How to Negotiate Child Custody Without Going to Court

Custody can be negotiated if both parents sit down and talk rationally about what kind of arrangement will work best for both of them and the child. Everyone's schedule and lifestyle need to be considered to make a plan that will work.

Try to discuss custody with the other parent. Schedule a time when you can talk without any interruptions. Take turns talking, agree not to fight, and try to discuss what will work best for both of you as well as your child. When you talk, remember that you're making plans for the future, not rehashing what has happened in the past.

Think about which parent has more time to spend with the child. This should be an important factor in your decision about custody.

Talk about which home should be the child's residence. This decision should be made by considering where the child lives now, where the child goes to school, which person is more equipped to parent most of the time, as well as what feels right to both of you. Once you know where the child will live, it will be easy to decide who should have custody.

Realize that "custody" and "visitation" are just words. You're both parents, you're both going to continue to be parents, and the label that's used is not important. What is important is making sure your child is happy, healthy and loved by parents who are committed to sharing time in a reasonable way.

Be flexible. Neither one of you is going to have your child every hour of every day. None of the options facing you is perfect. Accept this and make a plan that will let your child have adequate time with both parents.

Agree to work together as parents even though you may no longer be a couple. Your child needs two parents who function together.

Sit down with a big calendar. Write down all the obligations that you, the other parent and your child have. Then determine the best way to divide up the time while accommodating everyone's schedules. Nothing you decide will be etched in stone. Schedule changes will come up, and you'll deal with them when they occur.

Avoid bouncing your child back and forth between parents too often. This can be confusing for children. Most kids need stable stretches of time with both parents at reasonable intervals.

Consider seeking professional help. You may wish to each see an attorney so that you each have an idea about the law concerning custody in your state. If you're having trouble negotiating in a calm and reasonable manner, work with a mediator who can help you work out a parenting plan. You could also see a couples therapist for assistance in learning to co-parent effectively.

Write down anything you agree to. This prevents any future confusion. In order for your agreement to be legally binding, you'll need to see a lawyer or go to court to have it formalized.