Child custody negotiations occur when parents seek to arrive at basic agreements regarding the custody of the child or children. The negotiations may occur formally, as in a child custody mediation with a trained mediator present. They may also occur in connection with a legal proceeding such as a divorce hearing. 

More often than not, child custody negotiations may occur through personal, informal meetings where the parents discuss the effects that a future custody decision may have on child custody.

Please be aware that the final arrangements for child custody will ultimately be determined by the judge, not the parents. Any matters discussed during negotiations between the parents may be altered or even disregarded by the judge if they feel this is appropriate. Child custody is determined according to the child’s best interests standard rather than what is beneficial for either parent. 

However, information and decisions reached during child custody negotiations can be presented to the judge to assist them in their evaluations. 

What Decisions Are Discussed in Child Custody Negotiations?

During the negotiations, the parents of the child or children will usually address important matters in connection with child custody, such as:

  • Child custody
  • Visitation schedules and arrangements
  • Child support payments
  • Other matters such as the rights of grandparents or other parties

It is important that both parties proceed with negotiations in a manner that is cooperative, both emotionally and mentally. Child custody should not be treated as a “bargaining chip” in order to obtain a more favorable judgment in divorce proceedings. 

What Standards Are Utilized for Determining Child Custody?

As mentioned, a judge will determine child custody in a manner that is most beneficial to the child rather than according to the interests of either parent. During child custody proceedings, a judge may use the following standards to determine child custody:

  • Best Interests of the Child: This standard considers what type of child custody arrangement is best for the child. Using this standard, a judge may seek to minimize child custody allocations that will disrupt the child’s development. For example, the judge will attempt to minimize geographic relocation of the child, and may seek for equal time periods for visitation between each parent
  • Presumption in Favor of the Status Quo: The “status quo” is the parental arrangement that existed before the child custody hearing. Judges are likely to enforce a child custody arrangement that is very similar to the one already existing. This is so that the court does not enforce any dramatic changes in the life of the child.  Either party would need to convince the court that the present arrangement needs to be altered. If this cannot be proven, then the judge is likely to issue child custody in a way that leaves the present arrangement largely unchanged.

Finally, incidents of abuse or violence can drastically alter child custody decisions. For example, if one parent has abused the child, their custody may be limited, even if they are more financially capable than the other parent. 

Do I Need a Lawyer for Child Custody Negotiations?

If you will be engaging in child custody negotiations, you may wish to enlist the services of a child custody lawyer. Your attorney can help assist you during negotiations so that the best interests of the child are served. Remember that, in the end, it is up to the judge to finalize a child custody order. However, negotiations can be very helpful for the judge’s decisions.