Custody & Visitation
Divorce involves a great deal of upheaval, especially for children. The goal, then, is to minimize the stress on your kids, both during and after the divorce. Children who are used to seeing Mom and Dad every day will now have to adapt to some form of custody/visitation arrangement in which they have little control or input. There are a several forms that this can take, so it’s important that you consult an attorney about which form is best for your family. Married or not – you’re still bound by parenthood until at least the time your children turn 18. In any divorce, custody and visitation are determined by what is in the best interest of the children.
Joint Custody. In more and more cases, we’re seeing joint custody arrangements, wherein Mom and Dad share equal time with the kids and equal decision-making power where the kids are concerned. Often, this means that the children spend one week at Dad’s house, then one week at Mom’s house, though it may involve a different rotating schedule depending on the children’s ages and the schedules of the parties.
There’s one important caveat here – courts are highly unlikely to grant joint custody where the parties haven’t agreed to it ahead of time. We often have clients that come into our office stating that they want to “fight for joint custody.” The reality is that if you have to “fight” for it, you’re really not in a position to be successful at it. Joint custody requires cooperation, communication, and agreement. And when parents can’t agree, they end up back in court, asking a judge to make important parenting decisions for them. For joint custody to work, parents must agree on all major decisions related to raising their children – from school and extracurricular activities to medical care and religion. Additionally, both parents have to have schedule flexibility to be a full-time parent fifty percent of the time. It also requires the parents to live close enough for the children to attend a single school. For these reasons, a court is far more likely to order standard visitation.
For information about child support in joint custody agreements, see this link.
Standard Visitation. Standard visitation may vary depending on what county you’re in and which judge hears your case. This post focuses on the standard visitation schedules in Benton and Washington counties. Links to both Standard Visitation Orders are below.
Standard visitation gives primary custody and control to one parent. Generally, this will be the parent who has been the primary caregiver prior to the divorce and/or has the schedule flexibility to manage the children’s activities most of the time. This parent also gets the final say when the parents cannot agree as to a decision regarding the children. The non-custodial parent then has visitation according to the schedule outlined in the order.
Under the Washington County Standard Visitation Order, children will spend the 1st, 3rd, and 5th (if there is a 5th weekend that month) with the non-custodial parent, as well as every Tuesday evening from the release of school until 8:00 p.m. The children spend one half of the summer with Mom and the other half of the summer with Dad. The standard visitation order also outlines which parent will have the kids for holidays and school breaks.
The Benton County Standard Visitation Order is more specific and offers more visitation time for the non-custodial parent. In Benton County, standard visitation means that the children spend every Tuesday overnight with the non-custodial parent, as well as every other weekend from Friday at the end of the school day to Monday morning at the start of the school day. It also allocates a five-week period in the summer to the non-custodial parent and outlines where the children spend holidays and school breaks.
For information about child support in a standard visitation arrangement, see this link.
As with joint custody, there is also an important caveat with standard visitation – the order applies only when the parents cannot agree otherwise. The Standard Visitation Order is a fallback – when Mom and Dad can’t agree, the order tells them what to do. It is not a weapon to prevent one parent from getting adequate time with the kids, and it should not be used as an excuse to be inflexible or uncooperative. In fact, judges are always happy to see two parents who can agree to more visitation or a different visitation schedule than outlined in the Standard Visitation Schedule.
For example, perhaps Mom and Dad decide that it would be better for the non-custodial parent to have the children on Thursday nights instead of Tuesday nights because of the kids’ soccer schedule. The court encourages parents to exercise visitation as they see fit based on the schedules and needs of their children.
* Note: Standard visitation orders change every few years. If standard visitation is ordered as part of your divorce, it will be dictated by the Standard Visitation Order in effect the year your divorce is finalized. The links below are to the most current Standard Visitation Orders for Benton and Washington counties.