Even the most amicable divorce can be overwhelming. Between splitting up assets, processing your feelings, and finding the right child custody agreement, you may feel like you have too much on your plate.
If you’re struggling to navigate shared custody, you aren’t alone. You just need the right resources to help you through this process.
Before you go looking for a top-rated child custody lawyer, read this guide.
We’ll tell you all about your child’s right to shared custody, and how to navigate the custody agreement process.
Caring For Your Child After Divorce
The way you and your co-parent handle your divorce will shape the way your child views relationships. If you do it right, your child will be able to look to you as a model of healthy communication and conflict resolution.
Your divorce can also be an opportunity to make sure your child knows that they are loved and valued by both of their parents, regardless of the status of their relationship.
Shield Your Child From Anger and Blame
Divorce can cause children to take on guilt about their parents’ separation. Some children assume that the divorce is somehow their fault. Some may wonder if one of their parents no longer wants to be around them.
Sometimes, these feelings can come from exposure to anger and bitterness. It’s completely normal to have some feelings of anger surrounding your divorce, but you should always try to protect your child from these feelings.
This is especially true with young children. If a younger child sees you acting angry around the house, they may assume that they are the subject of that anger.
Instead of showing your child anger, remind them often that both parents love them despite the imminent changes to your family dynamic.
Check In With Your Child’s Mental Health
Divorce is likely to bring up some foreign feelings for your child. It will be understandably confusing for them to suddenly not live with both parents.
Let your child know that it’s okay for them to feel nervous, upset, or irritable during this transition. These feelings are normal and will pass as they adjust to their new living arrangement.
Understand that your child may act out during this adjustment period. Without giving up on your principles as a parent, try to cut them some extra slack and treat them with extra compassion.
If your child starts to exhibit long-term behavioral or mood problems after your divorce, don’t be afraid to get them some mental health care. Talk to a child psychologist if necessary.
Protect Your Child From Isolation
Many custody arrangements look something like, “Mom’s house during the week, Dad’s house on the weekends” (or vice versa). This can result in your child suddenly spending less time than usual with one parent.
In the U.S., the number of children living only with their mothers has doubled in the past 50 years.
As long as both parents can provide a safe environment for the child, you should always strive for a balanced shared custody arrangement. Your child will be happiest when they can have quality time with both parents.
That’s why the right to shared custody is so important to childhood development. You don’t necessarily have to split the time 50/50, but you should make sure quality parent-child time is a priority on both sides.
What Is Shared Child Custody?
Protecting your child from isolation means, when possible, designing a shared custody arrangement. But what exactly is shared child custody?
Shared custody means that your child alternates between living at both of their parents’ households.
As we mentioned earlier, a custody arrangement can look like, “Mom’s house during the week, Dad’s house during the weekend.” It can also look like, “Mom’s house Monday-Wednesday, Dad’s house Thursday-Sunday.”
You can also rotate weekends to compensate for extra time during the week. For example, if a child spends the school week at their mother’s house, they may spend 2 out of every 3 weekends at their father’s house to keep things balanced.
Most custody agreements are legally binding. You can figure out a custody agreement through a few different branches of the legal system, which we’ll talk more about shortly.
Making your arrangement legally binding is a good way to keep both parents accountable for it.
The best custody arrangements are determined based on the parents’ desires, the parents’ means, and the child’s preferences.
For example, if one parent has a very demanding job, it may not be wise for the child to spend weeknights at their home. If a child is thriving in a certain school system, you should consider doing what you can to keep them in that district during the week.
Every shared custody arrangement is unique, and your family must find their own special balance.
Why Is Shared Custody Important?
Why is shared custody the healthiest choice for most parents and children? There are three main factors that make shared custody so important.
Your Child’s Development
Divorce impacts children differently depending on their age. While teenage children are likely to be able to understand the complicated factors that lead to divorce, younger children may not.
If your child suddenly loses touch with one of their parents at a young age, they may have to heal from that feeling of loss when they’re older.
When your child maintains a healthy relationship with both parents across multiple homes, they are likely to have a smooth development into adulthood!
Plus, a healthy custody arrangement can show your child how to handle conflict in relationships when they’re older.
Your custody arrangement is your opportunity to teach your child about respect, honoring one’s word, and treating other people with compassion.
Shared Parenting Responsibility
Shared custody is not only beneficial for children; it also helps newly divorced parents.
