When couples with children get divorced, they must determine what most people refer to as “custody” arrangements. Their parenting time arrangements define the schedule for when each parent is responsible for caretaking and where the children live accordingly. In most cases, parents will share parenting time – for instance, having the children spend one week with each parent or with the children living at one house on the weekdays and at the other house on the weekends.
During custody negotiations – or litigation – parents must also consider their legal decision-making authority. With joint decision-making authority, the parents share the responsibility and authority to make important decisions and key choices regarding their children’s upbringing. This can include choices about the children’s healthcare options, education, extracurricular activities, religious upbringing and more.
It’s important to note that joint legal decision making doesn’t necessarily mean equal parenting time. In some cases, one parent may have the children live with them the majority of the time, while both parents share joint decision-making power and have to cooperate on big decisions.
Why this can be a challenge
Parents may already agree on certain issues – like keeping the children in the same school – but there are other areas where conflict can arise. Parents may differ over what medical care is safe and necessary, for instance, or whether their child should play sports vs. taking music lessons.
When both parents have an equal right to have a say in major decisions affecting their children’s life, they must consult and cooperate with each other when making important choices. Divorced couples have to put their own differences aside and put the children first whenever possible. When parents disagree, the delay in making decisions may end up ultimately harming the children.
For this and so many other reasons, fostering healthy communication between co-parents is important. Parents are expected to communicate effectively and work together in the best interest of their children. Ultimately, both parents must respect each other’s rights and roles in the decision-making process, even if they do not live together or share parenting time equally. Fostering healthy communication strategies can help former partners to craft a healthier co-parenting dynamic in this way.
Parents who have concerns about decision-making disputes that cannot be resolved amicably can seek legal guidance at any time. Even the most well-intentioned and cooperative parents can find themselves at an impasse and seeking guidance can help a family move past such logjams.
Mediation is also an excellent tool to help parents to get past what they believe may be an impasse in their decision-making process. Working with a neutral third party can help take some of the emotion out of the disagreement, allowing the parents to focus on the children, rather than how they feel about each other.
An experienced attorney can help you to navigate challenges you may be facing in your shared decision making.