The Advantages of Joint Custody

Joint custody

In 2018, there were over 700,000 divorces in America. That’s about 39% of married couples. It’s a staggering statistic, but divorces occur for many reasons.

The important thing, especially if there are children involved, is for parents to continue to provide the best possible life for them. Many, including the legal system, believe the key to this is joint physical custody. This is new to many couples who may ask themselves: Should we use joint custody?

To find out, you must first understand what joint custody is. You should also learn some of its advantages. It may seem overwhelming, but fear not—the statistics above show that you are not alone.

Many couples with children have successfully navigated a separation or a divorce. So if you’re still asking yourself, “Should I try joint custody?” read on to learn more.

What Is Joint Custody?

Joint custody may not mirror the life your child knew before the separation or divorce. But it is the closest they will get to having both parents equally involved in their life.

It allows both parents to have legal or physical custody of their child/children.

Types of Custody

When it comes to the court deciding custody arrangements, most judges prefer to grant joint custody. It’s deemed to be in the child’s best interest when both parents have some involvement in their child’s life, as well as their upbringing.

However, this may not be feasible if parents live miles apart or have a hard time communicating or getting along. It also becomes a problem if either parent has a history of domestic violence. 

Depending on the situation, the judge may decide on one of the following options.

Legal Custody: A parent with sole legal custody makes major decisions on behalf of their child. It includes decisions about the child’s education and religion. However, even if one parent has sole legal custody, both parents are still involved in medical decisions. The parent without custody also has access to the child’s school records.

Shared Legal Custody: With shared custody, both parents make these decisions.

Physical Custody: Physical custody determines where a child resides. If one parent has sole physical custody, the child spends the majority of their time with that parent. The other parent usually has regularly scheduled visitations.

Joint Physical Custody: With joint physical custody, both parents may not spend equal time with their child. However, the time the child does spend with each parent will be substantial.

Advantages of Joint Custody

Determining if joint custody is right for your situation is challenging. The most important thing is that you base your decision on what’s in the best interest of your child. 

This is something the courts also consider when making custody decisions. Agreeing with your ex-partner without any involvement from the legal system is usually best. After all, as parents, you know what’s best for your child.

They’re also many advantages to joint custody. Let’s take a look at some of the biggest ones.

A Positive Impact on Your Child

Joint custody makes the separation less impactful on your child. This is especially true if parents live near to each other. The joint custody agreement should reflect what’s best for your child’s needs.

This is most beneficial for the child when parents put their differences aside. It means finding common ground to successfully co-parent. Success is also assured if there is a conscious effort to reduce friction and arguments. 

Time With Both Parents

Your child gets to spend time with both of you. So, you’ll both be equally involved in your child’s life. It also means both of you can influence your child, instilling your childhood values, life experiences, family history, and unique parenting style.

Together, you can both make lasting memories and share both the challenges and joys of childhood. The involvement of both parents ensures neither of you will miss out on the major milestones in your child’s life. You will both be present.

This is something your child will remember and appreciate, especially as they get older. Absence also makes the heart grow fonder. The time apart from your child will make both of you appreciate your time together even more.

Lessened Feelings of Guilt

Children often have feelings of rejection when a parent moves out. It can often result in a feeling of loss and lowered self-esteem. They also tend to be more anxious or even depressed when they don’t have access to both parents.

Joint custody reduces the feelings of anger that this can create. Access to both parents also lessens feelings of guilt as your child feels free to love both parents. Good co-parenting enhances this.

Your child won’t feel they’re losing a parent. It leaves them free to focus on being a kid and growing up healthy. 

Sharing of Daily Responsibilities

Both parents share daily responsibilities that have an impact on their children. This includes expenses and all the things involved in raising a child. You will get to make decisions about your child’s upbringing together.

This mutual decision-making helps to reduce stress on each parent as making life decisions for your child is a huge responsibility. It is even more stressful when you have to do it on your own. The input from both parents is also beneficial to the child.

Maintaining Structure and Discipline

Joint custody allows parents to share the responsibility of discipline. Creating and discussing rules about discipline ensures you and your ex are on the same page. This is important especially if your child tries to use one parent against the other to get what they want.

It will also mean enforcing appropriate consequences. A team approach is best and helps your child have structure and boundaries even after the separation or divorce.

