You and your significant other never got married, but you did have two children together. Now that you've decided to end your relationship, you want to make sure that you still get to see the kids. You don't want to lose that access.
This could lead to the creation of a legal custody and parenting plan, which you both need to follow after it gets authorized by the court. The plan explains both your rights and your obligations. It sets apart time for each of you to spend with the children. It determines where they live. In essence, it sets up your roles as parents even when you are no longer together.
What impacts the plan?
The court does have a lot of authority here, whether you're a married couple getting a divorce or an unmarried couple trying to work out a plan for your children. The court considers numerous different factors to decide who should get custody and how to divide rights.
In general, most courts do strive for a roughly equal split that keeps both you and your ex involved in the children's lives. But that does not mean it is a guarantee. Some of the factors that affect custody and parenting plans include:
- The parents' physical health. Do you and your ex have any health problems that may make it harder to care for the kids?
- The parents' mental health. Parents struggling with certain disorders may not be fit to care for the children alone.
- A stable, consistent environment at home. The court tries to reduce the impact on the kids by giving them a stable routine that is most like the home life they already know.
- Where the children go to school. Ideally, custody orders will not force them to change schools.
- Community involvement. Again, the court tries to find a solution that allows the children to be in the same programs, have the same friends and keep the same peer groups.
- The gender and age of the kids. Even if both parents stay involved, does it make more sense for the children to live primarily with one parent for the time being?
- What the child actually wants. The older children get, the more weight the court tends to give to their decisions and their preferences.
- Any evidence of abuse in the home, whether it is physical, emotional, mental, financial or any other type.
- Any evidence of criminal activity or an environment that puts the kids at risk. This could include a history of drug use or drunk driving, for instance.
- The relationships that the children have with everyone in the house. This could include looking at relationships with siblings or grandparents, for example, or determining who is the child's primary caretaker.
As you and your ex work your way through this process, keep these factors in mind. Find out what you can do to protect your parental rights and that relationship with your kids.