10 Rules to Workout a Reasonable Child Custody Arrangement
You and your can’t get along well enough to stay married so how are you supposed to workout a reasonable child custody arrangement. These 10 rules won’t solve all of your problems but they may help ease some of the tension and help you workout a child custody arrangement that you both can live with.
Rule #1: Both parties have equal rights to child custody.
Not so long ago in California and most other states, child custody was almost always given to the mother with dad only receiving visitation, usually every other weekend. Well, times have changed. In the first three quarters of the 20th century, dads had a relatively modest role in child rearing. The feminist movement of the 60’s and 70’s brought about a major shift in the traditional parenting roles. Women began to work more and more outside of the home and so dads had to step up and assume some of the roles that mom had handled. At first the Ward Cleavers’ of the world resented their new family job assignments but, soon Ward Cleaver (Leave It to Beaver) became Mike Brady (Brady Bunch) became Jason Seaver (Growing Pains), who became Philip Banks (Uncle Phil, Fresh Prince), until today where we have Cameron Tucker and Mitchell Pritchett (Modern Family). Most modern dads embrace being a dad and enjoy their parenting time and mom and dad both work full-time. As times change and social norms with it, the child custody laws and judges’ dispositions have changed as well. Modern child custody laws in California give mom and dad a equal footing (at least in theory). Mom is no longer presumed to be the custodial parent. Dad, if he is able and willing, has as much right to custody as mom. Today 20-30% of all divorce cases have end with a near equal amount of custody being vested in both parents. Those dads who do not end up with a even split of custody time, usually end up with nearly 40% custody. What does that mean? It means mom should not assume that because she gave birth to her child that she can dictate the terms of custody and dad should expect to have a significant role in the child’s life. Coming to terms with these realities will help you arrive at a reasonable child custody arrangement that works for everyone.
Rule #2: Hold your tongue
Competitors in sports often “talk smack” in an effort to gain a psychological advantage over their opponents. Unfortunately, the same is true with divorcing parents. Its over, the end of the relationship has come and emotions are high but if both parents can resolve to be civil, the issue of child custody will be easier to address. Remaining cordial will make the divorce proceeding as a whole will go more smoothly, it will cost you much less in attorney’s fees and it will make it easier on your kids by not having to live with the drama. Being civil and cordial is a decision that you can make. Let your attorney do the fighting; you keep a pleasant smile and tone to your voice. Even if your spouse is acting like someone from the Exorcist, if you do not respond in kind, eventually your spouse will run out of steam and start behaving more rationally. Now, the most important part of this rule: LEAVE YOUR KIDS OUT OF IT. They are unwilling participants in your competition so using them as your messenger or saying hateful things about your spouse to them is nothing short of cruel. It may make you feel like you are getting even with your spouse but what you are really doing is almost guaranteeing your child will have issues in their relationships in the future but, more about that later.
Rule #3: It all about your kids.
The decision to get a divorce may have been yours but child custody is about what is objectively best for your kids. Your kids need o have significant and meaningful, regular contact with their parents. You may feel as though the kids are better off with you and, under some circumstance that may be true. However, if your spouse is not abusive, does not take your kids to a drug deal and does not drink and drive with the kids strapped to the roof, they have a right to see the kids often and, moreover, the kids have a right to see both parents often. Let your ego and hatred for you spouse go and think objectively and rationally about what is best for your kids. If your kids are old enough to understand and if they are emotionally capable of handling it, you can ask them what they want to do. Maybe some days it will be, “I want to see daddy” and some days it maybe, “I want to see mommy” but whatever it is, try to listen to them and respect their wishes whenever possible.
Rule #4: Know your limits and respect the limits of your spouse.
Divorcing parents often want to fight for as much time as they can get despite the fact they do not have the ability to care for the kids during that time. How silly is it when one parent says, “I am available at that time, I can take care of the kids,” and the other parent fights for the same time slot even though it means that the kids will go to a babysitter instead of the other parent. If you known it is unlikely that you will be able to care for the kids during a particular time and your ex is willing and able to do it, do yourself a favor and let your spouse take care of the kids.
Rule #5: Don’t over step your custodial time
Kids have nearly an unlimited list of activities in which they can participate. Some, like school, are not optional but, others, like karate or the chess team, are not mandated activities. What activities your child should participate in and when is not your decision alone. Before you sign your kid up for little league, you must discuss it with your spouse and workout the details. You do not have the unilateral right to sign the kids up for activities that infringe on your spouse’s custody time of their ability to see the kids without first consulting with them.
Rule #6: You may not like them but that doesn’t mean they are a bad parent
So your ex can’t remember to put the seat down or they can’t resist a shoe sale even if it makes them late for an important meeting, that does not make them a bad parent. The kids may come home from dad’s with a dirty face or mom may forget to send back the new jacket that you bought for them to wear but that does not make them bad parents. If your kids are safe, have a place to sleep, plenty to eat and receive lots of love from your ex, that is all that will matter in 10 years. Don’t judge your ex or try to make them measure up to your standards. You are getting divorced for those reasons. Let your ex and your kids love each other in their own way.
Rule #7: Communicate don’t escalate
Come to terms with the fact that you must deal with your ex on one level or another until your kids are at least 18 years old and probably long after. Come up with a system so that the two of your will have minimal contact at first until emotions have cooled. Share a calendar on Google or some other online calendar that is strictly for the kids. Use Google Drive or DropBox to save and share important documents like birth certificates, vaccination records, insurance cards, notices of from school and sporting events and even report cards. When you share documents using one of these tools, it will email your spouse notifying them that something new has posted or changed. This will keep you both informed will minimizing the chance for conflict and misunderstandings. Many divorced couples continue to use a system like this for years because it is easy and convenient.
Rule #8: Don’t fight over stupid things
Parenting is tough when you live together but the level of difficulty goes way up when the kids are with dad sometimes and mom others. It would be great if both parents had the same style and household rules but the reality is, that rarely happens. This gives rise to many conflicts but the vast majority of those conflicts are rooted in something completely unimportant. Take a breath and a step back and ask yourself if what you are upset about is going to matter in 10 years. If the answer is “no” then take two chill pills and let it go. Scream into your pillow or take up kickboxing to relieve the pent up hostility but to direct it at your spouse when the object of your vexation is of equal importance to squeezing the toothpaste from the bottom or if the toilet paper feed over or under the roll.
Rule #9: Listen to your kids when they are not talking.
We already talked about listening to your kids when they are talking about custody issues but it may be just as important to observe their behavior when they are not talking. They did not get a vote in your decision to get divorced and they will likely have very conflicted emotions over the it. When kids are under stress or dealing with the loss of their established family, kids may act out or become isolated. They may cry or act angry. These are all symptoms of emotional disturbances. It makes matters much worse if the kid feels like they are being made to choose. Start by seeking some counselling for them but also ask them if they would like to go see their other parent. It may help to relieve some stress if they know that they do not have to choose. Give them the emotional freedom to choose when they would like to see mom or dad. If it isn’t possible for them to see their other parent, a distant second to seeing them is to call or Skype with mom or dad.
Rule #10: Review and reassess your child custody agreement
As kids grow, things change. Different activities and obligations will dictate changes in your child custody arrangement. Use the above rules to work through adjustments in your custody agreement as needed. Be flexible and make your kid’s best interests the primary factor in every child custody agreement.