Divorce is hard on everyone involved, but it can be especially tough on children. Joint custody minimizes the divorce’s impact on kids and allows both parents to be involved as the young ones grow up. However, it can be difficult if the added stress causes tension between the parents or if the parents don’t get along. Here are four secrets to making joint custody work that will ease the strain on everyone involved.
Set a Schedule That Works for Everyone
It goes without saying that there are many different custody schedules to choose from, so you have to make arrangements that work for your entire family. However, there is one area that parents sometimes neglect.
“Developing a manageable and realistic parenting schedule needs to take into account a child’s developmental stage and unique personality,” says Dr. Deanna Conklin-Danao, a clinical psychologist and contributing writer for Divorce Magazine. She explains that a parenting plan for a 15-month-old and a 15-year-old look different, especially when taking into consideration their temperament and personality.
“Some kids thrive on routine; these kids need to really know their schedule and might struggle with transitions (especially younger and special needs children). They will need more physical and emotional support to ensure the transitions are not disruptive,” she says.
Depending on the age of the child, adjusting to meet their specified needs should be the parent’s priority. Laura Wasser, a celebrity divorce attorney in Los Angeles, told Parents.com that most mental health practitioners who specialize in development recommend that younger children have more frequent transitions between parents.
The most common joint custody arrangments:
- 2-2-3 Plan
Monday and Tuesday with parent 1 Wednesday and Thursday with parent 2, Friday through Sunday with parent 1. Then alternating the schedule the following week.
- 2-2-5 Plan
Monday and Tuesday with parent 1, Wednesday and Thursday with parent 2, and then alternating Friday through Sunday between the parents (one week with parent 1, the next with parent 2). This is more fitting for older children with more commitments.
- Alternate Week Plan
Week 1 with parent 1, week 2 with parent 2, and so on.
Wasser encourages transitions between custody schedules as the child gets older. “A 2-2-3 plan allows the child to see both parents regularly. As they get older, kids can graduate to a 2-2-5 arrangement. Then, if it’s easier, parents can switch to an alternate week plan,” she said.
Watch What You Say
A bad spouse does not necessarily equal a bad parent. Experts encourage you to separate your negative emotions from the situation so you can view your ex’s parenting skills objectively, and don’t bring your children in on your own frustrations about the divorce. Your ex is still your children’s other parent and they still love your former spouse, so it is important to protect their relationship as well as your own.
“Badmouthing the ex will be internalized by the child because they are made up of both you and your ex,” noted David Pisarra, fathers’ rights attorney at MensFamilyLaw.com.
If your ex’s decisions are not harming your children or interfering with your time with them, you probably need to leave the decisions alone. “Remember that when the children are with your ex, they are with the one person in the world who loves and cares about them as much as you,” Wasser said.
Find a Good Way to Communicate
If your marriage ended on bad terms, you may have trouble communicating civilly with your ex face-to-face. If this is the case, take advantage of text messages, emails, Google spreadsheets, and online calendars. These are great ways to share vital information about medical appointments and school events in a civil way.
Pisarra encourages his clients to use the website OurFamilyWizard.com, which offers joint calendars, expense logs, information banks, message boards, and more. It makes it an efficient way to keep track of conversations between parents.
A major step to finding a good way to communicate is to be honest with one another about your expectations. Making unrealistic custody demands will not benefit anyone and can make for heated conversations. Find an arrangement that works for everyone and stick to it without stirring up unnecessary drama.
Let Children Voice Their Opinions
Have an open and honest conversation with your kids. Experts say that young children will be more accepting of the arrangement if they feel like they have a small measure of control over the situation. Letting them choose a favorite toy to bring to their other parent’s house or letting them decorate their own bedrooms at each house may help them cope with the change. Older children and teenagers may be more willing to cooperate if they are involved in setting the custody arrangement.