Supporting Children After Divorce: Child Custody Options

With devastating divorce numbers in the US, it's difficult to bypass the topic. Divorce is hard on the whole family and most difficult for the children. One of the most critical aspects discussed during divorce negotiations is what will happen to the kids. In amicable divorces, the parents will iron out the details of what is best for the children and then have it legalized in the divorce decree. In other more tense situations, the courts will mandate who has custody and how visitation works. There are a lot of details to work out and a lot to consider when you get a divorce record and have children.

How and Who Gets Custody of Children When Getting a Divorce

How and Who Gets Custody of Children When Getting a Divorce

When getting a divorce, the first and most important decision is who will have custody of the minor children. Any child 18 years or younger must be accounted for within the divorce decree. In most divorces, the details of who will get custody are negotiated by both parties, and their lawyers. When the divorce is meditated, this is often a much easier task.

In acrimonious divorces, often the children get hurt the worst while the parents fight over who gets custody. They lose sight of what is best for the children and focus on their own negative emotions.

In situations where there is domestic abuse, or one parent is unfit due to drug, alcohol or mental health issues, then the courts decide the custody of the child and will usually give sole legal and physical custody to the other parent. The unfit parent may after treatment or counseling, obtain some visitation or custody later.

In cases where the children were neglected or abused, or the parent is guilty of a crime such as sex offenses, they may be allowed visitation but only with a chaperone present. Social workers usually get involved and help facilitate visitation for these types of situations.

Parenting Options Available in the U.S.

Legally, there are four classifications of custody:

  • Sole Physical Custody - this is when one parent will live with the children and provide for all their needs. They must also decide on a visitation schedule for the other parent, and the court must approve it.
  • Joint Physical Custody - this situation is when children live with one parent some of the time and the other parent the rest of the time.
  • Sole Legal Custody - when one parent makes all the decisions regarding education, health and wellbeing for the children, this is called sole legal custody. The other parent still has visitation rights.
  • Joint Legal Custody - the courts prefer joint legal custody for minors feeling that it is in their best interest where both parents equally share the legal responsibility for making decisions concerning education, health, and wellbeing. This option is more difficult because parents must frequently discuss choices and get along while deciding what is best for the kids.

In many divorces, a lot of parents are attempting to co-parent now which means they are working together (putting differences aside) to make decisions about the children and their life choices. What this means is that sometimes they will share holidays or vacations, to make thing more “normal” for the kids, and both parents are much more hands-on and involved in the daily raising of the children. Kids who have parents that co-parent, are much less affected by the trauma of divorce and adjust more easily.

Child Support After Divorce

child support after divorce

Child support is a legal requirement after divorce. Usually, the person with physical custody of the children petitions the court for child support from the other parent, even if the other parent is unemployed or missing. The court determines the amount to be paid, and each state has different calculations and rules. The formula is based on how much time each parent spends with the child and how much income they earn. The child support payment is to provide for the needs of the child and covers some of the following expenses:

  • Travel.
  • Education.
  • Healthcare & insurance.
  • Childcare.
  • Housing.
  • Food.
  • Utilities.
  • Other expenses.

Once the amount is determined and approved by the court, the parent must pay on a regular basis. There are severe legal penalties for not paying child support, including having your wages garnished or losing your driver’s license. The support laws differ on state basis, e.g. for applying child support in California you would have to undergo a different set of paperwork than if you were establishing a child support in Colorado.

If circumstances change on either side, one parent can petition the court to adjust the amount of child support.

Parenting Agreements

parenting agreements

A parenting agreement is the foundation of how you and your ex-spouse will handle all the children’s needs after divorce. Every parent wants the best for their child and spending some time working out a solid plan on how to get along, make decisions and work together is critical to easing your children through the divorce process.

Some elements of a parenting agreement are:

  • Time spent with the kids - this is where you work out which days of the week each of you will spend with the kids. You can also put in here weekends and vacations and how that will work. Some families alternate holidays to make things fair.
  • Decision making - who will make decisions and how. Both parties should be in agreement about how questions will be answered and decisions made when things come up in their kid's lives.
  • Discussion about wellbeing - the daily decisions may be made on the cuff by the parent with sole physical custody, but you need to have a plan for other things like religion, healthcare, sports, and other actives and if they are right for your kids.
  • Exceptional circumstances - you should also have a plan for dealing with exceptions and emergencies. If you usually have your kids on a Thursday and have to travel for work, what is the plan then?

Parenting plans are not one-size-fits-all, and just like the uniqueness of your family; your agreement must fit everyone’s needs, especially the children’s. If you spend time crafting out a detailed plan that accounts for all contingencies, it will be much easier on both parents and the kids in the long run.