Most people don’t want to get embroiled in a messy divorce. But many divorcing couples don’t know how to avoid it. Finances and parenting are two of the biggest stressors in a healthy marriage. Figuring out how to handle them when emotions are running high can seem impossible.

How should you divide your assets? What is the best custody arrangement for your kids? It makes sense that plenty of couples throw their hands in the air and turn it over to the judge.

It’s unfortunate, though. Attorneys that specialize in amicable divorce can help couples reach those agreements outside the courtroom.

Reaching a child custody agreement without court isn’t easy. But it’s definitely doable.

What is a child custody agreement?

A child custody agreement defines who has legal and physical custody of the child of divorced parents. Legal custody refers to the authority to make major decisions about the child’s life. These would include things like their education, their health, and their religious upbringing.

Physical custody refers to where the child lives — whether that’s primarily with one parent or back and forth between two parents.

In Georgia, all child custody agreements must include a parenting plan.

A parenting plan includes detailed information about how the parents will raise their child (or children). It incorporates things like:

  • Whether the parents will share legal custody or if one parent will have legal custody
  • How medical decisions will be made and who will cover health insurance
  • Where the child will live
  • How and when the child will transition between households
  • Where the child will spend holidays and vacations
  • Where the child will attend school
  • How and where parenting time will occur
  • How changes to the parenting plan can be made
  • How violations of the parenting plan will be addressed

If you’re seeking an uncontested divorce, you will need to supply the court with an agreement that covers every part of your divorce. That includes a child custody agreement and parenting plan.

See: How to Choose an Uncontested Divorce Lawyer

Negotiating with your spouse

So you and your (soon to be ex) spouse have to do something potentially challenging. You have to develop a plan that you both agree on.

If you’re solid communicators, you may be able to sit down with your spouse and work out the details. For some couples, emotions run too high during the divorce process to negotiate on their own. In those cases, lawyers that specialize in amicable divorce can facilitate a negotiation process. Mediation may also be useful.

The most important thing to remember throughout any negotiations or mediation is your goal: to stay out of court.

Even for couples that are on good terms, negotiating the custody agreement and parenting plan can be emotionally fraught. It might be painful to imagine spending the holidays every other year without your kids.

If you’ve been the primary caregiver, you may feel anxiety about your spouse’s ability to care for the kids without you. If you’re looking at a future where your kids don’t live with you, you might feel grief and anxiety about your connection to them.

Conflicts you’ve had with your spouse throughout the years may crop up but with a new intensity. Always battled over private versus public school? Had constant arguments about who should set aside work to pick up a sick kid? Those disagreements may feel even more emotionally charged during divorce negotiations.

When you begin to feel tense or angry, take a break and remind yourself why you want to figure this out yourselves and not in a courtroom.

See: The Best Way to Help Children Cope with Divorce? Make It Amicable

Mediation

Many divorcing couples who want to avoid the courtroom choose to participate in mediation. Having a neutral third party can help you stay focused on the issue at hand — developing a parenting plan.

There’s no guarantee that mediation will be successful. Some mediations end with people storming out of the room and heading for a trial. It still requires that you and your spouse are committed to finding an out-of-court resolution.

Our tips for successful mediation can help you keep your emotions in check and come out with an agreement that satisfies both you and your spouse.

  • Be prepared. Now is the time to have a thorough understanding of your kids’ schedules and needs. The day-to-day functioning of their lives is a key element of the parenting plan.
  • Know what you want, and be ready to compromise. Identify your top priorities and then prepare yourself to consider outside-the-box solutions.
  • Take a break. If you feel yourself getting emotionally heated or overwhelmed, ask for a quick break. Take a walk or splash water on your face. Get calm before you go back into the mediation.
  • Be honest. Tell the truth about your financial situation. Be honest about what you’re capable of with regard to caring for your kids.
    Avoid verbal attacks. People are less willing to compromise when they feel attacked. Take a deep breath and focus on your goal.
  • Explain your reasons when you can. Understanding why you want something (say, parenting time every Sunday) can help everyone come up with a creative solution.
  • Listen. You’ll get much further in mediation if you truly listen to what your spouse is asking. They’ll feel heard (and be more willing to compromise). And you might identify a solution you didn’t realize existed.

See: How Do We Tell Our Kids That We’re Getting Divorced?

Developing a parenting plan

As you saw above, your parenting plan is a detailed document. Every divorced parent has one, but not everyone gets to control its creation. Not everyone gets to come to an agreement with their spouse.

If you go to trial, the judge creates it for you.

That knowledge helps a lot of parents stay committed to an out-of-court divorce process. Plus, when you’re working with your attorney to create a parenting plan, you can be much more creative about what works for your family.

For instance, if you have shared custody, you could include a provision that you get a right of first refusal when your spouse can’t care for the kids. That means if your spouse has the kids and they need a babysitter, they call you first. If you can’t help, then they can move on to contacting a babysitter.

Your attorney can help you figure out what provisions are most important to you. Keeping a level head and a focus on your end goal (a peaceful divorce that doesn’t create trauma for you or your kids) can help you negotiate with your spouse. In the end, you’ll come out with a parenting plan that is good for both of you and for your kids.

We help parents avoid the courtroom and create child custody agreements and parenting plans that work for them. Contact Porchlight to see how we can help you.