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Approach Custody with a Plan

Parenting after divorce. Sounds easy enough, but as many who have gone through it will tell you, coordinating and guiding the lives of minors by divorced parents is full of land mines. It is so difficult, that many states require a parenting class for all divorcing parents. The idea of "parenting after divorce" is important for everyone to consider, particularly before agreeing to a custody agreement.

Custody is a broad term. It covers a court's decision regarding which parent(s) should have legal and/or physical custody of a minor. One may win joint or sole legal and physical custody, just legal or even physical custody. Legal custody allows the parent (or parents) the right to know the whereabouts of a child, approve medical procedures, or determine if the minor should go to a public or private school. Physical custody allows the parent (or parents) the right to live with the child.

Custody is often associated with battle. The term "custody" conjures up images of fierce arguments over who gets control over the most valued possession of most marriages - children. Preparing yourself for claiming some level of success in the custody tug of war may depend on how well you prepare for the custody negotiations. But remember to keep the kids out of your conversations ("I think that is something your father should pay for"), and never use the kids against one another ("when you are at your dad's house, would you bring me back the coat that he thinks is his?").

There are 2 forms of custody: physical custody and legal custody. Legal custody means the right to make major decisions for the welfare of a child, such as schooling, religion, medical, and residence. Physical custody describes with whom the children live, and can be split equally or one parent has physical custody while the other has visitation rights, of which there are many scenarios.

Take a moment to consider the following:

  • Put together a strategy. This begins with a list of things that are important for you to achieve in the custody agreement. Do you want sole custody? Or is joint custody a better solution for you? Is nesting an alternative that is important to you?

  • Find a way to win/win. "Winning" in a custody agreement is seldom a winner-take-all proposition. Winning involves giving something to your spouse in exchange for what you want, allowing both to claim victory. So be prepared to be flexible during the negotiations. Or better yet, go into the conversations with one or two concessions as a way to show your spouse that you are willing to meet in the middle.

  • Build Trust. You and your ex spouse may no longer be married, but your need to cooperate and communicate has never been greater. Stay true to your word.

  • Keep Your Emotions to Yourself. Your spouse knows your hot buttons, and some spouses won't hesitate to push them. And once those buttons have been successfully activated, he/she can begin unraveling your carefully developed strategy.

Regardless of your situation with your spouse (amicable or bickering), consider developing a parenting plan. A parenting plan is a thorough, thoughtful and joint approach to raising your child who is now under custody of one or both parents. The parenting plan puts in writing such everyday items as who visits the child on specified dates, homework expectations and who is responsible for picking up the child after school. It is developed and agreed to by the parents. Many consider a parenting plan a must for those situations where the parents believe a child's interest should come first. In many cases, a parenting plan is deemed so important to the orderly continuation of parenting, many states require one as part of the divorce agreement. Check out the State of Oregon's sample parenting plan identified below.

* NOTICE: * Any advice provided here represent the opionions and research of the writer and are for informational purposes only. For guidance relating to your specific needs, contact a professional.
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