In almost all cases it is beneficial for children to have a meaningful, ongoing relationship with both parents. The children’s needs are the primary focus when parents create the parenting schedule and make decisions about their children.
“Physical Custody” or the Parenting Schedule
The court system designates the “custodial parent” as the parent who cares for the children 51% or more of the time. The other parent is the “non-custodial parent.” While the same legal concept applies in the mediation process, mediators and their clients find it far more helpful to discuss “parenting time” or the “schedule”. Some parents will share time equally if doing so is desired, practical and realistic and will refer to themselves as “co-custodial” parents.
There is no set formula for parenting time. The focus remains on the children’s and parents’ schedules when discussing how to share time that is right for an individual family. In mediation, parents will discuss various schedules. Factors such as each parent’s work hours, the children’s schedules, each individual child’s needs, and the distance the parents live from one another all contribute to creating a schedule. In mediation, parents have the opportunity to include language revising the schedule for each or all of their children as the children mature and their needs change.
If parents have a hard time agreeing on the schedule, they can include the participation of a child specialist, a specially trained therapist to advise the parents on each child’s unique developmental needs and who can help the parents constructively communicate about the schedule and make agreements in the mediation process.
“Legal Custody” or Decision Making
“Legal custody” refers to decision making about major decisions affecting the child, such as education, medical matters and religion. One parent may be the physical custodian and both parents can share “joint” legal custody. In some cases, while one parent may have final decision making authority, that parent can be required to consult and discuss these issues with the other parent. In other cases, parents will allocate some decisions to one parent and other decisions to the other parent.
If parents have difficulty communicating with each other and reaching an agreement on a major decision affecting their child, they may include language in their mediated agreement to include the involvement of another professional, such as a child specialist or a parenting coordinator. These professionals empower parents to resolve disputes outside of the court process in the best interest of their children.