In most cases a parenting plan (when the children are with each parent and how decisions affecting the children are to be made) is established by agreement of the parents (who know each other and children best). That is the best arrangement for your children, that is, one that you and your spouse establish and fix on your own and which your attorney then reduces to writing.
For those parents who can’t come to an agreement, mediation is the next step. That involves both parents meeting together with a mediator (who may or may not be an attorney) who tries to facilitate (help) the parents reach their own agreement on where the children should live throughout the week during the school year, where they should spend their weekend time, which holidays they spend with each parent, and when they get to vacation with each parent, and also when the parents are required to consult with one another to make major decisions involving health care for and education of their children.
If mediation is unsuccessful, then the parents lose the ability to fix their own parenting plan, and a third-party professional in the social science field (usually a psychologist) is called in to recommend to the judge what parenting arrangement that professional feels is best for the children.
That sometimes is done in a less expensive fashion with a Custody Neutral Assessment (“CNA”) involving one long session with the professional who then renders a short report recommending one parent as the primary residential parent and fixing the other parent’s parenting time (no longer called “visitation”).
If that is unavailable in the county in which you are getting divorced, or if either parent rejects the CNA recommendation, a more formal, more intense and much more expensive full-blown custody evaluation by another forensic psychologist (one involved in legal proceedings) will be required. The fees to the forensic psychologist could reach $7,500 or more and, in such case, your legal fees will increase substantially as well.
Thus, while you never should agree to a parenting plan that you feel is harmful to your children, you must keep in mind that fighting over “custody” can shift money that could have been spent for your children’s college educations to your attorney to spend on his or her children’s or grandchildren’s college educations!
Therefore, before deciding to “fight” for custody, think long and hard of the many options that can be implemented in your case in establishing a parenting plan that allows your children to have maximum access to both parents (not necessarily a 50-50 arrangement, but rather one that allows both parents to be involved in an ongoing basis with the children) as such an arrangement has been shown to be better for the children’s future emotional well-being than one in which one parent is shut out of the children’s lives (something that is not going to happen even after a custody trial).