Establishing Paternity In Florida

The legal relationship between a father and his child is called paternity. Paternity laws in Florida are complicated and counter-intuitive. We receive lots of inquiries requesting assistance in establishing paternity, after being frustrated trying to figure it out alone.

 

Under What Circumstances Must Paternity be Established

 According to the Florida Law, if the mother is married at the time the child was either conceived or born, then the spouse is presumed to be the father of the child and has to prove otherwise if disputing paternity. If, however, the mother is not married at the time the child was conceived or is born, then the named father is considered only the “alleged father”.

 

How do You Establish Paternity?

 There are a few ways for interested parties to establish paternity. One way is through a voluntary acknowledgment of paternity form, which both parents complete, sign, and have witnessed and dated. This is the easiest way to establish paternity, and the Acknowledgement of Paternity can be filled out at the hospital at the time of childbirth. There are instructions on the form and an explanation of parental rights and responsibilities. Parents usually do not need legal assistance with this. 

 Another way is by having an order of paternity entered in court by a judge. We are usually called when parties need to go through the court system to establish paternity. For anybody who requires assistance establishing paternity using any of these three methods, free assistance is available by the state of Illinois. If, however, you have exhausted your options and would like paternity and child support attorneys to help you establish paternity, through whatever method you choose, we are standing by to assist you.

 

Why is Establishing Paternity Important?

 It is important to have the paternity relationship established for a number of reasons. First, every child deserves the benefits that derive from a legal father-child relationship, and every mother and father deserve this as well. Second, establishing paternity protects the rights of both parents. It provides the mother with a method to obtain child support so she is not the sole person responsible for the welfare of the child. It provides the father with access to the child and access to medical information that he would otherwise not be entitled to. Establishing paternity also secures any possible future benefits the child may be entitled to if the father dies, such as Social Security, veterans’ benefits, and inheritance.

 

How Can Attorney Morse Help You?

 If you are unable to establish paternity through use of a Acknowledgement of Paternity and have exhausted all of your other options, you need an experienced family law attorney. We can help establish paternity either through a Court Order or if necessary, a court Order. If you are located in Orlando or the surrounding areas of Central Florida and would like to discuss your options for establishing paternity, please contact the Law Office of Erin Morse by calling (407) 900- 7451 or clicking here to schedule a 1-on-1 consultation with Attorney Morse.

Time Sharing & Visitation During The Holidays

Do You Have A Holiday Visitation Schedule?

We can help you make a holiday schedule to show where your child will spend holidays and special occasions. This schedule has priority over the residential schedule. Whether through negotiations, mediation or collaborative law, Attorney Morse can work closely with you to devise a comprehensive and detailed schedule that is practical, workable, and enforceable. Our lawyers also prove to be effective advocates in court when an agreement cannot be reached. We can also be of help when a parent is seeking to modify the timesharing or parenting schedule.

 Modifications are difficult but not impossible. We know how to gather the evidence and present a persuasive case regarding whether a proposed modification should or should not be adopted. With our years of experience handling domestic violence cases and representing fathers’ rights in child custody, we are prepared to tackle any issue in your divorce regarding timesharing and parenting.

Make Your Holiday Schedule Now

 Here are some common ways that parents divide and share holiday time:

  • Alternate holidays every other year. You can assign holidays to each parent for even years and then swap the holidays in odd years. With this arrangement, you won’t miss spending a holiday with your child more than one year in a row.

  • Split the holiday in half. You can split the day of the holiday so that your child spends part of the day with each parent. This arrangement requires planning and coordination because you don’t want your child to spend holidays traveling all day.

  • Schedule a holiday twice. You can schedule time for each parent to celebrate a holiday with your child. For example, one parent can celebrate Christmas with the child on Dec. 20th and the other parent on the 25th.

  • Assign fixed holidays. You can have each parent celebrate the same holidays with the child every year. If parents have different holidays that they think are important, each parent can have those holidays every year.

You can use any combination of these ways to divide and share holiday time to create holiday arrangements that allow your child to enjoy family traditions and spend quality time with both parents.

 

Holidays with special considerations

 Some holidays have special considerations because both parents usually want to spend time with the child on or near the holiday.

 Here are some ideas of how to share and divide these days:

  • Your child’s birthday: You can schedule a short visit for the parent who doesn’t have the child on the birthday, give both parents birthday time in the schedule, or the parents can alternate having the birthday.

