In any family law case involving children, there will always be a custody arrangement in place. Parents can either work together to come up with an agreed arrangement, or a family law judge will decide one, based on the best interests of the child. While the terminology might differ between jurisdictions, the basic principles of custody arrangements are the same.
Remember that custody can be physical, meaning it pertains to the person with whom the child primarily resides. Or it can be legal, which determines which parent, or if both, will have the power to make major decisions on the child’s behalf.
The most common custody arrangement would be joint custody, allowing both parents to make major decisions for the child together, with fairly equal time with the child. Usually, this entails reaching an agreement when it comes to the child’s education, medical care and treatment, and even religious upbringing.
Parents might have a ‘50/50’ time-sharing agreement in conjunction with joint custody. This means that each parent would get the exact same amount of time with their child. As an example, if the parents live close enough to each other, a child might live with their mom for one week and their dad for the next. Clearly, that is not always workable, so if the parents live further away, then one parent might be the primary residence for the child during the school year, while the other might be the primary residence for the child during summer time and major holidays. But mathematically, the parents would share approximately one-half the days of the year.
An arrangement like this would require the parents to work closely together and co-parent. While this is always the goal for any separating spouses or partners, it is not always a practical arrangement. In those cases, one parent might be the person with the primary decision-making authority or have sole custody.
A parent with sole custody will be the person with whom the child will live the majority of the time, as well as who makes the major decisions. But this does not mean the other parent is not involved. In fact, many parents who do not get custody will often have generous visitation schedules, rights to visit the child at their school and attend extracurricular activities. They also would be apprised of major events in their lives. The non-custodial parent will likely still be able to enjoy significant overnight periods of time with their children. A common arrangement would be a schedule which allows the child to visit the non-custodial parent every other weekend.
Sometimes, parents who do not get custody of their children might be struggling with sobriety. This, in turn, could affect the amount of time that parent gets to spend with their child. Luckily, advances in technology have enabled individuals with addiction problems to demonstrate their ability to manage their sobriety to the other party and to the court. Products like Soberlink utilize remote breathalyzer technology with facial recognition, real-time alerts and wireless connectivity that allows alcohol monitoring tests to be reported automatically and in real-time to anyone in the world. The parent who might struggle with Alcohol Use Disorder can use this technology in either keeping or regaining custody of the child, as well as building trust with their co-parent. These technologies could be built into custody arrangements, with possession of the child contingent upon appropriate use and consistent sobriety.
Specialized Custody Arrangements
There will never be a one-size-fits-all custody arrangement. Parents have to understand the diverse needs of their children when creating an arrangement. Children who are very young will probably not be able to go for extended periods of time without seeing the other parent. A schedule of ‘2/2/3’ has been used before: One parent gets Monday, Tuesday; the other parent gets Wednesday, Thursday; and it alternates weekends between them. This is a great schedule for parents who work together well, live close enough, and with kids who are still fairly young. Of course, this can sometimes be very disruptive and have the child feeling like they can’t ever get settled.
Another aspect to custody arrangements is that, as children get older, their interests expand. They will spend more time involved in extracurricular activities which often require multiple practices, tournaments or even travel, which could infringe on scheduled parenting time. Therefore, custody arrangements need to take these activities into account.
Extracurricular can be a bone of contention for some parties. Consider if one parent enrolls the child in multiple activities – all of which happen to coincide with the other parent’s scheduled time. What if the parents cannot agree as to which activity the child will be involved in? A simple solution would be to allow one parent to select one activity in the fall (like football) and the other parent will get to choose the spring-time activity (like baseball).
Regardless of the custody arrangement between the parents, the child should have frequent communication with the other parent not in possession. Technology has advanced to allow video chats, texts, emails and telephone calls at any time. The parent who is not in possession of the child should be allowed regular contact but should not abuse the privilege. If the child wants to speak to the other parent, they should be allowed to do so. All of this is subject to unnecessary disruption to the child’s day or schedule (such as an established bedtime routine). In other words, a parent should not attempt to call past 9 p.m. on a school night to speak to the child and get angry if the other parent won’t allow it as the child is already in bed.