If you have children and decide to separate or divorce, it will affect your kids. That doesn’t mean it is a bad decision to split, but you do need to consider how to minimize any adverse consequences. The best way to do that is for you and your spouse to cooperate in developing a co-parenting plan. In the plan, you should outline how you will share parental responsibilities, including making sure you both have time with your children. Generally, it is in everyone’s best interests to maintain strong parent-child relationships. Further, In New York, a judge will expect you to develop a fair parenting time schedule and may step in if you fail to come to an agreement or you try to interfere with an agreed-upon schedule. With that in mind, here are a few things you should keep in mind when negotiating parenting time:
- Agree to joint physical custody when possible. Generally, unless there are extenuating circumstances (e.g., you live far apart, one parent has abuse or addiction issues, etc.), you should look to share custody with your spouse. New York law favors joint physical custody of children. That doesn’t mean you have to get exactly the same amount of time, but you both get significant and meaningful time with your kids. In most cases, this is best for your children.
- Be open to different options for scheduling when sharing custody. With joint custody, the idea is for both of you to share in the daily activities and upbringing of your children. Be flexible in developing a plan that works for all of you. It won’t be perfect, but it wasn’t before you split either. Examples include having your children alternate spending a few days with each of you and switch off weekends. Or each of you can have an entire week and then switch. If you are switching every week, a mid-week visit may also be a good idea especially if you live close by.
- Provide generous visitation even if you have sole custody. If your locations or schedules make joint custody impractical, sole custody may be necessary. However, courts still expect a parenting plan that gives significant visitation rights to the noncustodial parent. That might mean alternating weekends, extended visits during holidays and school breaks or other arrangements depending on distance and practicalities like school and other activities.
- Bring in experts. Divorce is stressful and the couple’s feelings toward each other may interfere with their ability to cooperate in helping their children. Neutral advisors can make a big difference here. I advocate for a collaborative approach to divorce and post-divorce disputes because the process incorporates a team of legal, mental health and family experts to facilitate communication and help the parties come to workable solutions.
- Don’t leave it to a judge. If you cannot come to an agreement, a judge will do it for you and you may not like the result. You and your ex know each other and your children the best and should be devising a plan that is fair to all of you. However, if you let negative emotions take over and keep you from compromising, your children may suffer for it.
- Adapt to new circumstances. Your parenting plan will need to be revised periodically. Schedules and preferences will change over time and you and your ex will have to negotiate the details of your new arrangement to ensure that all of you are still treated fairly. If both of you can be reasonable in devising the initial plan, subsequent adjustments will be that much easier.
Negotiation and compromise aren’t always possible, but generally, the more cooperative you can be, the better for your family and your future.
If you are considering separation or divorce, contact me to discuss your options.