  • Parents’ Birthdays: Your child can spend time with the parent on the parent’s birthday.

  • 3 day weekend holidays: These holidays include Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Presidents’ Day, Memorial Day, Labor Day, and Columbus Day. Parents can alternate the 3 day weekends, split the weekends, or give the Monday holiday to the parent who already has the weekend.

  • Mother’s Day and Father’s Day: Usually your child spends every Mother’s Day with the mother and every Father’s Day with the father.

  • Thanksgiving and Thanksgiving weekend: One parent can have Thanksgiving Day and the other parent can have the weekend, you can give both parents time on Thanksgiving and on the weekend, or parents can alternate having Thanksgiving and the weekend.

  • The Christmas holiday season: One parent can have Christmas Eve and the other parent can have Christmas Day, one parent can have Christmas and the other parent can have winter break, you can make New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day into one holiday and the parents alternate having it.

Holidays to include in your schedule

 

Common holidays to include in your holiday schedule are:

  • New Year’s Day—Jan 1st

  • Martin Luther King Jr. Day—3rd Monday in Jan

  • Lincoln’s Birthday—Feb 12th

  • Presidents’ Day/Washington’s Birthday—3rd Monday in Feb

  • Easter

  • Spring Break

  • Mother’s Day—2nd Sunday in May

  • Memorial Day—last Monday in May

  • Father’s Day—2nd Sunday in June

  • Independence Day—July 4th

  • Labor Day—1st Monday in Sept

  • Columbus Day—2nd Monday in Oct

  • Halloween—Oct 31st

  • Veterans Day—Nov 11th

  • Thanksgiving—4th Thursday in Nov

  • Christmas Eve—Dec 24th

  • Christmas Day—Dec 25th

  • Winter Break

  • New Year’s Eve—Dec 31st

  • Your child’s birthday

You can also include:

  • Religious holidays

  • State holidays

  • Days when your child is out of school, like teacher preparation days

  • School vacation time, like fall break

  • Each parent’s birthday

  • Other special occasion

    Let Our Experienced Orlando Timesharing & Parenting Lawyers Help

    For sound advice and effective representation regarding the timesharing and parenting aspects of your Florida divorce, call the Law Office of Erin Morse in Orlando at 407-900-7451 to speak with a experienced and passionate Florida family law attorney, Erin Morse.

What To Do If Paternity Fraud Happens To You

Having a child is generally one of the most momentous and exciting occasions in your life, but for some fathers, it can be an ongoing nightmare.

 Paternity fraud is a devastating problem in Florida family courts. Thousands of fathers and children are affected by paternity fraud and end up as innocent victims. How does this happen and, if you are a victim, what can you do to fight back?

 We will answer those questions and more as we break down the issue of paternity and paternity fraud here in Florida.

 What Is Legal Paternity in Florida?

 When a child is born, we automatically know who the mother is, but determining the father can be a bit trickier.

 

There are four main legal classifications of fathers:

 Acknowledged father. An acknowledged father is the biological father of a child – who admits he is the father – born to unmarried parents.

 Presumed father. There are a few ways a father can be presumed:

  • He was married to the mother when the child was born or conceived.

  • He tried to marry the mother when the child was born or conceived.

  • He married the mother after the child was born and agreed to sign the birth certificate or paternity affidavit.

  • He has welcomed the child in his home and admits the child is his.

Equitable father. A father who has a close relationship to a child that is encouraged by the biological parents but he is not a biological or adoptive father.

 Unwed father. A father who gets a woman pregnant but does not marry her. If this father wants parental rights, he will have to establish his paternity or another man could end up becoming the presumed father.

 

How Does Paternity Fraud Happen?

 Paternity fraud is also known as misattributed paternity or paternal discrepancy. This happens when a man is misidentified as the biological father of a child.

 Sometimes, this misidentification is intentional and the mother knows that the man is not the biological father. Other times, the misidentification is unintentional and the mother believes a man is the biological father but is not certain.

 There are a number of potential ways this situation can arise.

 When a married couple has a baby, the husband is the presumed father. If the husband signs the birth certificate at the hospital, he then establishes his paternity to that child – regardless of whether he is actually the biological father or not.

 If an unmarried mother has a baby, she could ask a man to sign the birth certificate or affidavit of paternity even if the man is not the biological father of the child.

 In another situation, an unmarried mother might have to apply for state aid, which often requires her to list the child’s father. The mother could potentially name anyone as the child’s father because she doesn’t have to provide proof that the listed father is the biological father.

