Building a Parenting Agreement That Works: Child Custody Agreements Step by Step


Avoid custody battles -- save time, money and grief.

Working out a fair and realistic child-custody agreement is one of the most difficult tasks for parents going through a divorce or separation. Building a Parenting Agreement That Works is the only book to show separating or divorcing parents how to overcome obstacles and create win-win custody agreements.

A professional ...
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Avoid custody battles -- save time, money and grief.

Working out a fair and realistic child-custody agreement is one of the most difficult tasks for parents going through a divorce or separation. Building a Parenting Agreement That Works is the only book to show separating or divorcing parents how to overcome obstacles and create win-win custody agreements.

A professional mediator, author Mimi Lyster sets out 40 issues separating parents typically face, and presents all the options to resolving them. The book walks you through all the factors you must consider, including:

•medical care
•religious training
•living arrangements
•money issues
•dealing with changes in an existing agreement

The updated 6th edition includes checklists and worksheets to help you complete the included fill-in-the-blank custody agreement, and provides the current custody laws of your state. It also covers how to track your child's well-being during a separation or divorce.
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Editorial Reviews

New York Daily News
Clear, practical advice on identifying everyone's concerns, and strategies for effective negotiations.
A step-by-step guide meant to help even the most hostile couples work out terms for raising their children after the family splits.
Washington Times
Aims to show separating or divorcing parents how to overcome obstacles and build their own custody agreements.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781413312522
  • Publisher: NOLO
  • Publication date: 9/24/2010
  • Edition description: Seventh Edition
  • Edition number: 7
  • Pages: 352
  • Sales rank: 987,143
  • Product dimensions: 8.84 (w) x 11.80 (h) x 0.72 (d)

Meet the Author

Mimi E. Lyster has been active in dispute resolution and other facilitated decision-making processes for 25 years. She brings experiences as a mediator, trainer, facilitator, strategic planner, and court policy analyst to her work with families, businesses, nonprofits, and government organizations. Lyster has co-founded a community mediation program, served on the California Dispute Resolution Council, the State Bar's Committee and was appointed to the 2020 California Court futures Commission. She maintains a limited private practice in the San Francisco Bay Area.
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Read an Excerpt


Before getting started on your parenting plan, you should understand the context in which your parenting decisions will be made.

You Are Not Alone

During the last quarter century, the expectation that two people would meet, marry, raise a family, and grow old together has changed. Studies over the past 10 years have confirmed that couples who divorce will be most likely to do so after about seven years of marriage, and that two-thirds of these divorcing families will include at least one child under the age of six. Statistics also show that more than a million children each year for the past 25 years have lived through a divorce.

Other researchers have commented on the changing structure of the family. During the past 35 years, the divorce rate has quadrupled and births outside of marriage have increased by 22%. Many families relocate every few years, depriving these families of the benefits of living close to extended family. Researchers predict that nearly half of all babies born today will spend some time living in a one-parent family. A family in which biological parents stay together and raise their children to adulthood is now the reality only for about one-third of all couples. The new reality is that most parents will never marry, will marry and later divorce, or will create their families through artificial insemination or adoption.

Keep Your Parenting Plan Focused on Your Children

You and your children's other parent are about to undertake a difficult but very important project: making the best possible decisions about your parenting arrangements. Of course, it may be hard to separate the desire to have nothing more to dowith your ex from the task of making decisions that are in your children's interest. After all, separation and divorce exist to solve adult problems, not to meet children's needs.

Even if your separation or divorce will be better for your children in the long run, for the short term most children feel that things are worse. Divorce or separation can shake a child's confidence that he or she will continue to be loved, cared for, and safe. This is true even when children understand the reasons behind the decision.

You and the other parent can help your children by using this book to develop an agreement that focuses on meeting your children's individual needs. The more attention you pay to those needs, the more likely you are to build an agreement that works for all of you.

You and the other parent must honestly assess your relationship as parents and your ability to work together. To keep your agreement focused on your children, you must be willing to trust each other and set aside your anger, frustration, and pain, at least for a while. If you've just separated, you may think it will be impossible to trust and cooperate with the other parent. Many find, though, that trustful and cooperative relationships usually evolve over time. One of the most effective strategies for moving toward this kind of relationship is to build on points of agreement until you have crafted a comprehensive parenting plan.

Dealing With Grief, Anger, Pain, Relief, Fear, and Other Messy Emotions

Some compare the end of a marriage or other committed relationship to a death. The dreams that most of us bring to our relationships are huge. Add a child or children into the mix, and the combination is powerful indeed. Losing those dreams or seeing them fade away will stir powerful emotions in both parents. Add to this the fact that children go through their own worries, losses, and pain, and your divorce is likely to be a very difficult time -- at least at the beginning.

