As a separated or divorcing parent, you might be curious about your chances for “equal” or “50/50” child custody in your New Jersey divorce.
First, it’s important to recognize the huge benefit for parents and kids when divorcing parents reach their own custody and parenting time agreement out of court.
By reaching custody and parenting time agreements out of court, divorcing parents can save much in legal fees. Perhaps more importantly, they can save their kids from becoming casualties of a litigated custody battle. Therefore, the best way to share equal child custody with your spouse is generally by reaching a written agreement.
You might view a 50/50 child custody arrangement as the simplest way to maintain close and ongoing contact with the children after the divorce. But before approaching your spouse with the idea that 50/50 custody is best for your kids, make sure it’s workable. Here’s how to determine if a 50/50 custody arrangement will work and how to get your spouse on board.
Do your homework.
In New Jersey, there’s been a long time growing trend of “shared” (not necessarily 50/50) physical custody arrangements. In shared custody arrangments, one parent would be the “Parent of Primary Residence” for the child. The other would be the “Parent of Alternate Residence.” Granted, the Parent of Alternate Residence generally enjoys liberal parenting time with the kids. This type of child custody arrangement, however, is not automatically “50-50.”
To learn the dramatic benefits and how-to’s of shared parenting arrangements, I often suggest to clients they read the ground-breaking classic, Mom’s House, Dad’s House by internationally renowned therapist, family expert and mediator, Isolina Ricci Ph.D. This book is a great place to start and you can get lots of valuable tips and tools for making two homes work.
How close will you live to your co-parent?
Equal custody arrangements generally work best when both parents live in the same town or relatively near one another. Otherwise, the logistics of transporting the kids back and forth would be too cumbersome.
Can you commit to productively and civilly communicating with your ex?
With a 50/50 custody schedule, both parents will need to communicate regularly on scheduling, activities and more. Ongoing arguments between the two of you can have a major negative effect on the kids and outweigh any benefits of a 50/50 custody arrangement.
Would a 50/50 custody arrangement logistically work with everyone’s schedule?
Be able to show your spouse that the arrangement is doable with each parent’s work schedule and the kids’ activities. Here’s one effective way to do this.
Using a blank pad (or preferably a whiteboard), make a chart with days of the week Monday through Sunday. Write in the days and times of each activity in which each child participates. For children in less than a full school day, include those days and times as well.
Next, write in the work schedule for both you and your spouse. Include the average times each leaves for work and arrives home. You can also include times for dinners, snacks, or any specific needs of each child. By viewing everyone’s schedule in black and white, you can see clearly which parent is available to transport the children back and forth to each activity on which days.
Ask and listen.
As with any negotiation, it’s generally best to seek your spouse’s input before offering your own. Ask your spouse what type of custody arrangement he or she has in mind. If not 50/50, ask your spouse the reasoning behind the proposed arrangement. Listen carefully and validate before jumping in with your own arguments.
Using the tools above, you’ll then be able to calmly and rationally show how 50/50 custody arrangement can effectively work best for all of you.
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