 

What Is the Impact of Paternity Fraud?

 Once paternity is established, the father is then responsible for child support.

 This poses a problem, however, if the man believes he is the biological father of a child and later discovers that he’s not.

 Let’s take the example above of a married couple who had a child. In this situation, the husband is presumed to be the father of the child because he is married to the mother and signs the birth certificate.

 Some time later, the couple gets divorced and the husband finds out his wife had been having an affair and the child might not actually be his. After a DNA test reveals he is not the child’s biological father, the father is obviously upset, but what are his options?

 If the father takes the case to court, one of two things will happen: the father will either have to continue paying child support or the court will allow him to stop paying child support.

 Why would the father have to continue paying child support?

 Well, Florida courts look out for the best interest of the child. If the father has supported the child for a long time and has acted like the child’s father, then, biological or not, the man is considered to be the child’s father.

 While this might seem shocking – a man having to pay for a child who isn’t biologically his – it is the reality when it comes to paternity.

 Paternity fraud cases can go undetected for years, so when they come to light, they can be emotionally overwhelming. So how can you fight back?

 Let Our Experienced Orlando Family Law Attorney Help You

Reach out to an experienced Florida paternity lawyer for sound advice and effective representation to your unique situation. Call the Law Office of Erin Morse in Orlando at 407-900-7451 to speak with a experienced and passionate Florida Family Law Attorney today.

Questions To Ask Before Hiring A Divorce Lawyer

Remember: it’s your responsibility to retain a lawyer who’s not only good at his or her job, but one whose personality and outlook are compatible with yours.

Here are the questions you should ask during your initial interview:

Do you practice family law exclusively? If not, what percentage of your practice is family law?

 How long have you been practicing?

 What is your retainer (the initial fee paid – or, sometimes, the actual contract you sign – to officially hire a lawyer)? Is this fee refundable? What is your hourly fee? What is your hourly rate and billing terms? You should know what you’re paying for, how often you will be billed, and at what rates.

 Approximately how much will my divorce cost? The lawyer will only be able to provide an estimate based on the information you provide – and your realistic estimation of how amicable you and your spouse are. If you think your case is extremely simple, but your spouse’s lawyer buries your attorney in paperwork, you can expect your costs to increase.

 

What do you think the outcome will be? Remember, you’re looking for truthfulness here – not to be told a pretty story.

 If your spouse has retained a divorce lawyer, ask your prospective lawyer whether he or she knows this lawyer. If so, ask: “Have you worked with him or her before? Do you think the lawyer will work to settle the case? And is there anything that would prevent you from working against this lawyer?”

 What percentage of your cases go to trial? You actually want to choose a lawyer with a low percentage here – a good negotiator who can settle your divorce without a long, expensive court battle.

 Are you willing and able to go to court if this case can’t be settled any other way?

 How long will this process take? (Again, the answer will be an approximation.)

 What are my rights, and what are my obligations during my divorce?

 At a full-service law firm, ask who will be handling the case: the lawyer you’re interviewing, an associate, or a combination of senior and junior lawyers and paralegals?

 Should I consider divorce mediation? Ask if your case – at least in the initial stages – might be a good one for mediation. If there has been violence in the relationship, or one spouse is seriously intimidated by the other, this may not be a viable alternative.

 Should I consider Collaborative Divorce? In this alternative-dispute process, each client hires a collaborative lawyer to serve as his/her advisor. Both clients and lawyers sign an agreement that they will not go to court; if the process fails, the lawyers must resign and the divorcing couple starts over again from square one. 

 What happens now? Do I need to do anything? And when will I hear from you?

 Finally, if there’s something you really need to know, or if you don’t understand something the lawyer said, don’t be afraid to ask for clarification. 

 Let Our Experienced Divorce Attorney Morse Help You

 Schedule a free consultation to speak with an experienced and passionate Family Law Attorney Erin Morse to help you with your legal matter. For sound advice and effective representation regarding your Florida divorce, call the Law Office of Erin Morse in Orlando at 407-900-7451.

Is A 50/50 Time Sharing Good For A Child?

Many people start a divorce or paternity case with the impression that 50/50 timesharing/visitation is in the best interest of their child. However, this premise does not take into account that each family is unique and has its own
individual dynamics and circumstances.

Children show the best adjustment in divorce or paternity cases where there is a cooperative co‑parenting, shared responsibility (shared decision-making) and limited conflict between the parents.