Is all of this "normal"? In many respects, it would be strange if the changes associated with separation or divorce were not terribly difficult at first -- even if you are the one who ended the relationship.

These are times where it makes sense to make space for feeling as if your emotions are "out of control," not knowing exactly how you feel, or wondering whether your feelings will ever settle down again. It is also a time to seek out some support. Powerful emotions are just part of the territory when relationships change or end. It's when you feel alone that the feelings can take over more of your world than may be healthy. Find good friends, relatives, a religious counselor, or trained mental health professional who can hear what you are feeling, and help keep things in perspective. In time, the initial pain and turmoil will lessen, and you will be able to move on to a more balanced frame of mind. Remember to look for support for your child as well. Some children feel best confiding in their parents, others worry about overloading an already-stressed parent, and so try to handle too much on their own.

It Gets Easier Over Time

At the beginning, separation or divorce is often traumatic. Many people behave irrationally or seem unstable. As time passes, however, most parents regain their balance.

Let's look more closely at the typical emotional stages parents go through when they separate, and how these stages might affect each parent's ability to reach an effective, child-focused parenting plan.

The First Few Weeks

Just before and just after the initial separation, you will probably feel confused. It may seem that there are an endless number of decisions to make, each of which appears to be the most important. You will probably ride a roller coaster of emotions. On any given day you may have intense feelings of rage, depression, abandonment, relief, grief, guilt, and excitement. In fact, you may decide that ending a relationship, or having one ended for you, has left you feeling like you are going crazy.

This is not the time to worry about charting a permanent course for your children's future. Instead, try to develop one or more short-term agreements that will allow you, the other parent, and your children to settle in to the new arrangements gradually. By taking it slowly, you will have time to see what makes the most sense in the long run. The key to success is to separate the adult relationship issues from the parenting issues and develop a clear, child-centered plan that each parent can easily follow.

Divorce and Separation Aren't Only About Ending an Intimate Relationship

Separation and divorce occur on many levels, including emotional, financial, legal, social, and intimate. Given these complicated changes, you and your ex should think about how you will manage all of these aspects of splitting up. Your child will benefit most when you can separate the "adult" issues from the parenting issues and keep your child out of the middle.

As you and the other parent gain an understanding of the full scope of your new relationship and the ways in which you will take on new and separate lives, you will find that you are better able to chart your own course, and you will be pleased with the results of your efforts. In fact, the parents who express the greatest levels of satisfaction with their separate parenting agreements are those who take the time to negotiate comprehensive, child-focused agreements that both parents can support.

There are lots of books that can help parents cope at the beginning of a separation or divorce. See Chapter 17 for references.

The First Few Months

Several months after the initial separation, your life will probably be a little calmer, but you may find that your relationship with the other parent can still provoke either or both of you in extreme and unexpected ways. Many parents find it hard to distance themselves from each other when they need to stay in contact because they share children. Your children can be a constant reminder of what has gone on (or has gone wrong) and what remains to be done. You may be experimenting with a new partner or a new approach to how you want to live your life. You may feel annoyed if the other parent's presence puts a damper on your newfound freedom.

At the other end of the spectrum, you or the other parent may still feel angry, sad, powerless, or abandoned, as you did when you first separated.

If you try to negotiate a parenting plan during this phase, you may find it extremely difficult to reach agreement on any but the easiest issues. Many parents, nevertheless, negotiate temporary parenting arrangements early on, especially to resolve a particular issue, such as where the children will attend school. These parents can start with Chapter 6 (Basic Elements) and address only the most pressing issues until they are ready to handle more.

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Table of Contents

I. Introduction

Make Your Own Custody Decisions If Possible
What If We Need Outside Help?
Balancing Parenting and Financial Issues
Why This Book Is Unique
A Word to Skeptics
What If You Just Want to Fight?

Part I: Getting Started

1. Taking Stock of Your Situation
You Are Not Alone
Keep Your Parenting Plan Focused on Your Children
It Gets Easier Over Time
Learn How to Negotiate
If the Other Parent Is Absent
If There Is Violence or Abuse in the Family

2. An Introduction to Parenting Agreements
What Parenting Agreements Cover
Advantages of Parent-Negotiated Agreements
Goals of a Successful Parenting Agreement
Parenting Agreements and Custody

3. Getting Organized
Organize and Review Documents
Completing the Worksheets
Sample Worksheets

4. How to Negotiate a Parenting Agreement
Knowing What You Need and Want
When Conflict Gets in the Way
Using Effective Negotiation and Problem-Solving Strategies
Breaking Through Impasses
Knowing Where to Get Help and Support

