Negotiating Custody Agreements With Your Co-Parent
Co-parents who work together to create their own custody agreement are often happier with their arrangement in the long run than co-parents who do not. As two of the most important people in your children's lives, you and your co-parent understand the needs of your children the best. That knowledge gives you the power to negotiate a parenting agreement that looks out for your child's best interests and fosters an environment of healthy and productive communication.
This may sound appealing, but the process can require significant effort, and you and your co-parent must work very closely with one another. You'll need to decide your custody arrangement, parenting schedule, expense sharing and more. Going into the process, you may feel as though you need to be a master negotiator to come out on top. But by approaching negotiations in the spirit of creating the best possible arrangement for your children's health and happiness, you can release some of that pressure and put your focus where it belongs.
The negotiation process
Negotiating agreements with your co-parent may not be the right solution for your situation. Families who have experienced violence, substance abuse issues or high conflict may be better served with court involvement when formulating their parenting plan. The safety of your children is always the top priority, so consult with a family law professional if you're worried that negotiating an agreement with your ex directly isn't the right approach.
If working together to create your parenting agreement is the best approach for your family, there are a couple different ways to handle the negotiation process.
Collaborative divorce takes an alternative approach to traditional litigation by encouraging open communication and transparency. In this process, co-parents have their own attorneys who are trained in collaborative law and working together with additional mental health and financial experts, they negotiate a parenting agreement that is tailor-made to their family. Although the involvement of so many professionals may give the impression that the collaborative process is expensive, by significantly reducing the timeline, this process may save some parents some money.
Divorce mediation is another form of Alternative Dispute Resolution that prioritizes negotiation over litigation. Mediators are neutral, third-party professionals who help co-parents negotiate the terms of the parenting arrangement in a safe and supportive environment. Divorce mediation can be a much quicker process than traditional litigation, and parents are better able to control the pace of the proceedings than they are with court involvement. On average, co-parents will meet with a mediator over a period of 2 to 6 months. If parents pursue this method for negotiating their child custody arrangement, they should carefully research and vet their chosen mediator. Inexperienced mediators may not have the knowledge or background to help parents negotiate a plan that will be accepted by the courts or remain unchallenged in the future.
Preparing yourself beforehand
In order to effectively negotiate your custody agreement with your co-parent and ultimately create an acceptable arrangement, you must be prepared. Learn about the different aspects of child custody and research the specific laws that govern custody and child support in your state. Whether you choose a collaborative divorce or divorce mediation, consult with your attorney about your rights before starting negotiations. Being educated about these things can give you the confidence to approach negotiations with a clear mind and a steady hand.
Things to keep in mind
Commit to listening
Listening to your co-parent is one of the most overlooked skills during divorce negotiations.
Some co-parents have so many ideas and opinions of their own that they don't put in the work to truly listen to their children's other parent. Others come to the table already convinced they know exactly what their former partner will have to say that it becomes impossible for them to really consider their co-parent's contributions.
Being closed off to input from your co-parent makes it much more difficult to come to an arrangement that benefits your children.
Set realistic expectations
It is very unlikely that either you or your co-parent will be completely happy about all of the decisions that are made regarding the custody agreement. Compromises are necessary to create a plan that puts your children's needs first, and neither you or your co-parent should enter negotiations with a winner-takes-all mentality.
Be prepared to give as well as take when it comes to negotiating your custody agreement.
Manage your emotions
One of the most important things to remember when negotiating your custody agreement is to keep things professional and never let your emotions get the better of you. Both you and your co-parent must realize that your relationship needs to change from a romantic relationship to a strictly co-parenting relationship. This new relationship is based solely on the benefit and wellbeing of your child.