Children should have substantial contact with both parents. However, this does not mean that an equal timesharing/visitation arrangement is best for all children. The focus of any parent engaged in a divorce or paternity action should be upon the quality of the relationships (both between the parents themselves and between the parents and the children and each child). Quality is not always determined by the amount of time a child spends with you as a parent. There are a number of circumstances in which 50/50 timesharing/visitation may not be in the best interest of the child. Those circumstances include, but are not limited to:


Special needs of a child.

One parent may be better suited to deal with a child’s special need/developmental disability than the other parent. Such situations with children include ADHD, anxiety, autism, developmental delays, and other related developmental and physical special needs;


Geographical facts of the parents’ residences.

If the parents live any substantial distance apart from one another, then a 50/50 timesharing/visitation schedule would require troublesome travel for a child during the school year. The child would have difficulty traveling from each parent’s home to school. It seems implausible that children should be on the road at 5:00 or 6:00 a.m. to attend their chosen school. It also will make it difficult for the child to participate in extracurricular activities and maintain friendships that the child develops at school.

Parents, who are divorcing or separating, need to remember that as children grow older, their peer relationships become more and more important. Also, consistent excellent academic performance by students requires adequate rest and a consistent schedule that meets their needs. 50/50 timesharing/visitation cannot provide that in all circumstances;


Determine Best Timesharing/Visitation for Your Family Now with a Family Law Assessment!

Some family dynamics are not suited for a 50/50 timesharing/visitation schedule. For instance, when one parent is largely absent from the home and the caregiver role, the other spouse has had to act as the role of the primary caregiver for the child. Particularly where children are young, it would be highly disruptive to them to change this type of dynamic. In addition, a parent who has been largely absent from the home and caregiver role during the marriage is likely to continue to be largely absent from the home and the caregiver role at the conclusion of the divorce, despite the court’s order for a 50/50 timesharing/visitation. This would result in the primary caregiver having to care for the child without receiving child support to offset the increased expenses of providing extra care; and A Florida 50/50 timesharing/visitation schedule assumes that all parent-child attachments are the same. Research, over the past decades has conclusively proven that not all attachments between parents and their children are equal. There is a hierarchy of attachments which need to be recognized.

Exceptions to 50/50 Florida Timesharing

There is no psychological research that supports equal timesharing/visitation as being the best for all children and all families. Consequently, divorcing or separating parents should always be aware that they should be seeking a timesharing/visitation schedule for their child which is in their child’s best interests. Parents should not be caught up in any premise that assumes a particular schedule for timesharing/visitation fits all families. Each family should be attempting to devise a timesharing/visitation schedule that is in the best interest of their children and best suits their family’s situation and circumstances.

Let Our Experienced Orlando Family Law Attorney Help You

Reach out to an experienced Board Certified Family Law Attorney for legal advice and effective representation to your unique situation. Fill out a form online or call the Law Office of Erin Morse in Orlando at (407) 900-7451 to schedule a consultation with Attorney Morse.

How is Child Support Determined In Florida ?

Child support is a key element of any separation between couples that have children, as every child has a legal right to receive financial support from both parents. Under the Florida law, child support amounts are determined based on many different factors: income, deductions, childcare expenses, healthcare expenses, other expenses, shared custody and visitation.

 After a calculation of allowable deductions from gross income, the non-custodial parent is required to pay a percentage of their net income as child support. The percentage of income paid for child support is capped at a maximum of 50% for 6 children or more. The following are the income percentages that must be paid with regards to the number of children:
 

•    1 child – 20%

•    2 children – 28%

•    3 children – 32%

•    4 children – 40%

•    5 children – 45%

•    6 children – 50%
 

Though the law is explicit regarding how child support is calculated, there are factors that can make this issue more challenging such as facts that may permit an upward or downward deviation from the guidelines.
 

What Does Child Support Cover?

 Florida law recognizes that children have a right to receive support from both parents, but it does not calculate support based on their combined income. Instead, one parent is named the noncustodial parent, who is required to pay a percentage of net income to the recipient parent. In most cases, the noncustodial parent, so the law assumes the recipient parent is already paying something for the children’s support while exercising physical custody. Child support is designed to maintain children at the standard of living they would have enjoyed had the parents not been separated. Money from child support is meant to help the custodial parent pay for the child’s basic needs, like food and clothes, along with transportation, medical care, activities, education and other standard child-rearing expenses. 

