When you go to your attorney’s office to discuss custody issues regarding your children, your mind can bust with all of the thoughts swimming inside, as you try to ensure that you cover every single topic but do not waste hours of time and fees. How do you organize your thoughts?
As an experienced divorce attorney, let me offer a brief list to start the conversation:
1. Legal and Physical Custody-This could be its own topic and the subject of hundreds of pages of discourse. For your purpose, you just need to bring up how decisions are going to be made (legal custody) and where the children are going to rest their heads at night (physical custody). Legal custody can be joint or sole. Physical custody can be sole, joint, primary, residential or shared. An experienced divorce attorney can walk you through all of this.
2. Visitation/Parenting Time-Again, this could be its own topic for discussion. Are you the type of parents who need it all spelled out? Do your children? Should you just “wing it? What are proper lengths of visitation for infants and toddlers? How about high school students? How about each age in between?
3. Special Schedules-Every parent should consider a parenting plan schedule for all major and minor holidays, vacations, school breaks, religious holidays, summer, birthdays, etc… You should also consider whether there are special days that your family celebrates, whether they are religious or just family traditions.
4. Travel-Is it okay to travel with your kids out of state? Out of the country? Do you need to decide who keeps the passports?
5. Relocation-This is the single most litigated issue in family law. What happens when your case has also been resolved, by agreement or trial, but now one of you has to relocate to a different state-or even a different country? What if you, or the other parent’s spouse is the one who needs to relocate? How do you resolve this life-changing issue? Discussing it up front is always better than letting it fester?
6. Exchanging Information-It is important to agree how to exchange medical and educational information between the two of you. Who takes the kids to the doctors? How are appointments to be made? Do you rotate going to parent-teacher conferences, have separate conferences, alternate attending field trips?
7. Religion-Need I say more? You need to let your attorney know about issues in raising your raising within none, one or more faiths, religious schooling, confirmation, mitzvahs, etc…
8. Special Child Considerations-Is your child gifted? Challenged? Have other needs not normally anticipated by others aside from you and the other parent? Make sure you weave these issues into your conversation with your attorney.
9. Therapy-Often, children need mental health therapy incident to divorce. You don’t believe me? Take a look at the last several mass murders in this country. You will find that virtually each gunman came from a divorced family. Talk about the need for therapy. Talk about involving both parents. Talk about ensuring this is a safe place for a child and that both parents will respect, rely and defer to the mental health professional where appropriate.
10. Child Support-This is also a topic that could be its own independent conversation. In Maryland, child support is usually set by a formula. There are variations, add-ons and other factors to consider. Your divorce attorney should be able to give you an approximation of child support based upon the factors you provide to your attorney. Of course, these will be subject to verification. Key to this conversation are each of your gross monthly incomes, alimony, other child support payments, time-sharing between the parents, alimony, health insurance, educational considerations, other medical considerations, etc… You need to know how much you will get-or pay-to assist you with your future financial planning.
11. Taxes-Why does this conversation belong with child custody? The short answer is because of the dependency deduction. There are Federal IRS rules and regulations, but this deduction can also be contractually altered by parents, so it is a necessary part of the conversation.
12. College-In Maryland, parents do not have a legal duty to support their children through college. That being said, many parents want to. This is a long, thorough conversation. Look at my FAFSA blog posts to learn far more about this topic.
Okay, this ended up being a bit more than an introduction to the conversation with your divorce attorney regarding custody. Take your own notes, or bring this with you. In any event, ask your questions early and often.