DIVORCE. It is far worse than any four-letter word where most children are concerned. Unfortunately, sometimes marriage breakups are inevitable. Making the transition from an intact family to a separated one is difficult for you and your children. It is our job, as parents, to make the situation as stress-free as possible for them. This is particularly true when establishing the child’s living arrangements and schedules between you and the other parent.

The vast majority of divorcing parents are able to agree on child custody and access schedules. For those unable to reach an agreement, a judge makes the decision by weighing an almost limitless set of factors. These may include each spouse’s fitness as a parent, the child’s age, sex, and health, the child’s parental preference, each parent’s residence and work schedule, the child’s schedule, holiday travel and traditions, and which parent has been the primary caregiver historically. Beyond the endless details, there is the big picture to think about as well. For example, the judge may try to find a resolution that will maintain natural family relations. In the end, the child’s best interest will be the top priority in a custodial decision.

Possible custody arrangements consist of legal decision-making custody and physical custody. Decision-making custody can be sole legal where one parent makes the major decisions affecting the child OR joint legal where both parents make the major decisions affecting the child. Physical custody arrangements include: sole, where the child primarily resides with one parent, and the noncustodial parent has an access schedule OR shared physical, which contemplates more of an equal division of time, but at least 128 overnights.

Keep in mind that your child and his or her needs will change over time. Plan to review your custodial and access arrangements periodically in order to best accommodate those changes. Throughout the process, it is important to remember that your child’s health, happiness, and well-being are the main priorities.