 Florida uses a precise mathematical calculation for basic child support. However, the court has the discretion to order the non-custodial to pay additional amounts for lifestyle expenses, including:
 

•    Private school tuition

•    College savings, tuition and living expenses

•    Enrichment activities (sports, travel teams, the arts, summer camp, etc.)
 

A court also considers the specific children in question. For example, if a child has special needs, the court may order additional payments for associated expenses.
 

How Long Do I Have to Pay Child Support?

If you have been ordered to pay child support for one or more children, you need to know when your obligation ends. Florida law requires you to pay child support at least until your son or daughter turns 18. However, there are numerous circumstances that would lead a court to require you to pay support for a bit longer. If your child is still in high school when he or she turns 18, then you may be required to pay support through graduation or his or her 19th birthday.

 Your child support obligation can go on longer if your child has a mental or physical disability. You may be required to pay support for a child with disabilities through a certain age until a certain educational goal is achieved, and possibly indefinitely.
 

Preparing for College Expenses

 You may be required to continue financially supporting your child when he or she goes to college or enrolls in another type of higher educational or training program. Florida allows for you to be obliged to participate in paying for the educational expenses of a non-minor child. You could be required to help pay for college prep-courses, application fees, tuition, and room and board.

 However, there is no automatic duty to contribute toward your child’s college expenses. The other parent must petition the court to require you to do so. However, the court will look at a variety of factors, including your financial situation and your child’s ability to pay for school him- or herself, before making a decision.

 If you are ordered to contribute toward your adult child’s educational expenses, you only have to do so until he or she turns 23, or if your child has a disability, until he or she turns 25. Also, you may be able to set it up so you pay your child or the educational institution directly. You may not have to pay this support to your child’s other parent.

 
Asking for Child Support to End

 You may be able to ask for your child support duty to end early if your child is emancipated, living with another adult other than his mom or dad, or residing with you. The court may consider a child emancipated before turning 18 if he or she gets married, joins the military, is working full-time, or has moved out and become financially independent.

 If you are aware of these circumstances and believe paying your child’s other parent support should no longer be necessary, contact me today to discuss returning to court for a modification of your child support obligation. If your child has moved in with you full time, you may be able to ask the other parent for support instead.

 

Contact us for Help Today

 As an attorney, I understand the intricacies of how child support is determined. If you have questions about child support or believe your current financial obligation needs to change or end, call us today at (407) 900-7451 or contact us online. Work with a skilled Orlando child support attorney at the Law Office of Erin Morse for the guidance and advice you need on this important matter. 

Modifying A Parenting Plan

Children grow up fast and as they grow their needs, desires, goals, and interests all change, as does the relationship with their parents. A child might be more attached to her mother during infancy and childhood, the child may become more attached and develop a better relationship with her father during adolescence. Children of a committed couple can simply choose which parent they would like to spend more time with while children of divorced couples must comply with orders the court enters. These orders can direct that they live primarily with one parent and may even dictate how often they see the other parent. These orders are contained in a parenting plan.Parenting plans may be modified as circumstances change and the child grows. Sometimes it can become a difficult process to modify a parenting plan, especially if the other parent is objecting to changing the plan.

 

Modifying the Parenting Plan When Both Parties Agree

 Before discussing how to modify a parenting plan through the court, it should be mentioned that parents can in virtually every circumstance modify a parenting plan by agreement. One possible exception, for instance, is if one parent has put the child’s life in danger in the past. Courts are eager to encourage divorced parents to work together and communicate one another about their children’s needs and take measures to meet those needs.

 For example, suppose a divorced couple has one child in common. At the time their parenting plan was entered, the child was only two years old and the parenting plan called for each parent to exercise visitation with the child for 1 week at a time (that is, mother would have the child for one week, and the father would have the child for one week). But now the child is ready to start school and father lives in a different school district than the mother. The parents can agree amongst themselves to alter the parenting plan to allow the child to reside with the mother during the school year with the father having some weekend visitation in exchange for the father getting extended visitation periods on school breaks and during the summer or any other agreement the parties wish to make.

 To protect yourself in the future, it is always recommended that you inform your attorney that you have made a change to the parenting plan by agreement. A written agreement should be drawn up that memorializes the changes you are making. Both parties should then sign the agreement along with their attorneys, if any, and the original signed agreement should be filed with the court. This prevents the other parent from attempting to claim later that there was no agreement and you are attempting to interfere with his or her parenting time.

