Although you can’t predict what will happen in custody cases, you should draft standard language in custody agreements and court orders that will address common problems that arise in joint legal and physical custody situations. Doing so will help align parental expectations and minimize conflict for children.
Here are examples of common problems that come up in custody arrangements, along with ways to avoid them and improve the odds of parental cooperation:
Problem: Consistent refusal to notify other parent of important dates or events, such as medical appointments or extracurricular activities.
Solution: An order specifying a minimum time frame in which such information is to be provided. Alternatively, an order that parents exchange a weekly or monthly schedule of upcoming events or use an online computer program for family scheduling.
Problem: One party lacks information about child’s medical or other providers.
Solution: An order specifying that both parents be listed on all information forms for the children, so that school and health information will be provided to both parents.
Problem: Existing timeshare severs contact between child and parent with lower timeshare, i.e., because of the alternation of custodial time, the lower timeshare parent may have periods of time in which contact with the child is severed for days or even weeks at a time.
Solution: If the child’s age makes it feasible, an order providing for regular (or, if appropriate, unlimited) telephone or videoconferencing (Skype, Facetime) contact for both parents.
Problem: Parent takes new spouse’s surname and wants to change child’s name.
Solution: Even if it’s not a vindictive attempt to alienate the child from his or her other parent, it might be important to address this at the early stages of litigation so that the child’s surname isn’t changed without mutual consent of the parties and is otherwise in the child’s best interests. See CCP §1278.5.
Problem: One parent travels with child without notifying other parent or giving contact information during the trip.
Solution: An order that parents provide a detailed itinerary, including regular contact information for long trips or emergency contact information for short ones. Such orders should require a minimum amount of advance notice to the other parent of a planned vacation, and should require written authorization of the other parent when appropriate (i.e., for out-of-state or international travel). Look at the factors in Fam C §3048(b)(1)(A)–(H) when one parent has strong ties to another country or state or meets any of the other listed criteria and determine whether to include preventive orders in the judgment.
Problem: Conflicting summer vacation plans, i.e., as soon as one parent makes vacation plans, the other parent insists on the need to plan his or her vacation at an overlapping time.
Solution: An order providing that the parents alternate “first choice” of vacation schedule in even and odd years. The parent with first choice must notify the other parent two months before the last day of school of the vacation dates he or she has selected.
For guidance in handling all aspects of legal and physical custody, turn to CEB’s California Child Custody Litigation and Practice. And check out CEB’s CLE programs on family law, including various topics involving child custody and support.
Other CEBblog™ you may find useful:
- Sharing Custody When Parents Don’t Share Religion
- Thinking Ahead: Pre-Birth Custody and Visitation
- 10 Tips for Drafting a Parenting Plan
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