Allocating Parental Responsibilities In Divorce And Parentage Matters
All divorce or parentage matters involving children must address allocation of parental responsibilities. The term “allocation of parental responsibilities” (formerly “custody”) encompasses the way in which parents will make significant decisions regarding their child’s care, education, and upbringing as well as the schedule of parenting time (formerly “visitation”).
“Allocation of significant decision-making responsibilities” means how important issues are decided. Significant issues include:
- The child’s education (including choice of school and tutors)
- Health care (including decisions regarding choice of providers and course of treatment)
- Extracurricular activities
If parents can communicate and cooperate on matters related to their child’s health, education, religion, and extracurricular activities, then joint allocation of significant decision-making responsibilities (formerly “joint custody”) is generally appropriate. Joint allocation of significant decision-making responsibilities (also known as “shared decision-making responsibilities”) means that the parents must first consult with each other and try to agree upon significant decisions. If the parties are unable to make a joint decision on any of these important matters then, except in limited circumstances, the parties must first attend mediation to try to resolve their differences before either can file a petition asking the court to rule on the disputed issue.
What If Both Parents Cannot Agree?
Joint allocation of significant decision-making responsibilities does not always work in every case. Sometimes the level of conflict between the parents is so high that they are simply unable to communicate and cooperate on matters related to their child’s health, education, religion, and extracurricular activities. Sometimes there is an ongoing issue, like domestic violence or one parent’s unwillingness to participate in past significant decision-making regarding the child, that makes it impossible and/or not in the child’s best interest for the parents to make joint decisions on important issues.
In cases where joint or shared significant decision-making responsibility is not feasible, the judge will decide which parent will have sole significant decision-making responsibility for the child (formerly “sole custody”).
Parents in divorce and parentage matters are encouraged to determine allocation of parental responsibilities (including significant decision-making responsibilities and parenting time) by agreement, either by negotiating agreements with the assistance of their counsel or with the help of a court-appointed mediator.
In cases where the parties have a difficult time making these decisions, the judge may appoint an attorney to represent the child to help the judge decide how to allocate decision-making responsibilities for the child and/or an appropriate parenting time schedule. In making these decisions, the judge will consider a number of factors related to the child’s best interests, including:
- How significant decisions were made in the past
- The amount of time each parent spent caring for the child in the past
- The mental and physical health of the parents and child
- The child’s wishes (if the child is mature enough to express independent preferences)
- The parents’ wishes
- The child’s adjustment to his or her home, school and community
- Any history of abuse of the child or any member of the household
Parenting Time Schedules Should Meet Your Family’s Needs
Parenting time (formerly “visitation”) means the time during which a parent is responsible for caring for the child. There is no preference for mothers or fathers when deciding a parenting time schedule and the law presumes that both parents are fit and able to care for their child. Nor is there a “standard” parenting time schedule – every case is different, and your parenting time schedule should be crafted to reflect your family’s unique circumstances and needs. The parenting time schedule should address the “regular” (i.e. weekday and weekend) schedule as well as major holidays, school breaks and vacation time.
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