The joint sharing of responsibilities for child-rearing after the dissolution of marriage creates a challenge to one's thinking about parenting. You must examine your role and the role of your former spouse from a new perspective, which includes developing rules, living patterns, values and even vocabulary appropriate for the new situation.

While it is true that many children after a dissolution remain in regular contact with both parents, traditionally one parent was awarded custody and the other parent was the visiting or non-custodial parent. Today, many parents opt for a co-parenting arrangement, also referred to as joint custody. In this type of arrangement the child spends a considerable amount of time with both parents and the parents continue to share the responsibility for raising the child. The time allotments may vary considerably from a true 50/50 arrangement based upon specific scheduling and educational needs of the family members, the age of the child, special circumstances involved in your case, and the interest level of each parent in the continuation of a close, bonded relationship with the child. The critical factors are: EACH PARENT HAS A HOME, AND EACH CHILD HAS TWO HOMES. There are, in essence, two families.

You may ask how two people who have decided they do not want to share their lives together can work together to be effective parents. It all begins with the basic commitment of each parent to remain an active figure in the life of their child. This means separating the role of parenting from the past role of lover and spouse and creating a new, workable parenting relationship in the wake of the dissolution of the old relationship. THE NEW PARENTING RELATIONSHIP MAY BEST BE VIEWED AS A BUSINESS RELATIONSHIP. Agreements that may have been implicit in the lover/spouse relationship such as, "If you are ill, I will pick the children up from school", now become explicit agreements, or even written contracts. There must be no assumption that your ex-spouse will be there as a support to help you in troubled times with the children. The former sharing of private thoughts and personal occurances now must change to the extension of formal courtesies, respective of each other's right to privacy.

GOOD COMMUNICATION IS ESSENTIAL. Effective communication requires the ability to listen as well as to share. In order to jointly parent your child you must be able to communicate effectively regarding the decisions which affect all of you, such as the child-sharing schedule, child-care needs, educational plans, religious training, extra¬curricular activities and transportation arrangements, etc. Each parent must feel comfortable in stating his or her opinion and each must respect the opinion of the other. Reserve your communication regarding the parenting plan to those issues actually involving your co-parenting. If you allow your anger and dissatisfaction over the things that led to the breakdown of your marital relationship to interfere in your parenting communication. This may be the most challenging part of being effective co-parents, but working on improving your communication will be essential to your success.

THERE MUST BE A COMMITMENT TO CONSISTENCY in those areas where consistency is required to serve the best interests of the children. This usually involves issues of health, education and community activities. For example, if your child is in a program of orthodontic treatment each parent must ensure that the child is consistently practicing the prescribed oral care, wearing of retainers, and the like. When the children are involved in extracurricular activities, like a team sport, each parent must be committed to taking the responsibility for getting them to practices and games.

DO NOT MAKE PAWNS OF THE CHILDREN. The time spent by the children at the home of either parent is not to be used as a propaganda session. Children must not be forced to convey messages between parents that the parents will not tell each other personally. Do not involve the children in disputes regarding the dissolution process. It is important that the children feel that they will be safe, loved, and accepted by each parent and that each parent accepts that the children love the other parent as well.

FLEXIBILITY IS IMPORTANT. Even in the best of business arrangements, with all the proper agreements and the good intentions of carrying them out, the parents must be willing to remain flexible. Complicated choices may arise in areas regarding the children's activities or the scheduling needs of the parents due to employment. Situations arise that require changes in plans. When the parents have the willingness to work toward the common goal, these things can all be arranged.

THERE MUST BE COOPERATION AND SUPPORT from relatives, friends, and "significant others" or new spouses. Even with the best intentions of both parents to build a new relationship based solely on the parenting needs of the children, new spouses or "significant others" may view the ex-spouse as an implied threat. Grandparents, angry about the dissolution, may feel that the ex-son or daughter-in-law isn't a good parent, anyway, and actively advocate that their son or daughter seek full physical custody of the children. Friends, in an effort to be protective, may advocate leaving the entire situation behind (and the ex-spouse, too). Negative comments made by other people about the ex-spouse can be very upsetting to the children. The point is, when you and your ex-spouse are each truly committed to sharing in the lives of your children, you must make this commitment known and understood by those with whom you and the children have contact. While you and your spouse may have chosen to "divorce" each other, chances are that your children have no desire to leave either of you, or the significant others in their lives.

In the event that you and your spouse need assistance in working out the details of your co-parenting arrangement, the Superior Court provides Family Counseling Services. We will also be pleased to provide you with the names of individuals and agencies in private practice, if you wish to seek private counseling.

CODE OF CONDUCT FOR VISITATION

Children are often the losers when their parents separate. They are deprived of full time guidance and direction from two parents. The moral, spiritual and character growth of your children may consequently suffer.

Although there may be bitterness between you, it should not be inflicted upon your children. Every child needs an image of two good parents. Your conduct with your children in the future will be very helpful to them. Please follow through with these simple suggestions:

(1) Leave your children free to love and respect both parents. Discussing the shortcomings of the other parent with the children can be extremely harmful to them.

(2) Your visitation is for and with your children. Be discreet; don't include a member of the opposite sex with whom you maybe involved in your visits.

(3) Do not use visitations as an excuse to continue arguments with the other parent.

(4) Do not visit your children if you are intoxicated.

(5) Visit the children at reasonable hours.

(6) Notify the other parent as soon as possible if you are unable to keep your visit, as this is unfair to the children who will be expecting you. Be adults and work out another reasonable time.

