In every case involving minor children, the court must enter an order or judgment for parenting time and custody. Many times, the parents themselves are able to reach an agreement, perhaps through mediation. That is the ideal. If the parents cannot agree, the court can either order an evaluation by the Friend of the Court of a private psychologist—and/or decide the matter itself after a trial or evidentiary hearing.
Whether the parents decide on a parenting plan or the court does, many factors must be considered such as the distance between the parents’ homes, the parents’ respective work schedules, the child’s special needs and extra-curricular activities, the age of the child, the school calendar, the holidays that are observed, and other considerations that may be unique to a case.
There are many computer programs that are used in cases involving minor children these days. The most familiar program that is used is the child support formula, which takes into account the parents’ incomes, the cost of child care and health insurance, and the number of overnights. You cannot determine child support in Michigan without first determining the number of overnights each parent will have.
Another computer program that has been very helpful is called “ourfamilywizard.com” or “OFW.” This program costs each parent approximately $100/year. Once the parents subscribe, they can do all their communication through the program’s email feature. The program includes a calendar, so each parent can note extra-curricular activity dates, holiday parenting time, vacation time, the school calendar, and medical appointments. You can also post expenses that must be shared like uninsured medical expenses. Each parent gets a password, and the court or a guardian ad litem can ask for the password to actually view the parents’ postings. This eliminates much of the “he said” and “she said” aspect of a custody battle, and the fact that the communication could be viewed by the court, the GAL, or even the Friend of the Court tends to encourage appropriate behavior on the part of the parents.
In addition to the child support formula and OFW, there is yet another program that is now available and is very helpful: “CustodyXChange.com.” The CustodyXChange.com lets parents and/or attorneys select criteria for parenting time and/or factors (such as the age of the child) and then provides examples of parenting plans and language that would be appropriate for that age and that case. Shared parenting, for example, could be a parenting plan that is week-on/week-off, or it could be parenting plan where Parent A has the child for two days; then Parent B has parenting time for two days; and then Parent A gets five days before the rotation begins again with Parent B having the first two days. Other shared plans could include one parent’s having Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday each week of Month 1; the other parent having Thursday, Friday, and Saturday each week of Month 2; and the parents’ alternating Sundays. In Month 2, the parents would switch the weekdays (with the other parent having the M-T-W schedule and the first parent getting Th-Fri- and Saturdays). The Sundays would continue to alternate.
There are many ways to skin a cat, and CustodyXChange.com provides many options for parents. It also includes language that can be included in a judgment and order about when and how to introduce a child to a new romantic partner; what to do about alcohol consumption during parenting time; and other provisions that may be appropriate (including a right of first refusal to care for a child when the other parent cannot be present due to a work commitment or out-of-town travel).
Some attorneys are very helpful in describing options, but other attorneys may have limited experience or limited creativity. This program is available to attorneys and to parents alike. It will help people to “spot problems” or issues and actually solve them. The cost to each subscriber is a function of how much of the program is purchased. The cost ranges from less than $100 to almost $300 if the full program and updates are purchased. When you consider the cost of one hour with your attorney, the cost of CustodyXChange is cheap. The program can be downloaded for free, but you cannot print out or save anything while you are doing an audition.