Shared Financial Responsibility

You won’t only share major decisions such as schooling and religion. You will also share financial responsibilities. This includes the sharing of incidental costs that may crop up when your child is with you.

Inevitably, you will also share the cost of everyday items such as field trips, school supplies, or snacks for extra-curricular activities.

A Regular Routine for Your Child

Schedules and routines are important because they give children confidence and a sense of belonging. The great thing about this is that, as a parent, you can also benefit from a set schedule. You can discuss options with your ex-partner.

According to Aha Parenting, children “handle change best if it is expected and occurs in the context of a familiar routine”. This is more important than ever after a separation or divorce. Routines also help children:

  • Feel comfortable with what is happening and what is to follow
  • Feel more in control of their situation
  • Feel secure and safe

Fall into a routine that works best for all parties involved, especially your child.

Making Time for Self-Care 

“Rest and self-care are so important. When you take time to replenish your spirit, it allows you to serve others from the overflow. You cannot serve from an empty vessel.” Eleanor Brown

Your routine will allow you to plan. Although joint custody allows you to share responsibility, you are still parenting on your own when your child is in your care. This can be tiring.

When your child is with your ex-partner, you can take the time to replenish your energy. Schedule self-care activities. Doing this allows you to stay mentally, emotionally, and physically strong for yourself and your child.

Investing in Your Future as Well as Your Child’s

You can use the time your child is away from you to invest in your career. This can help you plan financially for your child’s future, which may also include saving for their college tuition.

You can put in extra hours at work on the days your child isn’t with you. The extra time and commitment to your work can help you move up in your career. A work promotion will also include an increase in compensation which you can use to take care of your child’s needs. 

Less Stress on Everyone Involved

It’s easier for everyone involved when everyone gets along. Seeing you have an amicable relationship with your ex, or that a stepparent is involved and also onboard has a positive impact on your child. 

Dating Is Easier

It may be a while before you are ready to move on after a separation or a divorce. However, when you are ready, joint custody will make dating easier without disrupting your child’s life.

You can schedule dates on the days you don’t have your child. It allows you to meet someone without the pressure of having to introduce them to your child. It gives you space and time to see if things work out and decide if or when you want them to meet your child.  

Disadvantages of Joint Custody

Although the pros outweigh the cons, there are some potential disadvantages of joint custody you’ll want to be aware of. Let’s take a look at a few of them.

The Negative Impact 

Joint custody can also have a negative impact on a child. But this is usually only if the parents don’t get along. The friction between parents can make planning and scheduling tedious as well as stressful.

This inevitably has an impact on your child, as they may feel like they’re in the middle of it all. It may make them feel they have to choose between the two of you.

Lack of proper communication between parents may also leave a child feeling like a moderator. Parents may use them to pass messages along if they’re not willing to work together.

Disruptive Schedules

The variations in a child’s schedule can be disruptive, especially as your child moves from one home to the other often. If you’re not well-organized, this can become confusing and overwhelming for both you and your child.

It may mean leaving homework assignments, uniforms, or items used for extra-curricular activities at the wrong home. This can cause your child to worry needlessly and become stressed.

Conflicting Schedules

Being organized is key for joint custody to work. If not, it may lead to otherwise avoidable schedule conflicts. This can result in arguments over pick up and drop off arrangements, especially if it conflicts with one parent’s schedule.

Parents may also start comparing. One parent may perceive the other’s schedule as easier.

Increased Expenses

In cases where there is more than one child, expenses may increase for both parents. This is because it involves the maintenance of two homes. It may sometimes mean that each parent may need to purchase certain things your child/children may need.

An example would be a child who does basketball and is hoping to get a scholarship. Each parent may choose to install a basketball hoop to ensure their child’s success. Unfortunately, this may also lead to parents comparing who spends more.

Change Is Stressful

Change, although inevitable, is stressful for adults. It’s even more so for children, especially younger ones who thrive on a set routine. It becomes even worse if there is animosity between the parents.

Children can sense this and it can lead to changes in their behavior. They may become angry and lash out, or withdraw and lose interest.

Many of the disadvantages of joint custody can be eliminated or lessened based on the behavior or approach of the parents involved. This is great as it means you have control of how well joint custody can work for your family. 

There are also many resources that can help make the transition a lot easier.

Making the Transition to Sharing Joint Custody

Separation and divorce can be stressful. It takes an emotional, mental and physical toll on all parties involved. Parents dealing with this should always keep their children in mind when making decisions.