Part II: Your Parenting Agreement

5. Building Your Agreement
Where to Begin
Cooperate! Cooperate! Cooperate!
Get Outside Help
Keep Your Agreement Current

6. Basic Elements
Issue 1: Where Our Children Will Live
Issue 2: Medical, Dental, and Vision Care
Issue 3: Negative Comments or Remarks
Issue 4: Consistency in Raising Children
Issue 5: Holidays
Issue 6: Education
Issue 7: Insurance
Issue 8: Making Decisions
Issue 9: Resolving Disputes
Issue 10: Labeling the Custody Arrangement

7. Finishing Touches
Issue 11: Exchanging Information
Issue 12: ChildCare
Issue 13: Special Occasions and Family Events
Issue 14: Vacations
Issue 15: Outside Activities
Issue 16: Transportation Between Parents' Homes
Issue 17: Improving Transition Times
Issue 18: Maintaining Contact
Issue 19: Grandparents, Relatives, and Important Friends
Issue 20: Psychiatric and Other Mental Health Care
Issue 21: Religious Training
Issue 22: Surname
Issue 23: Treating Each Child as an Individual
Issue 24: Separating the Adult Relationship Issues From the Parenting Issues
Issue 25: Making Routine Changes
Issue 26: Making Big Changes
Issue 27: Explaining the Agreement to Your Children

8. Serious Issues
Issue 28: Domestic Violence, Child Abuse, and Child Neglect
Issue 29: Alcohol or Drug Abuse
Issue 30: Undermining the Parent-Child Relationship
Issue 31: Denying Access to the Children
Issue 32: If Extended Family Members or Close Friends Are Fueling the Dispute

9. Special Issues and Complicating Factors
Issue 33: Moving
Issue 34: When Parenting Styles and Values Differ
Issue 35: When a Parent Needs to Develop Parenting Skills
Issue 36: When Parents Have New Partners
Issue 37: If Our Homes Are Far Apart
Issue 38: When Nonrelatives Live in the Home
Issue 39: Reinvolving a Parent Who Has Been Absent
Issue 40: Driving and Owning a Car, Motorcycle, or Off-Road Vehicle
Issue 41: International Travel and Passports
Issue 42: Military Service
Issue 43: Allowing Underage Marriage

Part III: Beyond Your Parenting Agreement

10. Child Support, Alimony, and Jointly Owned Property
Understanding Child Support
Understanding Alimony or Spousal Support
Negotiating Child and Spousal Support
Dividing Jointly Owned Property

11. Making Mediation and Arbitration Work for You
How Mediation Works
Why Mediation Works
Proposing Mediation
Understanding Basic Mediation Techniques
Why Mediation Works in Very Difficult Cases
What Mediators Don't Do
Choosing Between Court-Ordered and Private Mediation
When the Mediator Makes a Recommendation to the Court
Custody Evaluations
Choosing a Mediator
Preparing for Mediation
If You Can't Reach an Agreement
Alternatives to Mediation

12. Dealing With Changes in Your Agreement
Why Changes Are Necessary -- And How to Handle Them
When You Are the One Initiating Change
When You Are the One Responding to a Request for Change
When Tensions Are Running High
What to Do After You Negotiate the Changes

13. Understanding Your Children's Needs
Strategies for Your Children at Any Age
Strategies for Your Children at Different Ages and Developmental Stages
Strategies for Children With Special Needs

14. Multiracial, Multicultural, and International Families
Accommodating Differences in Child-Rearing Practices
Encouraging Children to Celebrate the Traditions of Both Parents
Sorting Out the Role of Power Within the Family
Working Within the American Legal System
Deciding Whether Another Country Has Authority Over Parenting (Custody) Issues

15. Nontraditional Families
What Are Nontraditional Families?
The Legal Relationship of a Nontraditional Parent and His or Her Children
Recognizing the Nontraditional Parent's Role
Resolving Conflict in a Way That Meets Your Family's Needs
Creating New Relationships After the Divorce or Separation

16. State and Federal Laws Affecting Child Custody
Custody and Visitation
Best Interests of the Child
Interference With Custody
Interstate Custody Disputes
International Custody Disputes
Custody and the IRS

17. Help Beyond the Book
Researching Legal Issues
Researching Nonlegal Issues
Research on the Internet
Finding Professionals Who Can Help
Additional Resources

A. Appendix: Tear-Out Forms
Worksheet 1: Describe Your Child
Worksheet 2: Describe Your Relationship With Your Child
Worksheet 3: Adding the Details
Worksheet 4: Checklist of Issues for Your Parenting Agreement
Parenting Agreement

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