By: Karolina Dehnhard, Esq., Norris McLaughlin, P.A.
When a couple with children makes the decision to separate and possibly divorce, they are faced with learning how to co-parent while living apart. Navigating the changes in the relationship and living situation is difficult, but there are laws in New Jersey that can assist in the pre-divorce process. Below are questions parents may ask at the start of a new and different life.
What is the most important factor in successfully co-parenting during the separation phase of divorce?
Be reasonable with each other and keep the best interests of the child at the forefront. Be sure that personal issues with the former spouse are set aside. Although disagreements will arise, it is important to assess the situation and “pick your battles.”
Can child custody agreements be put in place during separation?
Yes, the goal during this period is to maintain the marital status quo. However, if the situation is one where one parent has moved out of the marital home and the family unit has been broken down, then a parenting time schedule is put in place to ensure that each parent has time with the child(ren). Are spouses entitled to child support during a separation? Child support is the right of the child, so parents cannot agree to waive it. The court would calculate child support utilizing the Child Support Guidelines which factors in the income of both parents, the amount of overnights the child spends with each parent and other expenses such as the cost of health insurance incurred and work-related childcare expenses.
What is the most common concern couples have regarding their children when they begin the process of divorce?
It is important that parents do not place their children in the crossfire of the unraveling of their marriage. This is most important in the context of one parent embarking on a new relationship. It is natural for the other parent to try to “shield” the child(ren) from meeting this “other” person, and this can often manifest into taking unreasonable positions. The better approach, and one that will lend itself to the ability for divorced or divorcing couples to continue to co-parent, is to express their respective concerns and to set some expectations regarding the involvement of the new person, but to be open to the idea that each party will eventually move on. Of course, we recommend to our clients that they work with their mental health professionals to agree on the best approach in making the introduction, especially when children are younger in age.