(7) Make your visits as pleasant as possible with your children by showing your interest in their activities and avoiding questions regarding the activities of the other parent. Do not make promises to them you cannot keep.

(8) The parent having physical custody must prepare the children for the visit and have them available at the agreed upon time.

(9) If one parent's plan for the children conflicts with the other's visitation and they are for the best interest of the children, be adults and work this out together.

(10) ALWAYS WORK FOR THE WELL BEING, HEALTH, HAPPINESS AND SAFETY OF YOUR CHILDREN.

(11) If the matter of visitation comes before the court, again, and you have not abided by the above suggestions, your custody and visitation rights may have been jeopardized.

CHILD CARE CREDIT

If both of you and your spouse work while someone cares for your dependents, you may be in line for a special tax break. It's commonly called the "child care credit".

How do you qualify for the child care credit? You must incur dependent care expenses that allow you and your spouse to be "gainfully employed". The credit is available for the care of a child under age 13 or a disabled dependent or spouse. So the "child care credit" isn't necessarily limited to expenses for the care of children.

Example: If your spouse is laid up with a back injury, the cost of having a helper around the house may be eligible for the credit.

What does "gainfully employed" mean? It does not necessarily mean that both you and your spouse have to work full-time. You still can get the credit if one of you works full-time and the other is either (1) a part-time worker or (2) a full-time student.

How much of a credit are you entitled to? That depends. The credit is 30% if your adjusted gross income is $10,000 or less. It is reduced by 1% for each $2,000 that your adjusted gross income increases. Then it stops at 20% for adjusted gross incomes of more than $28,000.

In other words, if your adjusted gross income exceeds $28,000, your credit is 20%.

The credit generally is available for the first $2,400 of child care expenses for one child; the first $4,800 for two or more children. Result: the maximum credit is $720 for one child; $1,440 for two or more children. If your adjusted gross income exceeds $28,000, your maximum credit is $480 and $960, respectively.

Keep this in mind: This is a credit rather than a deduction. A credit is more valuable than a deduction. For instance, the deduction equivalent of a $960 credit for an individual in the 28% tax bracket would be $3,428!

What sort of expenses are eligible for the child care credit? In general, they can be broken down between in-home costs and out-of-home costs.

In-home costs: the cost of a baby-sitter who comes to your house is eligible for the credit. The baby-sitter even can be a close relative (e.g., one of your parents or in-laws). However, the relative can't be someone you claim as a dependent - say, one of your older children who lives at home or where the relative is the tax payer's child under age 19.

Example: Your elderly parents watch your children a few days during the week while you and your spouse work. In turn, you help out your parents by paying some of their monthly bills. Instead of paying the bills, consider paying your parents for their child care services instead. Reason: the dollars you contribute to your parent's support do you no tax good if you can't claim them as your dependents. But the amount spent on child care may qualify for the credit. Of course, you must pay your parents a reasonable fee for the services actually rendered.

Another point: If you have a housekeeper or a maid who watches your children in addition to performing other household services, the entire salary of the worker counts toward the credit even though child care is only part of the job. However, the worker must provide in-house services (e.g., you can't claim the credit for a gardener's services).

Out-of-home costs: If you take your child to the baby-sitter's home, the cost also qualifies for the credit. Other eligible expenses include the cost of nursery school, a day care center or a similar-type operation.

What happens if you send a child to summer camp? Under the new Revenue Act, the credit is no longer available for the cost of sending a child to overnight camp. However, the cost of day camp still may qualify.

Note: Your eligible child care expenses can't exceed the lesser of (1) your earnings for the year or (2) your spouse's earnings. If either one of you is physically or mentally incapable of caring for himself or is a full-time student, the law assumes an earned income - for each month of disability or school attendance of $200 for one child or $400 for two or more children.

Also, a divorced or legally separated taxpayer having custody of a disabled or under-age-13 child will be entitled to the credit even though he or she has release the right to a dependency exemption for the child or is not entitled to the exemption under the terms of a pre-1985 divorce decree or settlement agreement (Code Sec. 21(e)).

An additional "accounting" problem arises when charges on a joint account are made after the date of separation. The problem is the allocation of the interest assessed against the separate charges as distinguished from the community charges is very difficult if not impossible to determine. The same problem arises when charges and subsequent payments after the date of separation occur. Frequently, the Judge in your matter will arbitrarily allocate the interest between the community and separate debt. So as to void this problem, it is best to make charges after the date of separation on accounts which have no community obligations outstanding.

JOINT CREDIT CARDS (community property vs. contract law)

Consistent with the foregoing, debt incurred after the date of separation is the separate obligation of the incurring spouse under community property law. A different wrinkle under contract law is added when such a debt is incurred on a joint credit card.

Under such circumstances, both spouses are jointly and severally liable of the obligation under the contract they signed at the time the joint credit card was issued. This means while a debt incurred against a joint credit card by one of the spouses is the separate obligation of that spouse under community property law, under contract law if the spouse incurring the debt does not pay it. In short, consider very carefully whether you want to cancel joint credit cards and credit lines.

CONCLUSION

Our basic philosophy with respect to family law matters is to attempt to resolve all matters in a fair, reasonable and well-informed manner for the benefit of our clients. We have found our clients are most satisfied when they can resolve the issues by means of settlement, thereby taking control of their own destiny, rather than laying their lives before a court which has limited time to consider all the important aspects of one's life.