Any issue can be resolved through mediation, including custody issues, child support or any outstanding issue affecting the parties that needs legal resolution. It is also possible for the attorneys for the parties to negotiate between themselves, without the aid of a mediator, and reach a settlement.
Sometimes, a mediator (who is a third party neutral) is very helpful at assisting divorcing parties to come to a resolution on a particularly difficult issue or when one party has unrealistic expectations and needs a “reality check” from a professional other than their attorney.
Can a Parent Request to Spend More Time With One Child Than Others?
Yes, and this can happen frequently and most often does when there is a wide gap in the age ranges of the children. I have handled several cases where one child was maybe 7 or 8 and another was an infant. The needs of the children are different and the visitation schedules can vary greatly for children of dissimilar ages. The same would be true for a teenager, who will usually be given more input and very wide latitude by the court as to a visitation schedule.
What if a Parent Felt They Should Have Majority Custody of a Child?
I start by asking the client about the factors that are covered by the custody statute, which the court will be examining of each party. I have a very detailed child custody questionnaire that I have clients fill out which sheds light on each parent’s relationship with the child, including questions about who transports the children to and from sports activities or art lessons, or which parent usually stays home with the children when they are sick, who takes them to doctors’ appointments, attends parent teacher conferences and so on.
Although it is an obvious question, I ask a client about his or her work schedule and then I ask what kind of parenting schedule the client wants with the children. Surprisingly, some clients say they only want every other weekend or that one night during the week, every week, would be just fine. Not everyone wants primary custody, and not everyone wants joint custody. Of course, in many cases the opposite is true, which is why there is so much contested custody litigation.
What May Parents Disagree On?
One issue that comes up is about what school the child should attend, whether it’s a dispute about private versus public schools or Catholic versus prep school, although education isn’t usually a “hot button” issue. I handled a case once in which one parent insisted on homeschooling the children, but the other parent did not think that was a good idea at all.
There is often disagreement with regard to extracurricular activities and that can sometimes turn into a power play between parents. One parent may not want to take their child to soccer on their weekends, but the court will usually tell them to get their children to whatever activities the children are enrolled in.
Other times, parents try to overload their children with activities in order to limit their time with the other parent. I have seen it used in devious ways before, which is why custody orders often state that each parent may enroll the child in only one activity per semester so as to not overload them.
Another common area of dispute is with non-emergency medical care. For example, say a child was riding a bike, fell and cut his leg badly. One parent may want to avoid possible scarring of the child and want the child to have plastic surgery to remove it, but the other parent says the child should not go “under the knife” for anything less than something life-threatening. This is a valid decision-making dispute that can arise and must be handled and resolved, so these kinds of disputes must be anticipated and thought out in advance how the parents will resolve impasses in each area.
Holidays and Summers
In most cases, the judges will simply split the holidays or give the parents alternate holidays and Spring Break when issuing a holiday schedule. Often, parents know the specific holidays they want going in; for example, if one parent wasn’t particularly into celebrating Thanksgiving every year, he or she could give the other parent custody every Thanksgiving and get a trade-off on a different holiday he or she preferred. Otherwise, the court will usually attempt to alternate the schedule so the same parent doesn’t have the same major holidays every year.
Unfortunately, there are now only about 10 weeks of summer break in Georgia as determined by the school calendars. In arriving at a beneficial summer schedule, one should consider first the school year parenting time each party has. Does one parent have minimal parenting time during the school year? If so, the summer may provide a chance for that parent to enjoy substantially more time with the children than the custodial parent. Some parents just split the summer so that each parent has 5 weeks, although it also depends on what activities the children are involved with. For example, if the children are heavily involved in sports or music camps in the summer, those events should be prioritized and accommodated, regardless of whose parenting weeks they fall on.
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