Making these decisions as you transition to sharing joint custody with your ex-partner can be overwhelming. However, there is technology that can help to keep your new schedule organized. The more organized you are, the easier it will be on your child as they will have a set routine.

2houses gives you a handle on all the details involved. Our features assist you with scheduling, finances, messages, and so much more. We can put you one step closer to making this transition easier.

Register with us today to start organizing your new life to make the transition easier for your child as well.

Co-Parenting Boundaries in New Relationships

Co-parenting boundaries

Did you know that 16% of American children live in a blended family?

That means that they have one biological parent and one step-parent. It’s a family unit that’s becoming more and more common, and if you’re about to become a blended family you’re definitely not alone!

Blended families can be brilliant for little ones, and some step-parents can become as important as biological parents. But, that doesn’t mean it’s going to be easy for you, your new partner, or your children. One of the biggest challenges in blended families is setting co-parenting boundaries with your new partner.

Luckily, we’re here to help. Take a look at our tips for setting co-parenting boundaries in new relationships and create a happy blended family.

What is Co-Parenting?

Before getting into the tips, let’s first take a look at what co-parenting is. 

If you’ve been raising your children with their biological parent and working together to bring them up, this is co-parenting. You both have input in decisions made and have a responsibility to look after your little ones. The focus in co-parenting should be entirely on the child, and you usually share equal responsibility for them. 

In relationships with two biological parents who are still together, this co-parenting structure is usually simple. Of course, there can still be hiccups, but, in general, it’s a fairly straightforward system. However, when parents divorce, the system can get a little trickier. 

One of the bumps that many divorced or single-parents face when bringing up their children is co-parenting with a new partner. It can be hard giving some responsibility for your children’s wellbeing over to someone who isn’t their biological parent, and little ones might find it hard to respect their authority. This is why it’s so important you set boundaries and make sure everyone involved is happy with the new co-parenting setup.

The Three Relationships

When you find a new partner as a divorced or single parent, there are three relationships you need to take care of.

The first relationship is with the other biological parent. Although they may not be your partner anymore, you still have a relationship with them and a responsibility to consider them in parenting decisions. Keeping them happy is essential to a smooth transition into co-parenting in new relationships.

The second relationship is with your new partner. They may struggle with having a new child in their lives, and you need to be careful to keep them happy with the dynamic, too. 

The final relationship, and the most important really, is with your child. This whole dynamic is set up to keep your child happy and make sure you, your ex, and your new partner are all benefiting their lives. It’s important not to forget your child when navigating co-parenting, and we’ll cover more of that later.

Of course, it’s not just these three people who need to be kept happy; you need to keep yourself happy too! You’re just as important, and you need to make sure you’re adding yourself to your list of priorities. 

All of these relationships need to be healthy, and everyone included during the co-parenting process. When setting boundaries, be sure to consider each person and how they’ll be affected. Now, let’s dive into how you can set healthy boundaries with your new partner.

Talk to Your Ex

Before setting boundaries with your new partner, always talk to the other biological parent first (to make things easier, we’ll refer to this person as your ex, even if they may not be). They should have just as much input into how your child is raised, and introducing a new partner to your parenting dynamic should always be discussed with them. Address any concerns your ex might have and how involved they’d like this new partner to be, as well as the contact between your new partner and your ex.

If your ex is unhappy with you having a new partner, try to limit their contact. Avoid bringing them to drop-offs and pick-ups, don’t mention them frequently, and avoid bringing them to events (such as school plays) until the relationship is serious. 

If your ex is fine with the relationship and you’re able to maintain a friendship with them, you’ll be able to discuss co-parenting more freely. Ask for their advice, discuss the boundaries you’re thinking of setting, and keep communication open with them about your new partner’s involvement in your little one’s life. When it comes to how to co-parent, you two should already be pretty good at it, so your ex’s advise could be very useful!

Talk to Your Children

The most important person (or people) to consider here is your child. Make sure you talk to them before introducing a new partner into their life, and never force a partner onto your little ones. That doesn’t mean you can’t have a relationship if your child isn’t happy with it, but just don’t force them to spend time with the new partner or be happy with them – it’ll be much easier if they can do that in their own time. 

