- A change in the circumstances of the child or custodian;
- That a modification would serve the best interests of the child;
- That the child’s present environment endangers her physical or emotional health or emotional development; and
- That the harm to the child likely to be caused by the change of environment is outweighed by the advantage of change.
In our society there is a belief (perhaps a misconception) that mother’s always get custody of their children. When a mother does not have custody of her children, the common assumption is that the mother must be unfit. In a recent Marie Claire article, author Lea Goldman profiles three mothers without custody of their children in a thoughtful report: What Kind of Mother Leaves Her Kids?
For several military parents a deployment to serve their country can cost them dearly in a custody battle. While parts of the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act applies to military child custody cases, granting more time for troops to respond and prohibiting judgments against parents while they are deployed, there has been a movement for additional protections for military parents while they are deployed. Leo Shane III has an in-depth article, Custody Battles Can Become Rude ‘Welcome Home’ for Military Parents on Stars and Stripes.
The school year has just started. Hopefully the decision as to where your children will be spending the school year has been made. As more and more parents agree to a joint physical custody arrangement, disputes over what school the kids are going to increase. When one parent has sole physical custody it is usually a given that the children will be attending school in the district where that parent lives. But when parents have joint physical custody and the children spend significant time during the school week with both parents there is rarely any guidance on which school district the children will attend.
And when disputes arise, there is rarely a quick and easy resolution. Most decrees require that the parties attend mediation prior to returning to court. If mediation is unsuccesful, only then can you bring a motion in court asking the judge to decide which school your kid is going to. It may take a few months just to get the court date, and the judge can take up to 90 days after the hearing to issue a decision. Some parents use the services of a parenting time expediter, a neutral party who will first try to mediate disputes, but can then serve as an arbitrator and make a decision.
Unfortunately, very few parents are proactive in addressing this issue, which means the school year can start before the decision is made. I have heard at least one story in where the child ends up spending half the time in one kindergarten class and half the time in another class and another district. In addition to all of the other concerns about going to school in two different disctricts, the child was not meeting requirements for any kindergarten, which meant that the child would most likely be repeating kindergarten by the time the parents figured things out. This issue is not limited to Minnesota parents, I came across this article Parents’ Procrastination In Custody Cases Crowds Family Court Documents in The Wichita Eagle by Ron Sylvester which indicates parents across the country face this problem.
There is a simple way to avoid making your child repeat kindergarten or letting a stranger decide where your kids go to school – talk about it with the other parent and make the decisions early! If you already have a joint custody arrangement, start talking about where the kids will go to school at least a year before your child starts school or as soon as one parent moves from the current school district. If you are just separating from the other parent and considering a joint physical custody arrangement, have the conversation about school districts during your negotiations.
In every case I have where the parties will have joint physical custody I ask about where the kids will be attending school. When we have older children who have been going to the same school district for years, we may put in the court order that the children will remain at district _________. When we have younger children, or are uncertain where the parties will be living, sometimes we designate one parent’s home as the home that will determine where the kids go to school. Taking the time to discuss these issues ahead of time and put some guidance in the documents can prevent problems in the future.
Stories on joint physical custody arrangements seem to be everywhere lately. Many states and countries are moving towards some sort of presumption towards joint physical custody. Joint schedules can work great for parents dedicated to working together for their children. But in families where the parents are working against each other instead of with each other, joint custody may do more harm than good. Here are just a few quotes from a couple recent articles.
From the Newsweek article Not Your Dad’s Divorce:
“To make it work, we’d have to live near each other for the next 13 years, until the youngest girl was off to college. It was a commitment not unlike marriage, and, given that feelings were still raw post-divorce, neither of us thought it would be easy.”
“Forcing uncooperative couples into a joint arrangement could end up creating more parental conflict, which most experts agree is the most damaging part of a divorce for kids.”
“The willingness of both parents to cooperate is the key factor in how kids adjust to a divorce. Nickelson reminds parents that they should start creating a collaborative relationship with an ex-spouse early on. “You’re not going to sign the child-custody agreement, whatever it is, and be done with your wife or husband. I tell my clients, if you’re lucky, you’ll be sitting next to them for graduations and marriages and all kinds of achievements, so learn to get along.””
From Matthew Fynes-Clinton’s article: Children Suffer When Law Splits Parenting Equally:
“My initial thought was, ‘They’ll realise (50-50 parenting orders) are a mistake in about 10 years time – and that they’ve screwed up a generation,”
“He says, ‘(My ex-wife) keeps saying to me our daughter can have one life in your household and another life in my household’. The child’s got this sort of split personality thing happening.”
“It’s about him and me. And it’s about control,” she says, concerned about the potential of such power plays to turn their daughter into a pawn.
She says the fundamental paradox with laws encouraging mutual parenting responsibility is the contrariness of the couples who seek judicial determination of their child custody wrestle. “The legislation is written about parents who can do (equal time parenting),” she says, “and it’s applied to parents who can’t.”
McIntosh says substantial or equal-shared care can succeed where “self-selected” by mature, child-focused couples. “But you need two sets of everything, co-operation, geographic proximity, family friendly work practices and people to be financially comfortable. On top of that, you need the emotional equipment for it.