Would you allow the person behind the counter at the burger place to make your lunch selection for you?

Would you let the girl folding T-shirts at the mall select clothing for you?

Would you let the manicurist at the salon choose your nail length and color?

For the majority of people, the answer to all of these questions is “NO”. Interestingly enough, people that would not permit other people to make minor decisions for them surrender their ability to make decisions regarding the custody of their children.

A custody order is a long term agreement that will affect the parents’ and their children’s lives until they reaches adulthood. Yet all too often, people who wouldn’t allow a stranger to decide what they will be having for breakfast will allow a stranger to make the custody arrangements for their child.

When parents are able to work together and create a parenting plan that they mutually agree on, their parenting plan should be approved by the court as long as it is reasonable and beneficial to the child. This is ideally how custody arrangements should be made, but this is not always the case.

When parents are unable to reach an agreement and create their own parenting plan, it is up to the court or an officer of the court to make custody arrangements for them. Sometimes the judge will make the decision. Sometimes the custody arrangements will be created by a family court mediator. Sometimes the judge will appoint a counselor to make the parenting arrangements. Regardless of who will actually make the decision regarding the fate of the child, it will be made by a stranger.

A stranger, someone who sees thousands of cases a year (just like yours), who has never met your child, to whom you are just another docket number, will ultimately be responsible for determining when and how often your child will see each of his or her parents if you do not remain in control of your custody arrangements.

Some people may think that since a judge sees so many cases a year, he or she is better qualified to make the decisions regarding custody than they are. They feel comfortable with leaving the decision up to a professional.

As your child’s parent, you know your child better than anyone. You know your child’s schedule and which days would work best for parenting time with each of you. You know all of your child’s quirks and her own special, individual needs. YOU are the most qualified person to create your child’s custody arrangements. You should make every effort to reach an agreement with the other parent and create a customized parenting plan for your child.

If you have exhausted every angle and are still unable to reach an agreement with the other parent, the next best thing to do is to submit a proposed plan to the court. This will provide the judge with something to consider besides a standard or generic custody schedule.

If your proposed plan is fair and in the best interest of your child and you are able to provide valid reasons that explain why your plan would be best for your child, the judge may decide to adopt your proposed plan as the basis of your custody order.

If, despite your best efforts, the judge still hands you a generic custody order, you should review the terms of the arrangements and the schedule. Ask the judge to make changes in order to accommodate the needs of your child.

For example, if visitation is scheduled to commence at 6pm, but you or the other parent does not get off of work until that time, you should request the judge to change the time. You should do everything you can to ensure your child’s needs are being met. It doesn’t hurt to ask, even if the answer isn’t the one you want to hear.

Author's Bio: 

Christal Stephens in an advocate for the rights of children in custody cases. She has written extensively on the topics of custody and parenting. A San Diego native, she currently lives in Utah with her husband and four children.