Contrary to what you might hear, it’s not always the case that women are the default or preferred parent in child custody cases! The California Family Code presumes that joint custody is in the best interest of the child. This is only a presumption, which can of course be rebutted. However, the law by default recognizes that a child needs both of their parents, and it looks at a plan for sharing time and resources in a way that is beneficial to children.
The goal of the law is that Kids have the kind of relationship they had with their parents before the divorce to continue after the divorce. In a case where there were two working parents who were very involved in the child’s sports practice or school activities, the goal is to have these things continue. Of course, this can become a challenge when the family is in a post-divorce living situation.
Challenges in Changes after the Divorce
It’s one thing to spend time with kids when one parent is cooking dinner and the other is helping with math homework. But it’s much harder when the parents are living apart and don’t have someone to share tasks with or to divide the responsibility of watching the kids.
Post-divorce arrangements require reorganization—but it also involves opportunities to learn something new. In marriages, couples often allocate roles, with one partner handling some tasks while the other partner takes care of other things. After the divorce, the parent who didn’t set doctor and dentist appointments will now have to learn how to do so. A spouse who wasn’t usually going to the store, making the grocery list, and cooking will have to develop these skill sets. In my area, it’s fairly common, for heterosexual couples, that the father is the one who’s in charge of the kitchen, while mothers tend to take care of getting to appointments and play dates.
What people often think of as a typical parenting plan—the 80/20 plan or “every other weekend” parenting plan—is no longer as common. Instead, parents have more equitable parenting agreements. Of course, there are situations where time was not split evenly between spouses in the pre-divorce family lifestyle. For instance, some families might have had one of the parents who had to travel for their career, or maybe one spouse worked while the other was a stay-at-home parent. Even in these kinds of situations, there is still a presumption by the court that that time is shared evenly. Ideally, this will happen in an organized fashion, as the parents and children are adjusting to living apart, and the agreement can change over time, depending on what is age-appropriate for the children or as changes occur in the parents’ lives. Developmentally, a parenting plan that is appropriate for a six-year-old will be different from what a sixteen-year-old needs.
Children Take Priority in Custody Agreements
It’s important to remember that the law really does aim to consider your children first in these scenarios. The court wants to ensure that kids have a good relationship with their parents. We become well-adjusted individuals with healthy attachments when we have good relationships with our parents. One of the advantages of the Collaborative Divorce process is that mental health professionals work alongside legal experts to help parents fashion good plans that are appropriate for their children—making sure that neither parent’s involvement is neglected.
The reality is this: it’s not as if mothers and wives are the “default” parent—fathers and husbands are often very involved, and the courts will try to make it, so the children are benefited by both parents wherever possible.
For assistance with Collaborative Divorce, parenting disputes, and custody arrangements, contact the team at Chase, Berenstein and Murray, Counselors at Law.