Make changes slowly and always keep your little ones involved. Start with a small meeting in a park or somewhere your child is happy and familiar with. Get them used to your new partner before inviting them into your home, and make sure they know that they are still your priority. 

In terms of boundaries, it can be good to discuss this with your child, too, as long as they’re old enough. Ask them what kind of relationship they hope to have with your new partner once it’s serious, and what kind of things your new partner could do that would overstep your child’s own boundaries. Be sensitive to these and make your partner aware of how your child is feeling. 

Know Your Own Boundaries

It’s easy to consider others when co-parenting, but setting boundaries is about your preferences, too! Take some time to consider how much of a parental role you’d like your new partner to have and how much input you’re happy with them having in your child life. Here are some questions to ask yourself that should help determine your own boundaries:

  • Would you be okay to leave your children alone with your new partner?
  • Are you okay with your partner disciplining your children?
  • Do you want your new partner at school meetings about your children?
  • Will you take advice on parenting from your new partner?

Working out what kind of a role you want your new partner to have is vital. If you aren’t happy with them taking a strong parental role, consider whether it would be fair to let them move in with you and your child. Or, if you don’t like the idea of them discipline your child, can you leave them alone together?

Once you’ve answered your own set of questions, you’ll be better able to talk to your partner about setting boundaries for co-parenting. 

Be Honest With Your New Partner

From the get-go, you should be honest with your new partner about your child. Let them know that your little one will always come first and they’re your priority – and if your partner doesn’t like that, you might have to reconsider whether this is the right relationship for you. Remember to let them know that they will be a priority, though, and that you’ll make sure to put aside plenty of quality time for the relationship.

Once you’re settled into your relationship, it’s time to broach the meeting between your child and your new partner. This is a great time to see how your partner will cope with you splitting your time and doing things as a family. If they’re up for it, that’s great!

Discuss how the meeting will go and make sure your new partner knows not to be too pushy with your little one. Bonds aren’t usually formed immediately, so you’ll all have to be patient. Remember, only ever introduce a new partner to your children if it’s serious, and if it is, then it’ll be worth waiting for your child to come around on their own. 

Ask About Your Partners Wishes

Remember, not all partners will want to be involved with your child. Some might be excited at the opportunity to embrace a new family and become a brilliant stepdad, while others might be nervous or not really up for it. Before you move forward, make sure to discuss how your partner feels, and let them know what you want from them too.

This is the right time to align your thinking so that you’re on the same page. If your partner is up for becoming a co-parent and wants to be involved, you can then move onto setting boundaries. If they’re not, look at how you can create a solution to this, which could be living apart until they’re ready to be more involved.

Boundaries With Discipline

Discipline is one of the most tricky boundaries to negotiate. Every parent has their own idea on how to discipline their child, and you need to make sure your partner is aware of your rules. If not, chaos is bound to ensue! 

Discuss bad behaviour in your child that you have to punish. For example, you might only let them have an hour of TV, and if you have a tantrum about wanting to watch more, you have a system in place to discipline them. The key takeaway here is that your partner won’t come into their new role knowing how to treat your child in these situations, but that you have to teach them. 

You should also learn about your partners own discipline techniques if they have children. If you’ll all be living together, you need to get on the same page about what behaviour is punished and what isn’t, and the punishments that are given. You want to create a fair environment for your little ones, so this is a must! 

If they don’t have kids, discuss how much of a role your new partner will take in discipline your child. Make sure that they’re prepared to discipline when you’re not around, but set limits on their input. A very strict partner imposing new rules on your child is probably going to cause some friction, so make sure this doesn’t happen if you’re not comfortable with it. 

What Will You Share About Your Child

Co-parents often need to share a lot of information about their child, so you need to make sure you’re happy with this. If your new partner is going to have an active role in your child’s life, they need to be kept up to date. If you’re worried about forgetting this, use a collaborative calendar to keep them in the loop and make them feel included. 

If you’re already using co-parenting tools with your ex, should your new partner be included? Make sure you speak to your ex before giving them permission to use the tools to avoid any arguments. 

Keep Communicating With Each Other

Learning how to co-parent is all about communication. As you start this journey together, keep checking in with one another to see what’s working and what isn’t. You should keep up regular chats with your child too, making sure they’re comfortable with the new dynamic and don’t have any changes they wish to make. 

