Creating a custody schedule that works for everyone is no simple task. Many individuals may leave Court with the fervent belief that they just wasted their time, that the Court just issues a standard schedule with no regard to any of the specifics of their case. While the Court certainly cannot make everyone happy all of the time, it relies on a standard set of factors to ensure each case is approached comprehensively and fairly. The evaluating factors are standard, but the specific facts of each case varies so greatly that a standard schedule for everybody would be impossible.
Gone are the days when the Court automatically ruled that Dad only had custody every other weekend. The Court recognizes that this traditional approach is not the best arrangement for everyone, and we live in a progressive age where, factors pending, each party is just as likely as the other to retain custody. The Court also understands the complexities of every day life, and is especially poised to empathize with families who are just trying to make it all work. Aside from strained and dysfunctional relationships between parties, nothing challenges a custody arrangement more than distance between the individuals’ homes.
There are many situations in which a shared custody schedule with frequent exchanges is just not feasible. When one party lives more than a half hour away, exchanges become difficult, especially if the parties generally are unable to get along, or if they occur on tight schedule. It is easy to see how frequent exchanges could cause tension in some situations. For instance, you exchange custody on a Wednesday night at 6pm. You have to be at work by 7pm, but have just enough time to drive the 45 minutes back from the drop off location. You leave nearly an hour earlier than you typically would if you were just going to work, only to arrive precisely on time and begin the wait for the other party, knowing full well that you only have a 15 minute margin of error window. The party arrives at 6:20, and despite you rushing back, you clock in late and are disciplined for your tardiness. I’m willing to bet you aren’t very happy, and it is easy to see how this would create a tense environment, especially if this occurs regularly.
So, the Court has a difficult decision to make, and may even suggest less exchanges, or that maybe an even 50:50 split is not the best solution. So in that case, assuming that both parties are stable and that they co-parent well, how would the Court decide who should have primary custody?
The Court relies on two factors designed to maintain or develop the relationships the child has with other family members. Is one party surrounded by extended family? Has one party remarried and gone on to reproduce, or are there now step-siblings in the picture? These are the things a Judge will consider while weighing these two factors.
Keep in mind that the Court’s use of these factors is completely subjective to your specific situation. Many clients struggle to accept these factors because they aren’t always things that they can control. Perhaps one party’s parents are deceased and they only have a few remaining relatives scattered through the country, while the other party has several brothers and sisters all within minutes of their parents’ house, both of who are still living. At first glance, it seems unfair that the Court would lean towards the family, but when you think about it, that type of arrangement just makes sense. Fostering relationships among family members is crucially important, and the Court recognizes the need for families to develop relationships and bonds. Having Grandma and Grandpa around as support in case childcare is needed in a pinch is a great privilege that is definitely worth utilizing.
Not having family is certainly not something the Court will criticize. It is easiest to think of the expectation of these two factors is defaulted to no one- to have no family on either side. If you have no one, you remain in the same defaulted position, not having anything against you. But say the other party has loads of family members all within minutes of home. The Court will lean to this party as they seemingly have more resources available to them.
I think the misconception many individuals have is that they are being punished. It is difficult to accept that you aren’t having it counted against you, and I certainly sympathize with you on this. After all, you cannot just go out and grow your extended family. To help cope with the decision, I offer clients a way to re-frame the situation and to take a step back from having (an understandably so) emotional reaction.
It might seem that the Court issued a reward to the other side for having more family by granting more custody time. To soothe the sting of it, I think it is important to realize that the other party wasn’t granted an additional five days of custody, but the entire family was granted that time. They may have to further split time with Grandma or the other cousins. Granted, I know this is not the easiest way to think, and it might not even be the best way, but it certainly helps as you continue to think less and less about yourself and more about your child and these important relationships among family that they need to form.
This article was written by writer and content strategist, K. Gleason.
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