One of the most important considerations for any divorcing parent is their children’s care and custody after finalizing their divorce. Negotiating or litigating child custody and support is never easy. Many things can make this process even more challenging. A St. Charles, MO divorce attorney can provide specific legal advice. Still, it’s ultimately best for divorcing parents to be as cooperative and proactive as possible when it comes to determining the future for their children after divorce.

A parenting plan is a detailed outline for the parents’ goals for their children. This plan can include the parents’ educational aspirations, lifestyle preferences, spiritual upbringing, and beliefs concerning discipline and child-rearing. It can also be a formal, legal document that outlines the divorcing spouse’s parental rights and duties to their children, including financial obligations, responsibility for transportation, supervision for medical appointments, and much more.

A St. Charles, MO divorce lawyer can potentially help you develop a solid parenting plan. However, it’s a good idea to understand the framework for a parenting plan that will work out for your children for as long as possible. Negotiating your parenting plan will take a great deal of effort, but it will ultimately lead to a much more agreeable result than leaving the decision solely in the hands of a judge.

Custody Determinations in St. Charles, MO

Ending your marriage as a parent requires determining care and custody of your children between you and your soon-to-be ex-spouse. If you litigate your divorce, a judge will rule on a custody arrangement that aligns with the state’s interpretation of the “best interests” of your children. The state has a duty to always rule in favor of preserving the best interests of children involved in any divorce case.

When a judge determines child custody in a St. Charles, MO divorce case, they will consider each parent’s fitness as a parent and weigh past behaviors. For example, if one of the spouses has any history of committing child abuse, this will significantly reduce their ability to argue for custody. Ultimately, it is very easy for child custody determinations to devolve into ugly legal battles. Most divorcing couples in St. Charles, MO choose to mediate their divorces. Developing their parenting plans typically forms the bulk of their divorce proceedings.

If you and your coparent decide to mediate your parenting plan, be prepared to ensure it aligns with state laws and is built for the long term. While you can revisit your custody determination later in response to events beyond your control, it’s best to begin by outlining solid terms for your divorce sooner rather than later. Your St. Charles, MO family law attorney and your mediator can help to ensure your parenting plan contains all essential components.

Know the Three Main Purposes of a Parenting Plan

Your attorney can help you gather any documentation and materials necessary for negotiating your parenting plan. Your parenting plan, just like a child custody determination decided through litigation, must account for:

  • Physical custody of your children. “Child custody” is a somewhat ambiguous term because there are generally two forms of custody discussed in divorce cases. Physical custody refers to where the children live and spend their time. For example, if the children live with one parent and visit the other for one weekend each month, the former parent has majority physical custody.
  • Legal custody. The other type of custody determined in a divorce is legal custody, or the authority to make major decisions on a child’s behalf. In most cases, judges seek to award joint legal custody to allow both parents to participate in their children’s lives and to encourage cooperation between coparents. However, suppose one parent moves away, leaving the other with majority physical custody. In that case, the custodial parent may also absorb additional legal custody on the simple basis of proximity to the children.
  • Financial support for the children. Parents’ financial obligations to their children do not diminish with divorce. In almost every child custody determination, one parent will end up paying child support to the other. The court will weigh the divorcing parents’ individual incomes and financial status to determine a reasonable support arrangement.

These are important factors in any divorce, and developing your parenting plan can be a challenging process. However, the alternative is leaving the decision in the hands of a judge and strict legal statutes, not what is personally best for you and your family.

Best Practices for Negotiating Your Parenting Plan

It can be challenging for some divorcing parents to imagine negotiating anything civilly with their spouse. However, parents need to cooperate if they want to successfully determine a mutually agreeable custody arrangement. The best tip to remember as you head into your custody negotiations is to be willing to compromise. Neither you nor your coparent will likely be able to get everything you want out of your divorce, especially when it comes to children. Instead of aiming for a “victory” over your soon-to-be-ex, stay focused on ensuring your children’s best interests remain protected.

Communication is key to successful divorce negotiations, and this hinges on honesty. Your St. Charles, MO divorce attorney can guide you through your mediation sessions if you like, or you can choose to attend them with only the mediator and your spouse. An attorney can help you ensure you and your spouse develop a reasonable compromise in your parenting plan and that the plan aligns with Missouri state laws.

Be as forward-thinking as possible when negotiating your parenting plan to minimize the need to return to court in the future to renegotiate terms. Family court allows individuals subject to family court orders to file post-judgment motions when their circumstances change, such as losing a job or developing a disability. Try to negotiate a parenting plan that accounts for as many situations as possible and establishes clear expectations for both parents in those situations.

Another vital consideration before proceeding into any kind of divorce is legal counsel. Your attorney can help you gather evidence, connect with relevant expert witnesses if necessary, and ultimately assist you in creating a parenting plan that works best for your family.