Shared Custody Advice & Tips
Increasingly, judges will award divorcing parents shared custody, also known as joint custody, of their children. Joint custody means that both parents have legal and shared physical custody of the child, and both parents must continue to share in the parenting decisions. In an ideal world, shared custody enables children to grow up in a loving, supportive environment--even if their parents are no longer married and living together. To succeed, joint custody requires work on the part of both parents. This article contains shared custody advice and tips for parents entering into joint custody arrangements.
Focus on the Kids & End the Arguments
For shared custody to work, you and your former spouse must move beyond the problems that ended your marriage and instead concentrate on your children. According to Lawyers.com:
"The only time shared parenting doesn't work better than other custody arrangements is if the parents continue to fight, says [David Luevy, an attorney and president of the Children's Rights Council]. Arguing, crying and all the other emotional baggage that's hard to shed hurts the children more than anything else. (Of course, joint custody isn't possible if one of the parents is abusive or unfit in other ways.)
"Diane Lye, author of the Washington State Parenting Act Study, which examined the effectiveness of Washington's divorce and custody laws, agrees that if parental conflict exists, shared parenting 'has adverse consequences for children in high conflict situations.'"
If you and your former spouse are still arguing, but want to try a shared custody arrangement, Luevy recommends creating a very structured custody schedule that clearly defines which parent has the child or children on specific days. A flexible custody schedule is unlikely to work for parents who are prone to disagreements. Also consider using neutral locations (like a school, community center or church) for picking up and dropping off the kids. This minimizes the face-to-face contact you'll have with your former spouse.
It's vital to remember that shared custody means that both parents are involved in key decisions involving the children. You and your former spouse must learn how to communicate with one another in matters that involve your kids.
Find the method of communication that seems to work best for both of you, and make use of it. Are you better off periodically meeting face-to-face (without the kids around)? Is e-mail the best way to connect? Do phone calls work? Only you can decide. But it's important to communicate so you each know what's going on in the children's lives, make visitation schedules and talk about decisions that are in the best interests of your children.
Stay Involved in Your Children's Lives
Just because your children are not living with you all of the time doesn't mean you should be absent from their lives when they're staying with your ex. Keep track of all your children's activities and make an effort to participate in them. Your kids need to know that you put them first, regardless of whether they're at your home or your former spouse's.
If You're Having Trouble with Shared Custody, Ask for Advice
It's unrealistic to expect that your shared custody will work from the start, without encountering any speed bumps along the way. Your shared custody agreement will have details about child support payments, each parent's specific roles and responsibilities and how the particulars of your shared custody arrangement will work.
If you're encountering problems, sit down face-to-face with your former spouse and attempt to work through the issues. If you find that doesn't work, consider meeting with a family therapist, who may be able to give you advice on managing shared custody. Otherwise, a mediator may help you reach an agreement with your former spouse.