Marriage, Children and Divorce

“Women always think men will change, but they don’t.  Men think women won’t change, but they do.” Luther, BBCTV, Series 1, Episode 4.

Not that we need Hallmark to remind us of the need to express our love for our significant others, the other side of the proverbial coin is that relationships can end, and are statistically likely to do so. It may be ironic to discuss parenting options upon the termination of a relationship, even after the termination of a relationship neither parent should lose their designation as “parent.”

During a marriage, the household and the parents have a routine in which the household operates on a day-to-day basis.  The complexity arrives when there are two households and two parents that parent separately and differently.    The designation of the “custodial parent” or “residential parent” can be one of the most contentious arguments in the termination of a marriage or designation of parental rights with unmarried parents.  There is the classic “legal custody” that provides one parent as the custodial parent having the responsibility and rights to the care, custody, and control of the child’s life, with the other parent receiving some form of parenting time, generally Standard Order of Parenting Time.  This Standard Order of Parenting Time is dependent upon the respective county in which the marriage is terminated or parental rights are determined in case of unmarried parents.  The Standard Order of Parenting Time  generally consists of alternating weekends, a mid-week, alternating holidays, and blocks of time in the summer.  Both parties are still obligated to financially support their children and operate in the best interests of the children.

Shared parenting is another legal form of parenting and without trying to sound glib, is a legal fiction but a modern factual reality.  Shared parenting is a legal arrangement whereby both parents share varying amounts of control over the child’s upbringing.  One person’s residence is designated the residence for school purposes.  The other parent has parenting time, generally pursuant to a Standard Order of Parenting Time adopted by the  respective county in which the marriage is terminated or parental rights are determined.  That parenting time may also be expanded and reflect more flexibility in its scheduling.   Both parties are still obligated to financially support their children and operate in the best interests of the children.  If sole custody and shared parenting look similar, it is because they are.  Courts prefer Shared Parenting because it suggests that both parents, whether previously married or unmarried, are committed to the parenting of their children.

In determining whether shared parenting is in the best interest of the children, the court considers the basic best interest factors  including:  the ability of the parents to cooperate and make decisions jointly with respect to the children; the ability of each parent to encourage the sharing of love, affection, and contact between the child and the other parent; any history of, or potential for, child abuse, spouse abuse, or domestic violence by either parent; the geographic proximity of the parents to each other; and if a guardian ad litem is appointed for the child(ren), the recommendation of the guardian ad litem.

The art of shared parenting, at its heart, is a commitment to co-parent.  During the process of terminating a marriage, local counties require that the parties attend a parenting class.  The fundamental message in that parenting class is that the parties must communicate.  Obviously, it is easier said than done given that lack of communication is one of the causalities of marital problems.  Shared parenting allows the parties to be as flexible or as rigid as necessary to effectuate the best interests of the children.  Inherent in a shared parenting arrangement is a shared parenting plan.  The shared parenting plan must be reviewed by the Court to determine if it is in the best interest of the children.  If the Court determines that the Plan is in the best interests of the children, the Court will approve the plan.  The commitment to communicate and to jointly parent should be in every parenting relationship.  This is not to degrade the sole custody arrangement that many people choose, but to assert that whether you like it or not, you are co-parenting simply given the fact that children are going to the other parent’s residence and spending time with that former spouse/parent.  If co-parenting is inevitable, then the commitment should be made to share that parenting with a shared parenting plan.

If you have any questions about this article or other family law concerns, please contact Matt Sorg at msorg@pselaw.com or call 937-223-1130.

AUTHOR: Matt Sorg
msorg@pselaw.com