Set Your Co-Parenting Boundaries

Creating co-parenting boundaries between everyone involved in your child’s life – including the child! – is vital to creating a harmonious family life. Hopefully, these tips will help you do just that, but if you need more help, be sure to check out the 2Houses blog for more tips and tricks. 

To make co-parenting easier, both with biological parents and new partners, be sure to check out our range of collaborative tools. We’ve created features to help you share your expenses, keep other parents up to date with your child’s progress, and create a more communicative family even after divorce. 

The Rights of Teenagers During the Divorce Process


While many parents are nervous to get to the teenager stage, knowing that it brings with it more serious issues and conversations, this can also be a very positive parenting time as you help your child gain more independence and get ready to face the world without the immediate parental buffer. Whether you’re going through a divorce right now or split from the other parent years ago, there are some very specific things to be aware of when it comes to divorce, teenagers, and what say they might have in the process. We’ve compiled some key issues and what you need to know in this article.

Rights of Teenagers

Any parent of one knows that teenagers have a mind of their own, and this age group can be the most vocal about who they want to live with and why. In many cases in recent years, courts have been moving toward more evenly split custody schedules, but often, one parent still has to be the residential parent for school purposes. If everything else is the same and you have a good relationship with the other parent when it comes to co-parenting, it might make sense to go ahead and let teenagers, especially older teens, decide who will be the residential parent. 

However, it’s important to remember that this really isn’t a right. There are some states that have specific ages where the children are allowed to “choose” who they live with. An example of this is Georgia. At age 14, the judge generally lets the child pick where they want to live for the purposes of the residential parent. However, the judge can and will override this if a case is presented that shows that the teen’s choice isn’t actually in their best interests.

In some cases, the courts will appoint a separate attorney to act in the teen’s best interest. In these situations, that attorney may present a case that goes along with the teen’s wishes, which can make it harder to fight if you disagree with the teen’s decision.

What Happens When They Turn 18

We generally think of a child becoming an adult when they turn 18, and this is legally true. However, there are still some scenarios where custody, visitation, and child support are still issues. For example, it’s very common for child support orders to state that the support continues until the child is 18 and has graduated high school with a max-out age of 19 or 20. Your teen might think that at 18 any child support still coming is theirs, but legally, it doesn’t work that way because child support is paid to the other parent and is not specifically paid toward any certain expense.

Once your child has turned 18, however, most custody and visitation arrangements are not enforceable. You can certainly continue the visitation schedule while your 18-year-old finishes high school as long as they want to, but the truth is that you can’t legally force them to continue with visits. An exception to this is cases that involve disabled children who are not able to care for themselves as adults. In these cases, the courts may decide that the visitation schedule must continue.

Rights of Teenagers by State

This chart gives a general overview of which states consider children’s wishes when it comes to custody and visitation, including some states that have specific ages where this comes into play.

StateAre Children’s Wishes Considered?
CaliforniaNot specifically
ColoradoNot specifically
District of ColumbiaNot specifically
GeorgiaYes, children 14 and older can decide
IdahoNot specifically
IllinoisYes, children 14 and older can decide
IndianaYes, for children 11 and older
MaineNot specifically
MarylandChildren 16 and older can ask for custody changes
MassachusettsNot usually
MinnesotaYes, depending on age
MississippiNot officially
MissouriNot specifically
MontanaNot specifically
NebraskaNot specifically
New HampshireYes
New JerseyNot specifically
New MexicoYes, especially at 14 or older
New YorkNot specifically
North CarolinaYes
North DakotaNot specifically
OregonNot usually
PennsylvaniaNot specifically
Rhode IslandYes, depending on age
South CarolinaNot specifically
South DakotaYes
TennesseeNot specifically
TexasNot specifically
UtahNot specifically
VermontNot specifically
WashingtonNot specifically
West VirginiaYes

Specific Issues Regarding Teenagers

Teens often have very busy lives, sometimes including school, part-time jobs, extracurricular activities, and everything they are involved in socially. This is something that parents should keep in mind when setting up custody and visitation schedules during the initial divorce and when altering or enforcing existing orders. Here are a few of the main issues that crop up during the teenage years.

Enforcing Visitation

It can be startling the first time that you turn to look at your child and realize that they’re taller than you are. It’s a new thing to be looking up at them. But the fact that your child is now the size of an adult can also present other problems, especially if you have a contentious custody situation. If your child doesn’t have a good relationship with the other parent and one day refuses to get in the car to go to their house, you very well may not be able to physically make them as you could a younger child.

