When a couple with children makes the decision to separate, one of the biggest decisions to make is how to handle time sharing of the kids. Who will they live with the majority of the time? How will you arrange visits with the non-custodial parent? Who will be responsible for making decisions regarding their care? Will they have to change schools? Who will provide (and pay for) childcare?
With all the details of the kids’ day-to-day lives to work out, sometimes people forget about occasions such as holidays and vacations. Even though these are special circumstances, it’s just as important to decide how you’re going to handle them as it is to decide on everyday situations. The more planning you do now, the less arguing you’ll do later.
What is a Standard Custody Agreement?
A custody agreement is one of the most important documents you’ll draw up during your separation and divorce proceedings. It’s a legal document that outlines the details of how you’ll continue to care for your children, including:
- How decisions regarding the children are made
- How information is shared between parents
- Where the kids will spend their time, and when
Putting this plan in place reduces conflict between the parents and makes life easier for them and for the children.
An essential part of the custody agreement is a parenting plan. It should be as thorough and detailed as possible while still providing for some flexibility as the children grow up and their needs change. You can download our helpful “Best Interests of the Child” checklist to help you make sure all your bases are covered. Your family lawyer will also make sure you haven’t left anything out.
While drawing up the custody agreement, both parents should determine which details are the most important to them and which ones they’re willing to be more flexible on. For example, one parent may feel strongly about having the children for a traditional Thanksgiving with their extended family every year, while the other parent especially values the annual Labour Day camping trip to celebrate the end of summer and the beginning of a new school year. Think hard about which items are the most important to you, and be prepared to compromise if necessary to meet the best interests of your kids.
What Does a Custody Agreement Cover?
A thorough custody agreement will have several sections outlining the details of your plan for your children’s care and upbringing. These are the main points to cover:
Parents will need to decide whether the children will live primarily with one parent or if they will split their time more evenly between the two of you. The corollaries of that decision include:
- How will you handle travel between the two homes?
- How will the children’s social lives be accommodated (play dates, school events, etc.)?
- Will the kids bring their belongings from one home to the other, or will each parent have everything they need?
- How will the children be able to communicate with friends, relatives, and the other parent?
- If one parent requires childcare, will the other parent have the opportunity to step in rather than hiring a caregiver?
- How will you resolve any disputes?
What happens if one of you decides to move? If you stay within the same geographical area, then most likely nothing will change. However, if it’s a long-distance move, you’ll need to make some amendments to your custody agreement. Even if neither of you anticipates moving away while the children are minors, it’s still a good idea to keep that possibility in mind and have a rough idea of how you will handle it.
Health Care and Special Expenses
Your custody agreement should describe in detail how unusual expenses and health care costs will be handled by each parent. The questions you should ask yourselves include:
- How will you make important decisions regarding the kids’ medical or dental care?
- Whose insurance will cover the children?
- How will the two of you communicate with each other in case of an emergency?
- Who will take care of arranging medical and dental appointments for the kids (and taking them there)?
Education and Extracurricular Activities
A child’s education involves a lot of decision-making by the parents, and those decisions belong in your custody agreement.
- Will your children go to public or private school? If you choose private school, how will you handle tuition payments?
- Who will be the primary contact person for the school?
- How will you arrange access to report cards, parent-teacher conferences, and other communication?
- Who will be the one to sign permission slips?
- How will you handle the costs of school trips, sports, and other activities?
How to Plan for Holidays and Vacations in Your Custody Agreement
Now for the big question – how are you going to handle holidays and vacations? Every family handles this differently, depending on what their traditions and priorities are, so each arrangement is unique. There is no real right or wrong way to do this, as long as you are communicating effectively and keeping your children’s well-being at the top of the priority list.
The custody agreement should include detailed provisions for each special day in a calendar year, including birthdays, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, statutory holidays, summer vacation, and March break. What arrangements will you make for each holiday? Will you alternate Thanksgiving and Christmas? Do you celebrate other religious events and want your children with you during such special occasions? What is important to your family: Chinese New Year, Bengali New Year, Vasant Panchami, Hunukkah, Yom Kippur, or some other religious event? Will the kids be at both homes on their birthdays, or will they switch off on alternating years? If one parent lives far away, will the children spend their summer vacations with that parent? Make your plans as detailed as possible now to avoid surprises and disagreements later.
Galbraith Family Law Can Help With Your Custody Agreement
No matter what your priorities and circumstances are, Galbraith Family Law is confident that we can help you come up with a custody arrangement that will work for your family, including provisions for vacations and holidays. For a consultation with one of our family lawyers, send a message through our website or give us a call. Our Newmarket office is at (289) 802-2433 and our Barrie office is at (705) 302-1102. We’ll be happy to help you iron out the details and make your agreement as thorough as possible.