Handling Uncontested Joint Custody in a Divorce Proceeding

Lawyers and individuals talking about divorce proceedings have a tendency to focus on the worst-case scenarios. Advice from some attorneys, friends, or family members regarding how to proceed in divorce tends to focus on instances where all-out war was waged between spouses, or where one spouse is urged to anticipate that the other will be attempting to screw him/her over.

Many divorces, however, are not actually arduous, emotionally fraught processes. Couples may realize that they are not meant to be together forever, yet still be capable of working together to reach a mutually acceptable process for proceeding with a divorce.  When this happens, a plan on how to move forward need not focus on the negatives and fighting tooth and nail, but, rather, on how the process can be achieved in a positive manner.

One area of the law where couples will find it beneficial, if they can agree, is in dealing with child custody matters. When parents can agree on custody, the divorce process can be far less expensive and less stressful for everyone involved, including, and most importantly, the children.

Joint Custody and How It Works in Cedar Rapids

There are two parts to finalizing custody agreements. Physical care (also sometimes called physical custody) involves the actual physical location of the children and who they spend their time with–the children live primarily with one parent or the other or it is shared between the two parents. Legal custody relates to important decisions that often need to be made about children, such as medical decisions, educational choices, and religious affiliation.

Legal custody is almost always jointly held by the parents. The lawmakers and courts have determined that it is an important right in Iowa for both parents to be able to participate in those important decisions. And, if that right is going to be taken away, there must be good reasons.

In many custody situations, both parents share physical care and legal custody. The exact details of how that custody arrangement works really depends on the unique circumstances of the parents themselves. In some cases, it will be possible to split physical care 50/50. For example, if both parents decide to remain close in location and are fairly flexible in their child care situations and work obligations, it can be pretty simple for the children to evenly split their time between the two homes.

In many instances, however, shared physical care must be arranged more creatively. For instance, one parent may travel frequently during the work week and not be able to reliably have the children between Monday and Thursday. Or one parent may move to another town, or even state, making it impossible for kids to easily move between both households.

In these more complicated scenarios, shared physical care may involve creative arrangements such as having the kids live with one parent during the school year and one parent during the summer. Or having one spouse handle the kids during the week while the other takes them on the weekends. As long as the situation is a stable one for the children and both parents are satisfied, there is significant freedom in how custody can be arranged.

Similarly, when physical care must be arranged around the unique needs of parents and children, the care schedule must often also be handled in a more flexible manner.  This is particularly true when parents do not live close to each other and cannot easily be consulted in a time of emergency.

For example, if the children live with one parent for the school year and another for the summer, it may make sense for the school year parent to have primary decision-making authority over educational decisions because he or she is the one who will encounter most of those decisions. This does not mean that the parents don’t have shared physical care, it just recognizes that there are different ways to make custody circumstances more practical for all parties involved.

Reaching a Custody Agreement

If you and your ex-spouse are able to agree as to the details of your custody arrangement, the quickest way to resolve custody matters is to get a custody agreement in writing. While courts will become involved when parents are unable to agree, there is no requirement that they must determine the finer details of how custody should work.

Instead, if parents are able to reach an agreement that is satisfactory to everyone involved, the court will approve the custody arrangement that the parties have reached rather than trying to put together a custody agreement of its own. (The only exception to this may be issues surrounding child support, which is another topic altogether.)

While it is usually worth having a family law attorney prepare your custody agreement to make sure that it adequately protects you and your interests, and addresses all possible contingencies, drafting a custody agreement is typically far less expensive and less time consuming than arguing over the details of custody in court.

What If Custody Needs to Be Changed?

Sometimes after parties agree to a custody arrangement, certain circumstances or needs will arise that will require the parties to reconsider the details of the agreement. This can happen when a child’s needs or preferences change, or if a parent has a change in job, a move, or new responsibilities that make it difficult to abide by the current custody arrangement.

Iowa courts permit parents to modify their custody agreements, but they can only do so in certain circumstances. In order to have a custody order modified, the party seeking modification must be able to show that there is a substantial and material change in circumstances that justifies the change. (A smaller change may be sufficient for mere changes in the schedule.) While something like a move may meet the criteria, other smaller issues, such as wanting more free time, usually will not. For this reason, parents entering a custody agreement should always carefully consider the long-term ramifications of the agreement.

Iowa Attorneys Helping You Set up Joint Custody

If you are facing the possibility of a divorce and believe that you and your partner can work together to create a joint custody arrangement that is acceptable for both of you, an experienced family law attorney can assist you in the drafting of that agreement.

While you and your spouse may be able to nail down the major details of such an agreement, there are likely to be questions and scenarios that you have not considered, and that an attorney can help you to prepare for. Family law attorney Jonathan D. Schmidt has assisted countless couples in finalizing custody arrangements and is available to consult with you. For more information, contact us online or at (319) 774-6078.