decisions regarding the major issues in a child’s life. These decisions usually include health care education decisions, and moral direction. Regardless of who ultimately makes these decisions, both parties will have the right to information about the children and to participate in the decision making process.
A Wide Range of Possibilities
We will discuss a number of possible arrangements, including:
- Sole Custody:In this arrangement, the children usually live primarily with one parent, and that parent has sole decision-making authority. However, the other parent is usually involved in the decision-making process and has meaningful contact with the children.
- Joint Custody: Joint custody means that both parents make decisions on behalf of their children, together. Both parents will be informed about the children’s lives and will cooperate when making major decisions.
- Parallel Parenting/Divided Custody: Perhaps less familiar to parents is the concept of parallel parenting. Unlike sole custody, which is an all or nothing bundle of decision making rights, parallel parenting allow parents to divide responsibility for decisions. For instance, one parent may make decisions about educational decisions, and the other may make health care decisions. Parents may agree to make certain decisions together, as well.
- Split Custody: This refers to the residential arrangement for the children. If there is more than one child, each parent may have one or more children living with him or her.
- Shared Custody: This also refers to children’s residential arrangement. Shared custody is the term used to describe a roughly equal sharing of time between the parents’ homes. This arrangement also assumes that each parent takes on a greater financial burden in caring for the children and therefore may have an impact on child support arrangements.
Most of the time, determining custody will include an honest assessment of each parent’s skills, experience and level of responsibility. However, just because a parent has not had the opportunity to play a large role in the children’s lives before divorce does not mean that the other parent automatically gets custody.
Parents also need to be honest about their ability to communicate and cooperate. If the parents often find themselves getting into bitter fights over everything, it may be unrealistic to expect them to make decisions together for the benefit of the children.
At Brown Law Firm, we put the children’s needs first. Our lawyers help parents to work together, if possible, in order to maintain stability in their children’s lives. Settling questions of residence and decision-making is part of that stability. If necessary, we can also bring in other child care professionals to help.