 

What To Do If The Other Parent Does Not Agree to Modify the Plan

 If the other parent will not modify the parenting plan, you must get an order modifying the parenting plan from the court. Unless there is an immediate emergency (i.e., the child’s life or health is in immediate danger), the court will not modify the parenting plan without holding a hearing and allowing both parents to present their respective views. Even if a court does modify a parenting plan without a hearing because of an emergency, the court will need to hold a hearing shortly after modifying the plan to determine whether the plan should remain as modified or if it needs to be changed back.

 In determining whether to modify a parenting plan, the court is to make decisions it believes are in “the best interest of the child.” It will generally modify parenting plans when there has been a substantial, unanticipated change of circumstances and the modification of the plan is in the best interest of the child. “Substantial” means that it must be of a permanent or near-permanent nature; “unanticipated” means that the situation was not or could not have been anticipated by the parties or the court at the time the original parenting plan was ordered.This is a rather ambiguous standard and leaves the court with a great deal of discretion when deciding what parenting plan is appropriate. What this means for you, the parent seeking to modify a parenting plan will need to convince the court that the modified parenting plan you are seeking is in the best interest of the child and that the previous parenting plan no longer serves the child’s best interest.

 

Conclusion

 Modifications of parenting plans are granted by the courts, but you must have compelling evidence to support your contentions and request. An attorney can help evaluate your situation and advise you as to whether your motion is likely to be denied or granted. If the attorney believes you have a good chance at being successful in your motion, your attorney can help you locate evidence and witnesses to support your motion and present this information to the court.

Contact Our Caring and Experienced Orlando Family Law Attorney Today

If you or someone you know is in need of a modification, schedule a consultation to discuss your situation with an experienced family law attorney. Our family law attorney at Law Office of Erin Morse will help you discuss your case, your options and rights, and help guide you through this process. We proudly serve our clients throughout Orlando and the surrounding areas; including Orange, Seminole, Volusia, Lake, Brevard and Osceola counties. Schedule a consultation today by calling us at (407) 900-7451 or completing a contact form.

9 Rules to Make Joint Custody Work

We asked our experts for their best rules for making shared child custody work for you, your ex, and your kids.Coordinating schedules. Divvying up holidays. Shuffling kids between houses. Sharing child custody isn’t always easy, especially when you’re trying to agree with someone you couldn’t stand being married to. The good news: “Studies show that shared-custody situations work best when both parents are cooperative, respectful, agree on shared custody, and manage their emotions,” says JoAnne Pedro-Carroll, Ph.D., clinical psychologist and author of Putting Children First: Proven Parenting Strategies to Help Children Thrive Through Divorce. “These qualities make it more likely that parents will help their children adjust to family changes.” We asked our experts for their best rules for making shared child custody work for you, your ex, and your kids.

Rule #1: Speak no evil.

 Expert after expert (most of whom were divorced themselves) repeated this: Don’t speak poorly about your ex. “Badmouthing the ex will be internalized by the child because they are made up of both you and your ex,” says David Pisarra, fathers’ rights attorney at MensFamilyLaw.com and author of A Man’s Guide To Child Custody. “What you say about the ex is what the child will react to, and also think about themselves.” Even though you may be pissed at your ex, your child still loves him or her as a parent. Regardless of your feelings about your ex – justified or not – keep them to yourself.

Rule #2: It’s not about you.

The divorce was about you, but custody is about the kids. “Divorce causes emotional tunnel vision and people get so focused on their own hurts and needs that they lose sight of the goal of creating a good childhood,” Pisarra says. Custody is not about getting exactly what you want, or even demanding equity at any cost. “The hardest part for co-parents is remembering that time with the child is not a prize to be won, but a gift to be cherished,” Pisarra says. Shared custody works best when both parents set aside their ego and realize that what is best for the child is not always what feels good for you as a parent.”

Rule #3: Be realistic about your own schedule and commitments.

“Often during a separation or divorce, parents make unrealistic custody grabs based on fear or insecurity,” says Laura Wasser, a celebrity divorce attorney in Los Angeles and author of the new book It Doesn’t Have to Be That Way. Instead, look at custody as a business arrangement. Remove your emotions from the situation and look at the facts.

Rule #4: Choose a custody arrangement that accommodates your children’s ages, activities, and needs.

