By Robert M. Going, Jr., Attorney
Divorce rates may be dropping in the United States, but the numbers are still sobering. Statistics show that more than 20 percent of first marriages end in divorce after five years, and over 50 percent end in divorce after 20 years. Child custody will likely be an issue in many of those divorces.
Dissolving a marriage, whether you’ve been together a few years or a few decades, is rarely easy, especially when children are involved. Divorce by its very nature is contentious unless you are one of those rare couples experiencing a conflict-free separation. Deciding how you will share responsibility and time with your children often escalates an already stressful situation.
The main goal of any child custody agreement is the best interests of the children. The easier you can arrive at that agreement without conflict and anger, the better for them – and you – as well.
Although every family is unique, the way you approach child custody proceedings can go a long way toward improving the process. Here are a few steps you can take for calmer child custody proceedings that will benefit both you and your children.
Establish a Separation Agreement as Soon as Possible
Among other things, a separation agreement defines how you will make decisions regarding your children, how they will divide their time between both parents, and who is responsible for child support. Establishing guidelines for temporary child support before the divorce is settled can ensure your child’s basic needs are met, including food, clothing, housing, daycare, and medical expenses.
Negotiating an agreement for child custody and visitation as quickly as possible creates a clear plan for when and how often a child will spend time with each parent and how parents will handle making important decisions in the child’s life. A legal custody plan will reduce the opportunities for disputes that can occur every time a new situation arises.
Understand the Importance of Co-Parenting
Putting the focus on your children, rather than your differences, is the best way to avoid unnecessary tension during your divorce. Fight the temptation to badmouth your spouse or keep them from spending time with the children. In most cases, sharing one-on-one time with both parents is important for healthy parent-child bonding. While you may want to spend as much time as possible with your children, understand that it is important for your spouse to have time with your children, too. Unless one parent is a danger to the child, a custody judge will likely consider co-parenting in the best interest of the child. Pennsylvania courts rarely favor a parent who is trying to damage the relationship between their spouse and their children.
Don’t Focus on Revenge
Divorce typically involves hurt feelings and anger on both sides. However, exacting revenge on your spouse won’t resolve your problems. It only serves to ramp up the turmoil, which could end up backfiring on you. Keep in mind: the more you try to make things difficult for your spouse, the more likely your spouse will try to retaliate, resulting in a long, drawn-out, and stressful divorce for you and your children. Likewise, if your spouse shows a willingness to compromise while you simply look for revenge, a judge will likely look more favorably upon your spouse when making a custody decision. Keep emotion out of the process and view divorce as a business deal. The goal is an equitable settlement that is easier on the whole family.
Avoid Social Media
Social media may be commonplace but sharing your feelings and details of your personal life about a divorce may not sit well with your former spouse or a judge when it comes to matters of custody. Despite what you may think, nothing you share on social media is private or secure, and all of it can be used against you in a child custody case. Nothing creates divorce drama like a Facebook rant about your spouse or Instagram photos that appear to show you enjoying your new single life. It’s best to avoid social media entirely during this time in your life. At the least, avoid posting negative comments about your spouse or the court proceedings, private information about your children, photos of yourself enjoying a party lifestyle, or photos of a new boyfriend or girlfriend. In Pennsylvania, social media posts can be used as evidence that you are an unfit parent, even if they are taken out of context.
Hire an Experienced Lancaster Custody Attorney
Everyone wants what’s best for the child, but sometimes in the stress of a divorce that simple fact is forgotten. A Lancaster custody lawyer can offer level-headed, objective guidance to ensure you make the best decisions for your child. A Lancaster custody attorney can also reduce turmoil by objectively negotiating with your spouse on your behalf, managing paperwork and documentation, handling court proceedings, and helping review all options to develop a custody agreement that best suits the needs of you and your children. A child custody attorney can also fast-track hearings and make sure you are treated fairly in matters of alimony and temporary custody.
If you’re divorcing in Lancaster County and you have minor children, contact the Law Offices of Going and Plank in downtown Lancaster. We will guide you through the separation and divorce process, and help you negotiate the child custody agreement that is best for you and your family.