• If you are a single parent due to separation or divorce then custody is a topic with which you will become very familiar. Custody is about two main things – the physical location of your children, and the decision making for your children. Because you and your ex share children you will always be family. You can try to live in denial about this but it’s true. When your children graduate, get married, when they have children, you will be looking across at each other sharing the joy. Even if one of your children is truly ill or struggling (hopefully never!!!) you will be sharing the burden and worry. You can each re-marry and your children may gain wonderful loving people in their lives (the equivalent of another aunt or uncle) but your child will only ever have one mother and one father, and you’re it. The marriage may be over and even your children will feel the relief because of finally having peace and happiness in the home. But remember, they also have sadness and worries, and your parenting is a source of comfort. Both of you created or adopted your wonderful children and in an ideal world, you would be able to continue to co-parent them.

    Think of your ex as your free babysitter – one who loves your children and whom your children love

    Co-parenting involves cooperation and communication. People who are married do not always see eye-to-eye, so don’t expect to agree on every parenting decision when you are no longer married. That would be an unfair and unrealistic expectation. Be respectful of one another. And sometimes you will need to agree to disagree.

    There are many important factors to consider when deciding upon custody. Unless there is a history of abuse – physical or substance abuse, you should be supportive of your children’s relationship with your ex. You are divorced/divorcing but your children are not. They need each of you as much, if not more than before. So try to put aside your own feelings of sadness, anger, or guilt and let go of any need you might have to ‘win’ or hurt your ex, so you can support your children and give them your best. Your ultimate goal has always been to raise your children to be happy, kind, well-adjusted and responsible adults. That goal has not changed so keep your eye on it and move forward in a positive way.

    When you and your ex share custody it allows your children to develop strong relationships with each of you. They will feel happier and more confident. If your ex is involved in their lives s/he is also a resource for you – if there are problems at school, when the children are sick, and if your schedule changes or you just need a hand. If the children are comfortable with both parents in both homes you can fill in for one another during travels, illnesses, an unexpected late meeting at work, etc, without your children suffering. Think of your ex as your free babysitter – one who loves your children and whom your children love.

    Studies have shown that it is ideal for young children to not go longer than 4 days without seeing a parent. There are many ways to arrange custody. You should look at your own needs and wishes, and those of your ex, and see if you can find a system that you feel will fit your lives and your children’s personalities. For families where there is a nanny in place already, having the nanny go back and forth with the children provides even more consistency & comfort for the children, and is incredibly helpful for the adults. Because this is not a financial possibility for most families, here are a few suggestions regarding division of time/care:

    1. 1. 50/50: If the children are with their mother from Sunday night until Sunday night, with an overnight with their father on Wednesday night, and then the following week spend Sunday night through Sunday night with their father, with a Wednesday overnight with their mother this gives each parent 50% custody and the children never go more than 4 days without each parent. Once your children get older you can make this simpler by doing one week in each home and alternate.
    2. 2. 30/50: If the children spend the week with their mother (or father), with an overnight with their father (or mother) on Wednesdays, and spend every other weekend with each parent, they still have continuity and time with each parent.
    3. 3. If you can cooperate with your ex there are many variations of custody that suit individual families. Some families have one parent pick the children up from school daily and then drop them off to the other parent sometimes before, sometimes after dinner for bedtime, again alternating weekends. Other families split weeks and weekends – so the children are with one parent Saturday evening thru Wednesday morning & are with the other parent Wednesday through Saturday, and on it goes. There is nothing that won’t work if you can cooperate with one another, put your own egos aside, and put your children’s needs first.

    Co-Parenting will not work for you if:

    1. 1. One of the parents lives far away. Children need to have their routines. They need to go to school daily and will want to participate in extracurricular activities and play dates. You should arrange as much contact as possible with the out of town parent. Nightly phone calls, (even brief ones just to say goodnight), teleconferencing, and in-person visits whenever possible help.
    2. 2. As parents you are making a choice not to cooperate with one another. It doesn’t sound cool, and it’s not, but some parents are unable to put their differences aside for the benefit of their children. If this is the case then less contact between parents is best. So that might mean skipping the mid-week transfers between households and simply exchanging the children once a week. If things are terrible, exchanges can be made in a neutral environment – where one parent drops off to school and the other does pickup on exchange days.

      If there is a history of domestic violence then a police station might be the most appropriate exchange location.

    3. 3. You tend to put your children in the middle. Having kids relay messages, and complaints, or spy on your ex for you, gives them anxiety and leads to lower school performance and more defiant behavior. If this is happening many times a week you will cause unnecessary harm to your children. You are not working together for the well being of your children if you engage in this behavior and less exchanges and interactions might be better.

    Remember to think before you speak to/about your ex. Be mindful of what you hope to accomplish with your words, what your overall goal is (a harmonious relationship & happy children, I hope) and be sure the way you act and what you intend to say will bring you closer to your goals. If it will not, if it is only venting, keep it in and share it with a friend in confidence when your children are not around. When parents can agree and co-parent, children feel more secure and harmony is easier to maintain, which, after the unhappiness and turmoil that preceded your divorce, should be a wonderful respite for everyone.