Reaching a custody agreement that works for your whole family can be hard. Read here for a guide to negotiating a child custody agreement.
The U.S. divorce rate has declined over recent years. That doesn’t mean that divorces aren’t happening daily.
Even in amicable divorces, seventy percent of child custody cases can become contentious. Both parents have ideas about who their children should live with, which only adds to the strain on the family.
When a couple divorces, reaching a child custody agreement is one of the most important and difficult topics to discuss. Unfortunately, it leads to them not coming to terms on a child custody agreement that is fair and in the best interests of the child.
Co-parents should take their emotions out of the equation, so they can work together to negotiate their custody arrangement. When they do, they are more likely to agree on the final terms.
Parents are the most significant people in a child’s life. Knowing this allows them to craft a parenting arrangement that puts their child first. It also promotes healthy and constructive communication.
Continue reading for a guide to negotiating a custody agreement.
What is a Child Custody Agreement?
In Maryland, a custody agreement is referred to as a parenting plan. A parenting plan describes how separated parents will care for their children. Parents may propose a parenting plan separately or together.
A child custody lawyer or mediator may assist parents in drafting a child custody agreement.
Once parents come to an agreement, they submit a co-parenting plan to a judge. The plan is included in the final order with the judge’s consent.
Parents who disagree must submit a joint statement. The statement highlights their agreement and disagreement and covers much of the same ground as a custody agreement.
Why is Child Custody Important?
Child custody is the legal authority granted to a parent, guardian, or other person to make decisions on behalf of a child. It also includes the right to make decisions about the child’s education, healthcare, and other important matters.
It’s the physical custody of the child, which is the right to have the child live with one parent full-time. Or the parents can create a schedule for joint custody.
Joint custody gives the parents equal time and equal rights. For example, if both parents live in the same city, the child lives with each parent on alternating days or weeks.
In instances where one parent has moved away, the child can live with one parent during the school year. The other parent gets summers and rotating holidays.
The Basics of Negotiating a Custody Agreement
When it comes to custody options, it’s important to remember that it’s all about your kids. It won’t hurt to negotiate points of the custody agreement if you’re respectful, talk to each other honestly, and respond appropriately.
Leave the attitude and disdain for your former or soon-to-be former spouse in the past. It serves no purpose when co-parenting.
Understanding the Different Types of Custody
When someone seeks legal custody, they want the right to make important decisions about a child’s upbringing. Once agreed upon, the custody agreement is approved by the Courts, making it a legally binding document that both parents must adhere to or face consequences.
Physical custody is the right to have the child live with one or both parents. The custody agreement will outline the custody schedule the parties have agreed upon.
Joint custody is a shared arrangement between two parents that allows both parents to make important decisions about the child.
Know Your Rights
It’s crucial that you educate yourself on the parent’s legal rights and responsibilities in your jurisdiction. Every state has laws governing child custody options, relevant state laws, and court rulings that may affect your case.
Ensure that all decisions are about what’s best for the child and not the parents. Parenting is about sacrifice, so you may need to bend and give a little or a lot on certain things.
Seek Legal Advice
Consult a lawyer to ensure that your rights are protected. Both parents should have a family law attorney working on their behalf. Even if you have an amicable divorce, you need a personal representative to advise you.
A lawyer specializing in child custody cases can provide guidance on the best approach to take when negotiating a custody agreement. Plus, they know the ends and outs of different types of custody strategies.
The right lawyer can also ensure that your interests are represented in court, and you’re not caught off-guard when signing the custody agreement.
Tips for Negotiating Successfully
Understanding the basics of negotiating a child custody agreement is about understanding the process. Here, we’ll discuss successful negotiation tactics.
It’s highly unlikely that you or your ex-spouse will agree on everything when it comes to the custody agreement. Don’t come into the negotiations thinking you’ll get everything you want, and don’t expect your partner to do the same.
Negotiations will involve back-and-forth exchanges of ideas, which is expected. The co-parents will discuss what they want for their child(ren). Neither party should see it as a power play.
You’re not there to try and control the other person and force them to agree with you. The mediation is supposed to be a negotiation with communication and consent. The final decision comes from the court, and how you present yourself during the negotiation phase can impact their final ruling.
Be Open and Flexible
Consider the other parent’s perspective and be willing to negotiate. You can’t go into court expecting to win on every point. As a matter of fact, you should have a list of non-negotiable items and a second list of what you’re willing to bargain on.
Respect the other parent’s opinions and be willing to compromise. How you present yourself during child custody mediation will speak to your co-parenting skills. If you aren’t willing to compromise with your former spouse, you probably will have issues down the road.
Listen to the other parent’s concerns and try to find a solution that meets both of your needs. We can’t reiterate it enough. Co-parenting and custody agreements are ultimately about the child and not the parents.
As the slogan goes, teamwork makes the dream work. Listen to understand your former spouse, and don’t simply counter their points.
Focus on the Child’s Needs
Every family dynamic is different, just as every child is different. Varying types of custody agreements are made to cater to the child’s individual needs.
For instance, one child might have learning difficulties and require tutoring twice weekly. Another sibling might play sports and must attend practice Monday through Thursday, with competition on Saturdays. In situations like this, co-parenting is essential.
Think about what arrangements are best for the child(ren). Plus, focus on what’s best for the custodial and non-custodial parent. Compromise is key.
Respect the child’s wishes and feelings when possible. If your child custody case involves kids old enough to understand, involve them in the conversation.
The last thing you want to do is make the child choose between parents. The decision will be a no-win situation for everyone, leading to resentment later on.
Don’t Rush the Process
Not rushing the process sounds great, but the reality is that the process can take a lot of work. You and your spouse will need to work closely together regardless of the reason for divorce. You’ll have to make decisions about custody, parenting schedules, how much you’ll share in expenses, and more.
You may feel like you need to be an expert in negotiation in order to get the best outcome for your children, but that’s not the case. Negotiating in the spirit of what’s best for your children’s health and well-being can help you relax and focus on custody options.
Make Sure it’s Fair
There is no time limit on doing a custody agreement right. Take your time to ensure that the agreement is fair and benefits the child.
If you want a successful custody arrangement with your former spouse, you must come prepared. Learn all you can about child custody and custody laws.
Whether you choose to go through a joint divorce or a divorce mediation program, it’s a good idea to talk to your lawyer about your rights. Knowing what you’re up against will give you peace of mind and confidence to negotiate custody options.
Allow enough time for both parents to review the agreement and make any necessary changes. Have patience and be willing to work through any disputes.
Don’t Do It Alone
A child custody agreement becomes a legally binding document that isn’t easy to change unless something major happens. Ensure that you understand the different types of custody and your legal rights as it pertains to child custody.
Remain open and flexible when negotiating and focus, focus, focus on the child(ren) and their needs emotionally, mentally, and physically.
Seek legal advice and don’t rush when creating an agreement.
The attorneys at JM Blattner Family Law Group are experts in family law and child custody cases. Give us a call at 443-241-9182, or contact us online to discuss your custody options.