Keys to Custody

    Managing Divorce with Kids

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    Anne never thought she’d be sitting down with her husband trying to make child custody arrangements. She had friends who had gone through divorce. She knew the struggles that it entailed, and what a tricky issue it could be for everyone involved. She had seen parents who worked things out by agreement, and others who had turned to the courts during lengthy legal battles. Anne knew that she didn’t want her family to duke it out in court, but she also wanted to protect herself and her children. She recognized that one of the hardest things about a divorce with children involved is that the parents move on to separate lives, but are forever linked as parents. She understood that no matter how angry or hurt or upset she was about the separation, she had to find a way to work with her husband to help the children thrive despite the divorce.

    Parents who are willing to work together for the good of the children, regardless of their own feelings about the divorce, can resolve all issues related to custody through an agreement. This can be done with or without the assistance of attorneys or mediators or counselors. Whatever the agreement is, it should be put in writing. The agreement can be made part of a divorce decree when both parents have signed the agreement and are in accord. A wise parent will at least consult an attorney to understand the process.

    Determining custody involves practical lifestyle decisions:

    • Where will each person live? Will anyone stay in the marital residence, or will it be sold?

    • Will anyone move out of state? Will there be any restrictions on moving away?

    • Will the children stay in the same school district? In the same private school?

    • How and when will the children spend time with each parent?

    • Will there be a set schedule? What will it look like? What about holidays? How will any necessary changes to the schedule be handled?

    • Will there be any restrictions on having third parties present (grandparents, new romantic partners, etc.)?

    • How will the children be supported? How will health insurance be handled? Who will pay for extras? Do the parents want to agree on college expenses for the children?

    • How will the parents communicate about the kids? How will decisions be made?

    • How will the parents handle any disagreements that may arise?

    • What activities will the children be involved in, and what will happen with regard to those activities during the time that a child is scheduled to be with the other parent?

    • Would co-parent counseling help the parents do a better job of working together for the kids? Would either or both parents benefit from
    individual counseling?

    When it comes to custody, talking with a family law attorney to understand the options is a good first step. An attorney can explain the legal differences between sole and joint custody, between physical and legal custody, and the terms of an agreement. It’s important to address whether two people who are ending a marriage can develop an agreement that benefits their children, or if the help of attorneys, mediators, and/or counselors might be required. Choosing an attorney who understands the level of emotion attached to planning for kids, and one who can encourage the parties involved to find a way to work out parenting matters by agreement, can help families see the various ways this can be accomplished and how to access that help.

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    Phoebe Hall
    Phoebe P. Hall is an elder law, estate planning, and family law attorney who has been practicing law since 1969. She is CEO of Hall & Hall, PLC and sits on the board of visitors for Virginia Commonwealth University. A Richmond resident, she has two children and three granddaughters.