Decision-Making and Residential Arrangements for Children

The Parent Plan that must be included in all divorce or legal separation agreements must address two issues: Who is going to make the major decisions affecting the minor children and where are the children going to live.

The decision-making for the children, at least those decisions that are deemed to be major (where they attend school, who is to be the child care provider, what is to be the religious upbringing, what are the medical related decisions, etc.) are made either by one party if the decision-making status is “sole” or by both parties equally if the decision-making status is “joint.” Generally speaking, the courts prefer equal decision making status for the parents, unless there is good reason why to allow only one to unilaterally make decisions for the children. This might occur, for example, if one parent has a history of irresponsible decision-making, for whatever reason.

The residential arrangements for the children can be anything the parents agree upon. It does not have to be 50/50 time with each parent, for example, just because the decision-making status is joint. The decision about the children’s residential arrangements can be an area fraught with uncertainty and difference of opinion as to what is best for the children. If the parents’ respective schedules can accommodate it, it is natural for each parent to want the children to be with them as much as possible, as was the case while the marriage was intact. And the children might naturally wish to be with each parent as much as possible in order to “keep things even”, as children are wont to do in a divorce.

The question that is most critical in determining the children’s residential arrangements is the same as the language in the statue: what is in the best interest interests of the children? This standard can be subjective, since each parent may have a different idea of what is best for the children. Is it to divide the time on a 50/50 basis in order to keep things as similar to the marriage arrangement as possible? Or is it to allow the children to have one primary household in order to try to maintain a perceived stability for them? Wise parents, when they are unsure about what is best for the children, will seek the advice of a child specialist to give them guidance in this regard.