One Common Mistake People Make in Joint Custody Cases
How to Make Shared Custody Work
Shared custody is a legal arrangement in which two parents share a roughly equal role caring for a child. Typically, time with the child is shared more or less equally, and decisions about parenting are made by both parents together, almost as if they weren't separated.Sharing custody of a child after a relationship or marriage has ended can be frustrating and emotional. When you are creating a custody plan, dealing with your ex, and caring for your children, put your own needs second. Focus on the best interests of the child before your own to make shared custody work.
Creating a Custody Plan
Consider professional help.When creating this plan, it may be helpful to have a third party facilitate the discussion. Consider hiring a mediator or attorneys to make this process smoother.
- During a divorce, both parents may be too emotional to craft a plan like this on their own.
- In some cases, the court may offer mediation services for this purpose.
- Counselors and therapists can also help, especially if they are already familiar with the family.
Decide how to split time.After thinking about your children's needs, the next step is generally to determine how to divide up custody time. In other words, you have to decide who gets the kids when. There are any number of possible arrangements.
- One common choice is the "2-2-3 plan." In this arrangement, kids spend Monday and Tuesday with Mom, Wednesday and Thursday with Dad, Friday through Sunday with Mom. Then, the schedule flips: Monday and Tuesday with Dad, and so on.
- Another arrangement is a simple Monday through Thursday/Friday through Sunday plan, in which the week is simply divided into two chunks. This isn't a completely even split, but works well for school aged children, who get to leave for school from the same home every day.
- Some people find that longer periods with each parent help create a better sense of stability for the children, and choose to alternate full weeks, months, or even years.
- A custody plan should also consider the children's ages and school schedules.
Caring for Your Child
Speak respectfully about the other parent.When the other parent comes up, as will inevitably occur, speak respectfully about him or her. Never speak badly about the other parent in front of the child, no matter how angry or upset you might be.
- Remember that your child still loves your ex, and your ex loves the child. Just because he or she may have been a bad husband or wife, it doesn't mean that your ex is also a bad parent. Don't demean or undercut the other parent in front of the child.
- Keep in mind that, especially in the early days of the separation, your child may be harboring anger toward both you and the other parent. Badmouthing your ex in front of your child may worsen this situation.
- For example, if your child asks "Why don't you love dad anymore?" you could reply with something like "Well, your father and I just disagree about what's most important in life, and that gets in the way of us loving each other. However, we love you very much." Don't say, "Your dad is a jerk and he doesn't understand what's important in life."
Keep lines of communication open.When your child is staying with you, he or she may at times wish to speak to the other parent. This may happen even if he or she only staying with you a short time. You should almost always allow this.
- Your children should be allowed to call, text, or email the other parent at any reasonable hour. Children often experience anxiety from being separated from a beloved parent. Being allowed to contact the other parent at any time can help lessen this anxiety.
- If this occurs, try not take it personally. Just because your children want to talk to their other parent doesn't mean they don't love your or want to be around you also.
- At holidays, if your children are staying with you, they should be encouraged to call the other parent.For example, you might say "Hey kids, I'm sure your mom would really like to hear from you, since it's Christmas day. Let's give her a call."
Drop your kids off at your ex's home rather than waiting for them to be picked up from your home.When it's time for your children to go visit the other parent, always drop them off instead of waiting for your ex to come get them. Encourage your ex to do the same when the children come to visit you.
- Dropping the kids off, rather than waiting for a pickup, helps avoid the sensation of the children being "taken away" by one parent or the other.
- This can make the transition between households easier for both the children and the parent they are leaving for a while.
- This also reduces the risk of interrupting a special moment between your children and your ex.
Listen to your child.Make sure that, whatever your child's age, he or she gets to express feelings about and have some input on the custody arrangements. This will help the child feel more secure and loved, regardless of which home he or she is at.
- For young children, give them some control over small matters, such as which toys they want to take when changing households. For example, you could say, "Time to go see your dad! Is there anything you want to take with you this weekend?"
- For teens, you might give them the opportunity to make suggestions about which home they would prefer to be at on given days of the week. Based on their calendar of activities and social events, they may know better than you which is the more convenient home for them to live at on any given night. For example, you might say, "It seems like your social calendar is pretty full these days. Does the schedule we have make sense these days, or is there anyway your father and I could make things easier for you?"
- Ultimately, you and the other parent are in control and have the final say on these matters, but giving the child an opportunity to be heard will make this situation more agreeable to him or her.
Re-evaluate and modify the custody plan if necessary.As your children get older, life will change, both for them and for you. Be willing to revisit the custody plan and make adjustments to reflect these changes.
- Particularly during adolescence, children may push against the routine as they become more interested in spending time with friends and less with parents. Be flexible about such changes.
- Your own life and needs may change as well, for example, when and if you develop a new romantic relationship or even marry another partner. While you should try to put your child first, you should also recognize that these kinds of life changes may require changes to your agreement.
Communicating with Your Ex
Coordinate often.As difficult and painful as it may be, especially early on, talk to your ex often about what is going on with your child.Any major events or life changes should be discussed regularly, but so too should more day-to-day happenings. This might include:
- Problems (or major successes) in school.
- Disciplinary problems.
- Weekend plans.
- Any issues that you, as parents need to make a decision about.
Find ways to communicate agreeably.However you may feel about your ex, the regular conversations you need to have with him or her will be easier if you can find ways to communicate in a civil and adult way.
- If there's a problem in the child's life that you think the other parent is responsible for, try to avoid accusations. Instead, discuss the problem.
- For example, you might say: "I notice the kids always challenge me about bedtimes after returning to your house. Any ideas about how we can handle this?" Even if you think the other parent may be failing to enforce the agreed upon bedtime, don't make this accusation.
- If disagreements become common and you believe the other parent isn't living up to his or her end of the agreement, keep records of the content of your conversations, in case they are needed in court.
Pick your battles, and keep them private.Inevitably, conflicts will arise about parenting. If you and your ex were perfectly harmonious, you probably wouldn't have broken up. Choose what you think is really worth having contentious discussion about, and try to let things go that aren't that important.
- For example, if the other parent wants to change your children's school, or is feeding them food that they are allergic to, these might be issues worth having a fight over.
- On the other hand, if your ex lets your teen-aged children listen to music you don't approve of, think about whether you think that's really harming them before starting a fight. It may be best to save your energy and preserve goodwill rather than fighting about minor issues, such as household rules, which can differ from house to house.
- When you do have to have heated or contentious discussions about parenting, don't ever do it in front of your children. This can cause them unnecessary stress and emotional harm.
Be flexible.While consistency is important, so too is some degree of flexibility.Be aware that life circumstances may require some changes to the custody plan to be made "on the fly." Things happen that are not anticipated and therefore not in the agreement.
- Never show up and take your child at times not agreed upon. This kind of unplanned disruption can be harmful to your child and can also have legal repercussions.
- Never use your child to try to get back at your ex in any way. This can be emotionally damaging to your child and will compromise your attempts at co-parenting with the other parent.
Video: Making Joint Custody Work
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