Written by attorney Laura Kaye Robbins

Common issues to consider in custody court orders

It can be difficult for parents to come up with a child custody arrangement with which they both agree, after a separation or divorce. Consider yourself lucky, if you can manage to come to some sort of an agreement; custody conferences and hearings can be emotionally difficult for everyone involved. Below is a list of things which you should consider when creating a custody court order, with or without an attorney:

1. Physical custody

Deciding physical custody answer where your children will physically be residing. Think about your preferences. Do you wish to have your children on certain days of the week over others? Will one parent have the majority of overnights with the children, or do you both prefer a 50/50 arrangement? Answering these questions will assist you in making a specific agreement to determine where your children will be residing during specific days and times.

2. Summer schedule

When your children are out of school, this could be a prime opportunity for a parent with less custody during the school year to have more time with his/her children. You could agree to share physical custody of the children during the summer. Or, you could even switch custody of the children during the summer. This could mean that the children primarily reside with the parent typically out of physical custody. The other parent could have partial custody periods during this time.

3. Vacations and holidays

Many families like to plan family vacations or reunions during specific times of the year. You can plan for those in your custody court order. One way is by having physical custody of certain dates which are important to you, by reserving the opportunity of having vacation time with your children. Two of the common disagreements among parents are whether or not the non-vacationing parent was given enough notice of the vacation, and whether or not he/she was given enough information about the vacation to feel comfortable. Dealing with these issues in an agreement can put both parents’ minds at ease.

It is also important to consider a holiday schedule for your children. Do you have a Christmas tradition that you would like to continue with your children after your separation? Is Halloween or Thanksgiving important to you? Do your children receive a Christmas break or spring break from school? Consider these issues carefully when you enter into a custody agreement.

4. Supervised partial custody

Unfortunately, sometimes parents have a severe mental or physical handicap, alcohol or drug addiction, deplorable living conditions, or reside with someone who has a concerning criminal record. In those cases (and others too limitless to mention), it is possible to ask that a parent’s time with their children be supervised. If you both agree that a certain person can supervise visits, you can ask that a parent’s time is supervised by that individual. In some limited cases, it is also possible to have Centre County Children and Youth Services, or another agency, supervise visits between the parent and children. However, you routinely need a specific Order of Court allowing that type of supervision. Being as flexible as possible with supervision provisions can provide ease to a potentially bad situation.

5. Concerns over certain family members

If you have concerns over family members or friends of your co-parent, you can always ask that those specific individuals not be permitted around your children while they are with the other parent. You can also ask that neither parent, nor others in their children’s presence, be under the influence of drugs or alcohol during visitation.

6. Long-distance parents

Sometimes it isn’t possible for parents to live in the same county, or even in the same state, as each other. In this type of situation, one parent has to have primary physical custody of the children while the non-custodial parent has partial custody rights. Depending on the age of the children, it’s possible to have one parent enjoy custody of the children during most of the child’s summer and vacations, while the other parent enjoys custody of the children during the children’s school year. Another possibility for parents who live within a few hours’ drive of each other is to have the ‘partial custody’ parent enjoy extended weekends with the children, such as when the children have in-service days from school or other days off from school resulting from scheduled ‘snow days’ which were never used.

7. Telephone contact

It is frustrating for a parent without physical custody of their children to call their kids and never be able to speak to them on the phone. If this is an issue for you, it is possible to have your custody court order cover this issue, by specifically designating dates and times for phone calls with the children. In addition, with the invention of Skype, it can be possible for a parent to have a ‘video chat’ with his/her children. This is an excellent way to keep in touch, especially for long-distance parents. You may also choose to buy a child his or her own cell phone so that the child has direct and immediate access to phone contact with the out-of-custody parent.

8. Transportation

In my experience, both parents typically share transportation in some form. Sometimes, parents meet halfway between their residences, and sometimes the parent out of custody is responsible for their own leg of transportation. However, sometimes one parent doesn’t have regular access to transportation, making alternative arrangements in your order helpful. One idea is to ask that the parent providing all of the transportation be reimbursed gas mileage. Another idea is to ask that one parent provide all of the transportation for six months, while the other parent contributes to the transportation in whatever way possible after that time

9. Child care

Do both parents agree on child care arrangements for their children? Does one parent want to have the right to watch their children if the other parent is unavailable? Sometimes, parents will insert a ‘right of first refusal’ clause into their custody agreements. Therefore, if one parent is unavailable during a certain period of time, the other parent must be called to check his/her availability for child care. It also may be helpful to have the agreed upon child care arrangements written into their agreement, so that both parents are on the same page regarding this issue.

10. Flexibility

It is always important to remember that just because you have a custody court order stating specific custodial periods for each parent, this does not need to strictly be adhered to. This is because if both parents want to make other arrangements for their children, they can. The best custody arrangements, in my experience, seem to be the ones where parents can be flexible with custody to meet the needs of themselves, the other parent, and their children.

This article is not intended to provide legal advice for any specific legal problem.

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