When deciding on a custody arrangement, you’ll want to take the following into consideration.

1. Your children’s ages and personalities

2. Your family schedule

3. The career and social commitments of each parent

4. The academic and extracurricular activities to which your children are committed

5. Your child-care arrangements and the distance between the parents’ homes.

Here are three of the most common joint custody arrangements:

1. 2-2-3 plan Monday and Tuesday with Mom, Wednesday and Thursday with Dad, Friday through Sunday with Mom. Then the schedule flips: Monday and Tuesday with Dad, etc.

2. 2-2-5 plan Monday and Tuesday with Mom, Wednesday and Thursday with Dad, and then alternating Friday through Sunday between the parents (one week with Mom, the next with Dad). This schedule often works better when kids are older and have their own schedule of practices, playdates, and obligations.

3. Alternate week plan week 1 with Mom, week 2 with Dad, and so on.Infants usually remain in primary care of the mothers, but toddlers and preschool-age children actually benefit from switching back and forth between households. “Generally, mental health practitioners who specialize in development recommend that for younger children, more frequent transitions actually are beneficial,” Wasser says. A 2-2-3 plan allows the child to see both parents regularly. As they get older, kids can graduate to a 2-2-5 arrangement. Then, if it’s easier, parents can switch to an alternate week plan.”

Rule #5: A bad spouse doesn’t equal a bad parent.

Your ex may have dropped the ball and driven you crazy, but Wasser reminds her clients that “even though he or she may not have been a good spouse, it is still possible for him or her to be a good parent.” In most case, Wasser says, “it is unquestionably best for children to have frequent and continuous contact with both parents.” Your marriage may not have worked, but your parenting can still succeed. “For good or bad, the child wants and needs to feel the love of both of parents,” Pisarra says. How to do that? Put the needs and well-being of your children first. “Remember that when the children are with your ex, they are with the one person in the world who loves and cares about them as much as you,” Wasser says.

Rule #6: Find an agreeable way to communicate

For joint child custody to work, communication is key. For the sake of your children (and your sanity), you need to find a method of communication that works for you and your ex. “These days we have so many tools with which to organize custody,” Wasser says. “There are Google calendars, icalendars, cell phones, texting, and emailing – all which provide parents with the ability to communicate with each other quickly.” Pisarra directs his clients to the website OurFamilyWizard.com, which offers joint calendars, expense logs, common document storage for things like a child’s immunization record or school calendar, and a message board that keeps an accurate and non-modifiable record of your communications that can be admitted in court, if disagreements arise.

Rule #7: Pick your battles.

Let’s be frank. Parenting is hard enough on its own, and co-parenting adds another layer of complexity. Prevent as many as conflicts as possible with your ex by open communication, but when disagreements do arise, consider if the conflict is truly worth fighting over. “Try to be as rational about your positions as possible and remember that if a judge has to decide it, no one will like the decision most likely” Pisarra advises. “Fight only for the things that are worth fighting for. School choices, vacations, and parenting time are worth the fight. Things like food choices, unless there’s a known medical issue like diabetes or food allergies, are not worth the fight.” Save your energy and good will with your ex and the courts for those things that do matter.

Rule #8: Let your child feel heard.

 A child experiences lots of change during a divorce. Allowing the child to express feelings and confusions about the divorce and custody arrangement can help him feel a sense of control in the midst of all that change. “Children need to have input in the process, and depending on how old they are,” Pisarra says. “That can be a simple matter with preteens, or hard to discern with toddlers.” Involving your 5-year-old might mean letting him choose which Lego sets he wants to bring to his dad’s house. Involving preteens and teenagers in creating a custody schedule can help ensure the schedule meshes with the teen’s extracurricular activities. Plus, a child who feels that his input was received is more likely to be agreeable to the schedule. But, says Wasser, “While it is important to listen to your children and hear their feelings, impressions and preferences, the child’s opinion is only one factor that goes into making child-custody decisions.” Let your children feel heard, but also make the best decision for their well being.

Rule #9: From time to time, review the arrangement and adjust as needed.

Just as your kids will grow and change over time, so should your custody arrangement. “Many parents find it helpful to review a custody agreement from time to time to assess how it is working for their children and to make adjustments, particularly as children grow and circumstances change,” says Dr. Pedro-Carroll. You and your ex may change too. Says Wasser: “If you are hoping to eventually get to an equal time share arrangement but have not historically spent as much time parenting, gradual increases are recommended.”