While you may or may not be involved in a contested child custody case as part of your divorce, you should understand how the Court makes custody decisions. The Court reviews all the information regarding your child using the “best interests of the child” standard. Included in that review, when necessary, are each parent’s decisions, judgments, and conduct involving their child(ren). As much as we would like all child custody issues to be resolved amicably in every child’s best interests, that isn’t always the case.
DO keep a parenting journal.
If you haven’t already started keeping a parenting journal, you should start now and keep it up to date. Do keep accurate detailed records of your parenting time (dates, times, activities, etc.). Do include detailed information about your interaction with the other parent. The journal can provide perspective, factual details, and help refresh your memory. A parenting journal is particularly important when a child custody issue comes up.
DO make your home your child’s home.
With change, children need a place of their own to feel secure and in control. You can encourage that sense of security and control by providing your child with a separate bedroom or a special personal area somewhere in the home. Doing so will help your child adapt to the many changes they face in life during and after a divorce, legal separation or child custody dispute.
You can enhance your child’s involvement in the community by helping the child establish relationships in the neighborhood, and even in school if necessary. Also, establish normal routines so that your child feels comfortable knowing what lies ahead. Daily, weekly and monthly routines make for predictability and stability. Everyone, children and adults alike, feel more in control when they know what is expected of them and what to expect from others. Lastly, include regular activities such as church, homework, chores, and free time for a structured family home life.
DO be prompt with parenting time exchanges.
When you pick up or drop off your child for parenting time, it is critical that you be there on time as scheduled. Delays should be the exception, not the rule. If it appears that a delay in picking up or dropping off your child is likely, then contact the other parent. Don’t assume that the other parent will understand when they have no idea what the delay is about.
DO be flexible with parenting time exchanges.
You expect the other parent to be understanding and flexible should you be reasonably delayed. Show the other parent the same courtesy, so long as the tardiness is not a habit or pattern.
DO maximize your parenting time.
When spending time with your child, it is imperative that you engage in meaningful activities and are intentional with your time. How can you be “intentional” with your parenting time? Simply stated, plan ahead.
Relationship building between a parent and child starts in small ways, and develops into a bond that hopefully lasts two lifetimes. If the parent can achieve a balance between structure and flexibility, the parent-child relationship may really blossom and develop into a healthy lifetime bond.
Try to achieve balance in your child’s activities during your parenting time. One simple way is to balance homework time with playtime.
Arrange structured activities for your child. Perhaps involvement in a team sport like soccer or volleyball, or more disciplined activity like karate or music. But also include a reasonable amount of unstructured free time, that is time for just hanging out with you and talking, without any specific agenda. Unstructured free time gives the child an opportunity to relax and exchange ideas and feelings with you.
DO schedule age appropriate activities.
What works for your 5-year-old daughter will probably not work for your 12-year-old son. Include activities with your child’s extended family, so he or she has opportunities to develop and maintain positive relationships with relatives.
DON’T confuse child support with parenting time.
Child support and parenting time are two distinctly separate issues. In a parenting plan, terms and conditions are laid out governing how after-school time, evenings, weekends, vacations, travel, parenting time exchanges and communication will be handled. If the other parent violates the terms of the parenting plan, then a contempt order and appropriate legal action may be taken in defense of your child.
If the other parent falls behind in child support, you do not have the right to punish them by interfering with his or her parenting time. The court will not condone withholding parenting time from a parent who is not paying timely support. Furthermore, withholding or obstructing parenting time punishes your child, too, for conduct beyond the child’s control.
DO enforce child support obligations the right way.
A parent who falls behind with child support obligations faces significant penalties. New Jersey, as well as every other state, has a child support enforcement office that works with the family court to suspend professional or business licenses, take away driver licenses and recreational licenses, and require payment of future owed sums in advance. A non-paying parent can even be jailed when child support obligations are overdue.
You should notify your attorney immediately of any late payment and document the details in your parenting journal. Pursue the matter through appropriate enforcement channels, not on your own.
When you are faced with an important life decision regarding a key family relationship, the advice and assistance of an experienced family law attorney often proves crucial to your understanding of the issues involved and your satisfaction with the ultimate outcome of your family law matter. Contact us today for your free consultation.