The best child custody arrangements come about when separating parents can agree to the terms. The alternative is to have a court decide -- and the court does not know your child or your personal routines and needs as well as you do. Families also usually find it easier to adhere to terms they’ve devised themselves, as opposed to terms forced on them by a court.
The weekly or monthly schedule that determine when your child will spend time with you and when she will spend time with her other parent should be more about her needs than your own. Even if you think you and your ex get along well enough to manage a shared physical custody arrangement where your child spends roughly an equal time with each of you, this may not be in her best interest. Her schedule may be such that she needs to be in one neighborhood most of the week due to school obligations, extracurricular activities and sports schedules. You'll also need to consider transportation between homes if this is an issue. Successful parenting plans often begin with a child’s routine and work around it. Further, you should establish consistent rules that your child must obey in both households.
Plan how you’re going to handle holidays so each of you can share important dates with your child. Some parents alternate on a yearly basis. For example, one of you may have Thanksgiving with your child in even-numbered years and the other gets odd-numbered years. However, this means that your child will not share the holiday with one of you each year, which might be difficult for her. You can also consider dividing special days into segments to avoid this. One parent might have Christmas morning, and the other parent might have her child on Christmas afternoon. Further, you should address holidays that are not major occasions but involve your child enjoying a three-day break from school. Decide if these will affect your normal weekly routine when they occur.
If your family has historically enjoyed yearly vacations, remember to include an arrangement for how you’ll handle them post-separation. Decide how many weeks each of you will get and how much notice you’ll give to the other parent when each of you is going to exercise this time. Remember to make provisions for maintaining telephone or text message contact when your child is away on vacation with the other parent.
If you opt for joint legal custody, each parent will have an equal say in important decisions regarding your child. Because there are two of you, this can easily result in a stalemate on major issues. Some states, such as Georgia, require that you have a tiebreaker system for this eventuality and include it in your parenting plan or custody agreement. If you know a third party you can both trust, such as a grandparent, consider involving this person as the tie-breaking vote. You can also give one parent the final word on various decisions. For example, you might make all educational decisions, and your ex would have the final say on all medical decisions.
No matter how prepared you think you are for every potential eventuality, issues will probably come up for which you haven’t planned, especially as your child ages and her needs change. Remember to include provisions for how you’ll handle future disputes. Some parents agree to attend mediation to revise or modify their custody arrangement if changes of circumstance require it.