Emotions run high in any child custody discussion. When you are fighting with your soon-to-be-ex, in person or through your attorneys, that arguing adds extra pressure to the process. When violence and abuse are already present in the relationship, there is added urgency along with a fear of you or your children being victimized.
If you have children and are getting divorced, you will negotiate a parenting time schedule, typically called a custody agreement. This dictates the amount of time that each child will spend with each parent. It can include overnights, holidays, and special arrangements like pick-ups and birthdays. If you are divorcing with younger children, your schedule will more than likely need to be adjusted in the future to accommodate different schedules. If you have already been divorced for a few years, you may be concerned that your custody agreement is no longer working. After all, your schedule, as well as the activity schedules of your children, have probably changed over time.
When parents divorce with children, the children need a schedule when they will spend time with each parent. Courts seem to be moving more towards a shared custody arrangement so that both parents can actively participate in the children's lives. A true 50/50 custody schedule is when both parents have equal overnights in a two week period. This schedule can take many forms, from alternating weeks, to alternating every two weekdays with a long weekend, to three set nights with one parent each week and alternating one night every other week. There are many different ways to arrange it so that each parent has seven nights in a two week period. As in any custody case, it is whatever is in the best interest of the children. When there is a true 50/50 custody schedule, the children are able to attend school in either parent's school district since there is no primary custodian, however, the parties have to decide or the court will decide which school district they will attend.
The purpose of a custody order is to provide both parties with a schedule on when they have their children and no longer live in the same home. This eliminates any confusion for everyone involved, including the parents, children, teachers, coaches and others who may need to know who is supposed to pick up a child and when. This is why schools require that a custody order be on file with the school. A custody order is not only a useful tool to help everyone know when they are supposed to have the children but also it guarantees time that both parents get to spend with the child or be held in contempt. With this said, however, there are times when both parents may want to deviate from this schedule by agreement. If BOTH parties are agreeable to change anything in the custody schedule, you do not have to go back to court to do so unless you want to make it a permanent, guaranteed changed. If both parties agree to make changes, it is best but not necessary to put it in writing. It is encouraged that parties work with each other as custody orders cannot contemplate every single thing that may arise such as a wedding, party, or other event that flexibility may need to be used. Parties can always give each other extra time, makeup time, agree to switch days, etc. by agreement regardless of what the custody order says as long as both parties agree.
When it comes to holidays and custody, the courts generally will alternate the holidays so that one parent has the children in even years and the other parent has the children in odd years. Easter is usually only considered as a Sunday holiday not an overnight the night before. It is important, however, to always think about the children and parents can always design their own holiday schedule instead of leaving it up to the Courts. If both parties enjoy having Easter morning with baskets, you may want to alternate the Saturday into the Sunday. You may also want to split the day much like you with Christmas so that one parent has the night before and morning the other parent has the other half of the day into the next morning. Even children who do not have parents who are divorced are often shuffled on holidays between homes of in-laws, other relatives, etc. It is important to think about the children and what is in their best interests. When is it is not practical to share the holiday, a good alternative would be to Skype or facetime with the other party and family so that they can share in the celebration by video.
In any childs custody case, it is best if the parties design their own custody schedule so that they have more control over the personal considerations in each of their families as well as to include some days that may not be considered an official holiday for court custody purposes. When, however, communication has broken down and it is not possible to come to an agreement even on holidays, the court will often in both New Jersey and Pennsylvania have a routine method of determining holidays. In some counties, it is a pre-printed holiday list that the parties will receive. In others, it is a generally conceived concept. In most cases, the court will alternate holidays on an odd year/even year basis rotating the holiday every year so both parents will have time alternating years. For some holidays, such as Christmas, the court will usually break the holiday into two parts. One parent will have Christmas Eve until Christmas Day and the other parent will have Christmas Day until the Day after and this will alternate each year to allow both parents the opportunity to have Christmas morning every other year.
Child custody is one of divorce's greatest challenges. When all is said and done and the assets are distributed and the divorce is final, there are still the children of divorce that forever tie you to the other parent. Whether your children are little or grown, there will be times when you will encounter the other parent whom you are no longer married to but have children and possibly grandchildren in common with after the divorce. This can be frequent during child custody. Oftentimes, when children are little, there remains hurt feelings, resentment, possibly jealously as the other parent moves on seemingly unscathed. It may be very difficult during these times to maintain the level of civility in child custody that is critical to raise happy, successful children of divorced parents. The last thing you may want to do is have to continue to parent with this other person that you no longer love, that you resent or that continues to undermine everything that you think is best. It takes acceptance of the fact that both parents are entitled to have a loving and caring relationship with their children after a divorce in order to provide the best for your children.
Oftentimes when you have a custody agreement, your agreement or order spells out specific times and meeting places for custody exchanges. Even the best crafted custody agreement, however, does not contemplate every situation that possibly could arise. In these circumstances, you must often make a judgement call. For example, if your child is burning up with a fever, it may not be in the best interest of your child to insist that they return to you for your designated custodial time. You may want to consider your child and let them rest until they are up for travel. With winter upon us, you may also find yourself required by your custody order to exchange your child in the middle of a snowstorm, or worse, blizzard. Again, you should use your best judgement in deciding whether to follow the custody agreement. This is why it is very important that parents be able to communicate with each other. Oftentimes, you will need to make accommodations for the other parent. You cannot expect a custody agreement or court order to resolve every possible scenario.
Some states routinely include a morality clause as part of a divorce case. A morality clause would prevent the parties from doing certain things following separation. In family law, the clause usually prevents either party from having a new partner stay overnight while minor children of the former marriage are present. Texas is one of the states that still routinely uses morality clauses in divorce actions. A recent decision in Collin County, Texas upheld a morality clause from a 2011 divorce ordering that the wife's new partner vacate the home where two children from the marriage resided.