When most people consider child custody issues, they often think of custody conflicts during a divorce, or between unmarried parents who choose to end their relationship. However, child custody issues can also arise when married parents choose to separate, whether or not their separation ends in divorce. In some cases, separating for a period of time to work on conflicts helps parents identify the underlying issues and can lead to a stronger marriage and stronger family overall.
If a separation lasts for an extended period of time, it is useful to consider a child custody arrangement to ensure that both parents continue to spend time with their children, particularly if the children are still young or if the separation is longer than a few weeks. If you find yourself facing separation from your spouse, working out a fair custody arrangement helps both you and your spouse keep your child's best interests protected while keeping your own parental rights secure.
Understanding your top priorities
Building a child custody arrangement typically involves compromise on the part of both parents. Often, this is because the best interests of the child are not the same as the best interests or preferences of the parents.
When courts evaluate a custody arrangement, they look closely at the way that the arrangement serves the needs of the child. As long as the child's needs remain met, courts tend to approve a custody arrangement that two parents create together. Raising a child separately is never easy, and courts understand that making this transition is difficult in the best circumstances.
As you build your separation custody arrangement, consider carefully what you hope to accomplish through the separation and how it may affect your child. This includes:
- Where the child is most comfortable and safe living
- The community supporting the child
- The education opportunities for the child
- Special care and dietary restrictions relevant to the child
- Family religious preferences that one or both parents may value
If your separation results in reconciliation, examining these issues and working together with your child's other parent to meet your child's needs is often a useful practice. If, on the other hand, your separation leads to divorce, then it is often useful to use your existing custody arrangement as a starting point for discussing custody issues in the divorce process.
Protecting your priorities
As a parent, your child's best interests are crucial for you to protect. At the same time, you have rights as a parent, and these deserve protection as well. Finding the balance between these tensions is not a simple matter, and a strong legal strategy can help you evaluate all the moving parts of your marriage conflict. As you work through this difficult season of life, make sure to take time to care for the child you love and establish patterns of care that will last throughout your parent-child relationship.