When people think about child custody, they tend to focus only on which parent will be with the children the majority of the time, also known as the allocation of physical custody. This is important, to be sure, but it’s not the only disagreement parents are likely to have. In fact, in many cases, even when physical custody is shared unequally, both parents will retain equal legal custody, which is the power to make important decisions on behalf of the children. These include decisions about education, religious indoctrination, medical care and more.
One example of a likely point of dispute touches on both child custody and child support issues: paying for private-school education. While private school may seem like a luxury (and it sometimes is) there are also instances in which it is necessary for kids who need learning accommodations or environments that can’t be found in their public school. What happens when one parent believes private school is essential and the other strongly disagrees?
Let’s say that a mother is awarded primary physical custody of her two kids. The father has a smaller portion of physical custody but equally shares legal custody. The mother believes the kids need private school but the father doesn’t share that belief. He is already being asked to pay a lot in child support and doesn’t want to pay even more money for tuition. He is also a firm believer in the importance of public education.
Because they share legal custody, they have an equal say in educational decisions. How, then, would they settle this dispute?
There are several possible answers to the previous question. Perhaps the smartest approach would be to address this issue during the divorce and custody proceedings so that whatever decision is made has the weight of a court behind it. This is a foreseeable dispute, so addressing it early is a viable option.
Not all disputes are foreseeable, however. And that speaks to the importance of having a detailed custody agreement – preferably one that was negotiated between the parents rather than imposed by a court. The more detailed a plan is, the less likely that disputes will arise because many of the important decisions have already been made. Moreover, a parenting plan can also include mechanisms for how to resolve future disputes, including resolution techniques that must be tried before going back to court.
If you have kids and are about to go through a divorce, please discuss any long-term custody concerns you have with your attorney. More work and planning on the front end could save you time, money and frustration later on.