Learning to live on your own after divorce isn’t easy. Becoming the sole caretaker for your child at the same time would make it even more difficult.
Be considerate to yourself and your co-parent by sharing parenting duties the way you did when you were married.
You won’t benefit from overworking yourself, and neither will your child. Keeping your family healthy means keeping both parents within their means.
Maintaining an Amicable Divorce
Shared custody keeps you and your former spouse beholden to each other. This may seem stressful at first, but it’s a good thing in the long run.
It is much easier to heal from your divorce when you and your co-parent have the wellbeing of your child to unite you. No matter how much distance there is between you, you will always agree on wanting what’s best for your child.
Of course, not every divorced couple can be on friendly terms. However, maintaining a civil and open line of communication with your former spouse is by far the healthiest way to re-imagine your family.
How to Have an Open Conversation About Shared Custody
Broaching the subject of child custody isn’t always easy. Let’s go over three rules that you can use to guide you through this process.
You can discuss child custody in the presence of a mediator, but you don’t necessarily have to. If you and your co-parent feel up to it, try coming up with an ideal custody plan without legal intervention.
Go In Knowing What You Want
Enter into your custody conversation with a clear idea of what you want. Consider your work schedule, your financial means, and what holiday arrangements work best for you.
It’s important to go in with a clear idea of what you want so that you don’t leave the conversation feeling unsatisfied.
This can also help keep you and your co-parent on track and prevent the conversation from devolving into an argument. Structure is your best friend when it comes to these difficult conversations.
Be Prepared to Compromise
Go in with a clear idea of what you want, but don’t expect that plan to be your outcome. The purpose of a discussion about shared custody is to find an outcome that gives both parents as much of what they want as possible.
Despite the circumstances that may have led to your divorce, you must try to treat your co-parent with compassion. Recognize that their desires are important, and hopefully, they will return the favor to you.
Mutual understanding and kindness is the best way to reach a compromise that is genuinely satisfying for everyone involved.
Prioritize Your Child’s Wellbeing
The most important factor in your custody discussion is your child’s wellbeing. This should take priority over you and your co-parent’s personal preferences.
Ask yourselves important questions, such as: how will this custody arrangement affect our child’s schooling? When will our child be able to see friends? Can both of our homes properly accommodate our child?
If your child is old enough, you should talk to them directly about what they would like their schedule to look like.
Let your child know that they have the right to advocate for themselves. If they are unhappy with your custody arrangement, they should always feel comfortable voicing it.
Try Child Custody Mediation
If you and your co-parent cannot come to a custody agreement on your own, don’t worry. That’s perfectly normal, and mediation may be able to help.
A mediator is a neutral party that helps settle legal disputes without bringing them into a courtroom.
Mediation is much less expensive than a child custody lawsuit. It can also be less emotionally taxing.
Your mediator will sit down with you and your co-parent and guide the conversation. Their job is to guide your discussion and make sure you reach a compromise that suits both of you.
A mediator will not work in favor of just you or just your co-parent; they will always strive to be fair and balanced.
Mediators can be especially helpful to unmarried parents who need to design a custody arrangement after a breakup.
Hire a Child Custody Attorney
In some situations, you may need to hire a child custody attorney. This can be expensive, but there are also free lawyers for child custody out there.
Child custody attorneys can really help when your divorce proceedings get messy. You should consider hiring a child custody attorney if:
- Your co-parent refuses to cooperate with a mediator
- Your co-parent refuses to honor a mutually agreed-upon custody arrangement
- You fear your child may not be safe with your co-parent
- Your child is disabled and/or requires special services or medical care
- You and your co-parent live in different states
As you prepare for court, your attorney will help you understand the factors that affect custody rulings.
Stick To Your Custody Arrangement
No matter how you come up with your custody arrangement, you should always stick to it. The more consistent your child’s home life can be, the better.
It can be okay to bend the rules once in a while when special occasions come about. However, you should always communicate clearly about these changes with both your co-parent and your child.
Your child will thrive in an environment where they always know what to expect. A regular schedule and clear communication is the best way to keep your child healthy and happy.
Honor Your Child’s Right to Shared Custody
Child custody is a complicated subject, but you can always find a way to navigate it. Reach out to a child custody facilitator with any further questions you may have.
Remember to honor your needs, your co-parent’s needs, and your child’s needs above all else. Shared custody arrangements work best when both parents practice empathy and understanding.
With the right resources and hard work, family life after divorce can be happy and fruitful.