Negotiating Child Custody

Audrey M. Jones
Three happy children.

During or after a divorce, many parents find themselves negotiating a child custody arrangement. These arrangements determine where children will live, visitation schedules and which parent will be responsilbe for providing primary care. Child support amounts can be included, but most states establish these amounts by statute and do not permit parents to deviate from them without good cause.

Negotiating: Four "W's" and One "H"

Who, what, when, where, why and how: Remember being in grade school when your teacher pounded those into your head? Well, the good news is that negotiating child custody is accomplished by relying on that same time-tested and basic system. Before beginning negotiations, analyze these five aspects to ensure that you know what you want and the best way to get it.

The "Who" of Custody

This refers to the best parties to negotiate. Sometimes, particularly when you are amicable with your ex-spouse, you can negotiate a custody agreement, but other times lawyers or mediators might be better suited for the task. Potential third-party negotiators include anyone not emotionally attached to the situation, such as counselors, therapists, attorneys and professional mediators.

Consider whether you believe that you can negotiate an arrangement on your own, or if you, your ex-spouse and children would benefit from the presence of a third party. Inform your spouse in writing or in person if you want to involve a neutral, third-party, as this will require his consent. However, regardless of who negotiates, you will still have to prepare for the process carefully..

The "What" of Custody

This question applies to what it is that you want in your custody arrangement. It includes not only whether you will have joint or sole custody, but also the days you want to have physical custody of your children. Narrowing the topics to negotiate will help them progress smoother and faster when the time comes.

First, make a list of your demands and ask yourself whether they seem reasonable. If they are unreasonable, remove them from the list. Next, make a list of demands that you believe your ex-spouse will request. Compare the two lists to identify possible points of contention. This will assist you in preparing an outline for handling the actual negotiation.

The "When" of Custody

This question pertains to the best time to schedule your negotiations, such as in the evenings or on weekends. While you can negotiate custody over a period of time in different sessions, doing so is not ideal. Multiple sessions gives you and your spouse time to reconsider the things you agreed to, which could make future meetings more difficult or complex.

Consider your and your ex-spouse's schedule when determining potential times to meet. Scheduling the negotiations so that they do not burden you or your spouse avoids the likelihood that one of you will be frustrated when approaching the table.

The "Where" of Custody

Perhaps the simplest aspect of negotiating child custody applies to the location where you and your ex-spouse meet to draw up an agreement. Choose a neutral location that is easily accessible by all parties and where you will not be interrupted by your children. Divorce is difficult on children, and they do not need to see their parents haggling over who gets to see them when, why and how they will be shuttled back and forth.

Make a list of potential places to meet and present them to your ex-spouse. This way, he will have the choice of a location which you have already deemed acceptable.

The "Why" of Custody

This is perhaps the most difficult part of negotiating, because it requires you to substantiate your "what" requests. Here, you must explain your requests and provide factual evidence of why it is reasonable or necessary.

Remember that list of "whats" you made? Pull it out and, next to each request, write your reason. If you have evidence or other information supporting its reasonableness, jot that down too.

The "How" of Custody

This refers to the strategy you will use when negotiating. Not all negotiations are antagonistic. In fact, friendly negotiations are often easier, faster and result in fewer future attempts to change any agreement reached as a result of the process.

Consider your relationship with your ex-spouse; do you think you can discuss matters with him amicably? If so, approach negotiations as a way to ensure that your children have equal, quality time with both parents. If you think that you and your ex-spouse cannot be cordial or you fear that he will become violent, involve a third-party or allow the Court to establish a custody arrangement.

Your Custody Negotiations

Your best bet for success in negotiations is to be prepared and remain calm. Keep in mind that the Court must approve any custody agreement, and that it will reject ones that it determines are unfair.

Negotiating Child Custody