Every custody case is unique. And while formally pursuing shared parenting (ie joint custody) through the court system may seem overwhelming, it’s a wise decision compared to not having any type of custody agreement.  Your main goal as you develop the joint custody plan should be to avoid gray areas and capture as much detail as possible. More information is better, because you don’t want to look back wishing you had included something important that you missed. The major difference between shared parenting and sole custody is decision making.
Now, how do you know which items to consider in a shared parenting agreement? From a high level, make sure the agreement covers:
- Residential parenting-where do the children attend school
- Parenting time/visitation schedule guidelines, including:
- Mother’s parenting time
- Father’s parenting time
- Holidays/special days
- Methods for reviewing and modifying the custody agreement
- A method of dispute resolution
- Final decision-making authority
- Any other provisions you’d like to include
These are must-have components for all shared parenting agreements, but there are other factors you may want to consider adding, depending on your unique circumstances. Talk to your family law attorney to see if any of the below are beneficial for you to include:
Where will the child(ren) go to school? Is it in Parent A’s school district or Parent A’s school of choice? Or Parent B’s? It’s not a bad idea to outline this specifically in the joint custody agreement so there are no discrepancies. Both parents need to collaborate and agree upon educational issues.
During the summer and before children are of school-age, who will take care of them while the parents are working? This also needs to be agreed upon by both mother and father. Define your childcare options accurately in the joint custody agreement to ensure both parents are on the same page.
Right of First Refusal
In situations where something comes up and one parent can’t be with the child(ren) (for example, Parent A gets called into work), you can create a clause that allows an alternate caregiver “first rights” to the kids during that time. An alternate caregiver could be a stepparent or a grandparent, unless specified otherwise in the agreement. This is a good idea to include, especially for parents who have varying schedules.
Who is the child’s pediatrician? Who makes the decisions about any major medical concerns and corresponding treatments that may arise? Which parent has the child on their health insurance plan? Which parent decides if the child takes ADHD medication? These are important details to call out in the joint custody agreement so if something arises unexpectedly, there is no confusion or deliberation between the two parents.
Depending on your insurance, there may be significant out-of-pocket medical expenses for your child(ren). The shared parenting plan is an ideal place to outline a plan for who will pay certain medical expenses, how often, and to what limit. The more guidelines you include, the better — this includes having allowable time frames for paying the medical bills. For example, Parent A is required to provide Parent B with a copy of the medical bill within 30 days of receiving it in the mail.
How far is one parent allowed to move away from the other? It’s wise to outline specifications around relocating if you don’t want your spouse to move a great distance away (or vice versa). Relocating to a new town, even if it’s just 20 miles from where you live, can dramatically affect the child’s visitation schedule, drop-offs, pick-ups, extracurricular activities, childcare, and schooling. If you want to lay ground rules for distance, this is the ideal place to do it.
Tax Exemptions/Credits/Stimulus Payments
Which parent will claim the child(ren) on their taxes? If they receive a refund, how is that divided between parents? Talk to your family law attorney about the best way to stipulate tax-related issues in the shared parenting agreement. It’s better to outline it in clear-cut language than to scramble to come up with an agreeable plan come tax season.
In the case of a shared parenting plan, less is not more. It’s always better to include as much information as possible so you don’t have uncertainties later. Work with your family law attorney to outline every possible aspect you should include in your parenting agreement so you’re covered long-term.
Columbus Ohio Divorce Lawyer
The Law Offices of Kenneth R. Kline LLC  is honored to work with both traditional and non-traditional families to assist them through extraordinarily difficult times. Please contact us  with any questions.