You and your spouse are going to split up, and there’s no way around it. What you really care about is creating a custody plan that works well for your children. After all, their happiness is your end goal. What options do you have?

The first is to simply work with your spouse and create your own plan. These are called informal negotiations, and they work very well for parents who still get along and want what’s best for their kids. Official paperwork will need to be finalized as the divorce process plays out, but no one tells you what you must do. You get to choose.

The second option is mediation. This may be used if you and your spouse are still disputing some points and can’t come to an agreement on your own. Maybe you tried informal negotiations and couldn’t find common ground. Working with a third party helps to iron out the details and find an agreement that is fair, without putting it in the hands of a judge.

Your final option is to go to court and let the judge decide. Remember, the judge has the power to force your hand with a legal court order. He or she decides who gets custody, who gets visitation rights, and how your time must be divided, and then you have to go along with it. This is useful when there’s simply no way you and your spouse are going to agree; you may fear losing your rights to see your child without a court order defending those rights.

Every case is different, just as every couple is different. Consider these options carefully and be sure you know what works best for you and your child.

Source: Expertise, “Divorce and Child Custody: Everything You Need to Know,” Edward Tsui, accessed Dec. 02, 2016