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If you are a parent and find yourself going through a divorce, we understand that the most challenging thing you’re facing is learning to co-parent your children under your new circumstances.  The complicated and sensitive process of dividing assets and agreeing upon spousal support when settling a divorce can be time-consuming and tumultuous but making decisions surrounding parenting are often the most emotional and thus the most taxing.

While parenting with a former spouse is never easy, when the two of you can agree on parenting arrangements things tend to be a lot less complicated.  The most stressful, highly-charged situations arise when you and your former spouse don’t agree on parenting time and decision-making responsibilities.  If you find yourself in such a situation, it is important to consult with experienced and compassionate legal counsel to guide you through the process with both competence and understanding.  The lawyers at Gelman & Associates are available to make sure you understand your legal rights and the options offered to reach the best possible outcome for yourself and your family.  

It is always preferable to reach decisions about your family’s future with your former spouse rather than have a judge do so on your behalf since nobody knows your history, your situation, and your children better than the two of you.  Fortunately, there are tools such as negotiation, collaborative family law, mediation, or arbitration available to assist you in reaching a plan that you both agree on.  If, however, you are unable to reach a solution together, you can turn to the court to have a judge issue an enforceable parenting court order.  This is an order that lays out who has decision-making responsibility for the children as well as how parenting time is allocated.  

What is Your Right to Parenting Time?

Parenting time refers to the time your child spends in your care.  You have a right to parenting time with your child unless a court finds that it is not in the best interest of your child.  You also have the right to know information about your child’s health, education, and general situation.  It is possible to have a flexible arrangement with your co-parent that lets you work out arrangements with them in a fluid way – but it should be noted that this type of arrangement is difficult to enforce.  It is also possible to have a detailed parenting schedule written in a parenting plan, separation agreement, or court order.  

Your Rights To Decision-Making Responsibility

In addition to parenting time, an agreement must be reached about who has the authority of making decisions for and about your child.  This is known as decision-making responsibility.  This responsibility may be assigned to one or both parents and allows them to make decisions that relate to the child’s health, education, religion as well as other important matters in relation to your child.  

If you have sole decision-making responsibility you will not need to consult your co-parent when making these types of decisions for your child (unless the parenting agreement or court order says otherwise).  If you have joint decision-making responsibility with your former spouse, you will equally share in the right to make these important decisions for your child.  This requires that you can co-operate and communicate with your former spouse.  There is a third type of decision-making authority that occurs when the children primarily reside with one parent until a separation agreement has been signed or court order has been issued.  This happens when the children reside with one parent full-time and your spouse has accepted this arrangement.  In this event, you will have de facto decision-making authority until you have either agreed or received an order deciding otherwise.  

What is A Parenting Plan?

If you can reach a decision with your former spouse about parenting time and decision-making authority you can memorialize those decisions in a parenting plan.  The parenting plan can be as detailed and specific as you would like and include when each parent will spend time with the children, with whom the children will spend major holidays and school vacations, and who will make major decisions about the child.  You can make this plan a part of your separation agreement or court order or you can have a less formal arrangement.  However, if you do not memorialize your parenting plan in a court-sanctioned document, it will be difficult to enforce what you agreed to in the event your co-parent changes their mind or fails to adhere to the plan.  

If you are unable to reach an agreement about parenting and you find yourself in court, the judge assigned to your matter will make a decision about parenting that is in the best interests of your children.  The judge may ask for a report from an Office of the Children’s Lawyer clinical investigator as well as a possible assessment from a social worker or psychologist who will speak to each parent and child and sometimes other family members or witnesses.  The judge will consider the current living arrangements of the child as well as any history of violence between family members and issue a court order about where the child will live, who will receive decision-making authority, and when and how often the children will be in each parent’s care.  

Our lawyers are here to answer your questions and to guide you each step of the way through what is likely one of the most overwhelming and difficult times of your life.  Contact us today to begin the process of reaching a parenting plan that is right for you and your children.

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