When a couple divorces and children are involved, they will have to consider the best custody arrangement that works for everyone involved, revealed leading divorce attorney Daryl Weinman, founding partner of Weinman & Associates, P.C in Austin, TX. —
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Weinman has been working out custody issues that fit her clients' domestic circumstances for 27 years, but, as she admits, a one-size-fits-all approach doesn't work.
Couples will have to consider varying options that can range from determining the child’s primary residence, making major decisions on behalf of the child, and time with each parent, she explained.
Determining the child primary residence will generally involve a restriction to geographic boundaries; making major decisions for the child, such as invasive medical decisions, educational decisions, psychological decisions and legal decisions will either be made by one parent exclusively, or by both parents jointly. A structured custody arrangement is generally necessary for parents that are divorced, separated, no longer co-habitating or never lived together.
Weinman pointed out that a combination of the above, such as equally shared parenting time, can be applied by the courts under certain circumstances. "An equally shared parenting arrangement works well if parents live close to each other and can communicate relatively well. Such arrangements allow all to maintain the most stable routine as possible for the child," she added.
A parent will have the right to determine the child’s primary residence if the child lives with them most of the time, while the other parent will have visitation and parent time as a noncustodial parent. However, the court can also restrict the child’s residence to limited boundaries (like within a school district), order that the parents share time with the child equally, and give neither parent the right to determine the child’s primary residence.
She went further: "Those parents that are required to agree on major decisions with the other parent, but refuse to communicate with their ex-partner and take all decision-making into their own hands will most likely end up back to court for enforcement of the custodial agreement. Like it or not, the child has two parents and both are entitled to participate in raising their child, in at least some capacity.
"Parents should all always be working in the best interest of the child and not looking to cause further stress to their child’s already-altered domestic arrangements."
The schedule for the child with each parent should include consideration for the child's schooling, the distance from each parent’s home to the child’s school, the child’s age, the child’s extra-curricular activities, etc. Courts will step in if an agreement cannot be worked out.
A shared parenting schedule can include alternative months with parents, alternating weekends and holidays with each parent, and even an option for allowing the children to remain within the family home while the parents take turns to move in and out over an agreed period.
According to Weinman, shared parenting that takes into account the circumstances and schedule of mom, dad and child offers the best advantage of ensuring children will retain contact and involvement with both parents. Of course, there can be problems – children being moved around, non-cooperation of parents, and the cost of maintaining two homes. In such cases, the custody arrangement may need to be modified.
She advised parents to keep detailed financial records of expenses related to spending on the child to ensure there is never any disagreement or claims a parent is spending more than the other, and a detailed log of the amount of time the child spends with each parent.
Weinman said a judge could give sole custody to one parent if he or she deems the other parent to be unfit or a danger to the child, due to alcohol or drug dependency or charges of child abuse or neglect. However, most custody arrangements involve joint decision making and a reasonable amount of time for both parents to be involved in their child’s life.
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