Creating a Plan When You're Friends
The courts can serve as your backup only as long as the children are considered dependent under the law. Most state laws label children emancipated when they reach eighteen, marry, join the military, finish high school, or obtain full-time employment and become self-supporting. When one of these things happens, the courts lose jurisdiction over the children because the law considers them adults. However, a few states retain jurisdiction until the children reach age twenty-one, so you need to check your state's laws with your lawyer.
On Friendly Terms
Assume for a moment that you and your spouse are on reasonably friendly terms. You can talk to each other on the phone about the children, and you've been flexible, trading weekends to accommodate activities and special events. If you both show up for your son's baseball game, you can even sit together and cheer. This is terrific. Your ability to work together bodes well for the ongoing mental health of all members of the restructured family. This is the ideal relationship and one that all parents should strive to achieve and maintain.
All parents need to have a written parenting plan. Even when you and your spouse get along well and can operate under a flexible, reasonable, and liberal plan for visitation, you may disagree at times. When you do, a written parenting plan can serve as the tiebreaker, the fallback position to resolve the disagreement.
As you design a parenting plan, you and your ex-spouse need to consider the practicalities of implementing it, not just for yourselves but for the children. For example, you may both philosophically agree that the children should spend as much time as possible with each of you, so you're considering taking the kids half of each week. But does this fit the needs and wishes of your children? And can you make this happen? How does it fit in with the reality of your work schedules? For example, if you plan to exchange the children on Wednesdays after school, this means you have to keep Wednesday afternoons clear for the foreseeable future. Can you? Nothing is more devastating for a child than to be left waiting at the school door while all his little friends hop on buses or bikes to go home.
What about weekends? To keep your division equal, you'll need to exchange the children on Saturday evening or Sunday morning. Religious, sports, or other commitments may make this awkward. In addition, this would mean neither of you would have a full weekend with the children. This may or may not be a problem, but you need to think about it.