Negotiating a custody arrangement during a divorce is difficult at the best of times – and if you and your spouse don’t fully agree on what’s best for your children, it’s especially hard work. Obviously both of you love your kids and want the best for them, but often, couples who are separating find they don’t see eye to eye on what “the best” actually is. This can easily lead to more arguments during a situation that’s already fraught with disagreement.
When you’re in the middle of a divorce, it’s very difficult to step back and look at the bigger picture. Some parents in this situation can’t see that further fights will not help and often just make things worse. Children will notice tension between their parents, no matter how hard you try to hide it from them, and when it’s about custody, that makes it even worse on them.
Before getting into another argument with your ex about child visitation schedules, take some time to review our “best interests of the child” checklist. This will help you remember exactly what decisions need to be made and can help you remain calm while making them.
Another great resource is the parenting planning tool provided by the Department of Justice. This helps you explore the different options that are available for your family and understand the various aspects that need to be considered when working on a custody agreement and child visitation schedule.
How a Child Custody Agreement is Usually Negotiated
The first thing to remember is to respect the value of both parents. You may have different parenting styles, but your children need both of you. Never, ever use your kids as a bargaining tool or as a way to exact revenge on your ex.
In most cases, parents can find some common ground when determining what is best for their children and can recognize that it’s in the kids’ best interests to have regular access to both of you.
Of course, there are exceptions to this. If you have any concerns about your spouse’s ability to properly care for your children, use these guidelines to help you determine whether you should be fighting to be the sole custodial parent:
- The stability of your ex’s family life
- Your ex’s current lifestyle (alcohol, drug use, etc.)
- The ability of your ex to properly care for your children
Assuming there are no concerns about either spouse’s parenting abilities, many separated couples opt for mediation or a collaborative team practice to help negotiate a parenting plan.
Mediation: In this scenario, parents work with an unbiased third party in order to work through the specifics of a parenting plan. The mediator uses this information to prepare a report which outlines an agreement for living arrangements, including special days and vacations, as well as whatever you’ve agreed on regarding religion, education, and health care. Each parent will then seek independent legal advice to make sure they’re not missing anything, and the formal child custody agreement will be produced. Some of our lawyers at Galbraith Family Law are trained and experienced mediators. All of our lawyers can connect you with other mediators in our community and help you through the process.
Collaborative team practice: In order for this option to be successful, all parties must sign an agreement that they will not go to court. Everyone, including the lawyers, is committed to a negotiated agreement. Once that agreement is signed, both parents will meet with a family coach to assist with developing a parenting plan. The separating couple will also work with a financial specialist who can advise and assist in developing a financial framework for the separation, including such considerations as spousal support and child support. Once this is finished, the lawyers will work together to create a legally binding agreement. This is often the fastest and least expensive way to obtain a divorce, since everyone is making a great effort to reach an agreement and avoid going to trial.
What If the Parents Still Cannot Agree?
In some cases, parents simply cannot come to an agreement, even with mediation or collaborative practice. In this case, arbitration may be the answer. This is a way to resolve custody disputes through a legally binding decision decided by a professional arbitrator. It is like hiring a private judge for your case.
Finally, as a very last resort, you can go to court. We go to court if you haven’t been able to come to an agreement any other way. The court process is lengthy, expensive, and extremely stressful for the entire family – especially the children. In most cases, parents recognize the strain the divorce process puts on everyone and manages to work out a custody arrangement long before a trial becomes necessary.
We see court as the last resort but we certainly can be your strong advocate if court is necessary. We do what is necessary to protect your interests.
Contact Galbraith Family Law for Assistance With Your Custody Agreement
The first phone call you make when it’s time to work out child custody should be to a lawyer. We can go over all of the options with you and help you decide the best way to come to an agreement with your spouse. Our priority is to help you formulate a child custody agreement and visitation plan that is satisfactory to both spouses while minimizing the strain on your children. If court is necessary, we will be in your corner all the way. To contact us, fill out the contact form on our website or give us a call. If you live in the Newmarket area, call (289) 802-2433; if you’re in Barrie, call (705) 302-1102.