It’s also very common for teens to need to change visitation arrangements because of school requirements, extracurricular activities, and even social events. As your child gets older they have more of their own schedule and you may have to contend with working your parenting time around their terms. 

Driving and Getting a Car 

Learning to drive and getting that first car is considered a rite of passage in our culture, with teens counting down the days until their 16th birthday. But if you and the other parent aren’t on the same page with when your child is mature enough to get a license, when and how far they can drive alone, or who will help pay for their first car, it can cause conflict.

Going to College

It used to be that the common path was to go to college right after high school. However, with rising costs of postsecondary education, student loan changes, and financial uncertainties, some are starting to reconsider this avenue. Graduating teenagers now may want to take a year or two off to travel or figure out what they want to do career wise before sinking time and money into classes or they may want to consider a trade instead. If this conflicts with what you had hoped for your children or if there is conflict between you and the other parent on these issues, it can be problematic.

How to Make It Work

As you’re trying to navigate these and other issues, it’s important to remember that your teenager is still a child. They may be taller than you and think they’re an adult, but they’re not. You are still the parent, and you still make the rules. It’s also important to keep healthy boundaries and treat your child as your child, not a friend. If there are issues that you and the other parent can’t agree on, you might have to take it back before the courts to decide. In this case, your teenager is very likely to be asked for their input and those wishes actually considered in the judge’s decision making. However, your teen needs to remember that judge’s also put heavy weight on what the parents think are best and wanting something isn’t a guarantee your teen will get it.

Create a Family Plan With the Other Parent

The teen years can seem like there’s a new issue around every corner. Curfews, relationships, social media, high school applications — it can seem like it never stops. While each parent is entitled to decide what happens in their homes, it can be very helpful if you are both on the same page when it comes to these larger issues. Consider meeting with the other parent for coffee to hash out some of these issues before they are actually in play so the two of you can present a united front and already know how you want to handle things when it comes up. You may also find that summing up the discussion in writing, such as through 2houses’ messaging or journal features, can make the guidelines easy to reference later on.  

The teen years may be considered the last true stage of parenting, but this isn’t actually true. Even after your children are all grown up, are moved out, and have families of their own, they will still need your support, guidance, and love.

The Rights of Preschoolers During the Divorce Process

Preschoolers children

As your child starts to leave diapers and naps behind and moves into a full-blown preschooler, there are lots of exciting milestones and certainly some challenges. Your child masters walking and talking and starts to express their needs better — and often loudly — but you may also see more emotional outbursts and find yourself playing the world champion version of 20 Questions. This age can also be especially susceptible to the inevitable upheaval that comes with divorce. Learn more about what rights your child has at this age during the divorce and some of the common issues you may face.

Rights of Preschoolers

Preschool children can more accurately express what they want and don’t want, but they’re still too young to fully understand the process of divorce. This is one reason why children of this age generally don’t have any rights when it comes to things like having a say in which parent they want to live with or how the custody schedule should be set up. 

If there are issues such as the child expressing fear of being at the other parent’s house or showing signs of abuse or neglect, it’s normal to be concerned. You may want your child to talk to the judge about what’s going on and what they’re experiencing. However, this isn’t usually something the judge allows. This is because children of this age can’t be consistently relied on to know the difference between a truth and a lie and so their testimony isn’t something that can be relied on in a legal setting. 

But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t still fight for your child and what’s best for them — even if the issues at hand aren’t near as serious as abuse or neglect. One thing that can be beneficial is for your child to see a pediatric therapist who specializes in helping children whose parents are going through a divorce. These sessions usually involve play therapy and art therapy so it’s more like a fun playdate with a friend than the traditional therapy you may be used to. However, the therapist can  be called upon to testify in court or provide recommendations for what they think is in the best interests of the child when it comes to custody and visitation changes.

Specific Issues Regarding Preschoolers

Even though your preschooler may not have a lot of rights when it comes to the divorce process, their age means they still experience it in a unique way. Having a solid understanding of what issues you may face related to the divorce and this age is important to being able to predict problem areas and solve them before they become issues. Here are a few of the common potential problems to be aware of.

Cost of Preschool and Childcare

While there are some public preschool programs available in some states, many parents will end up paying for preschool out of pocket. It can be a large expense, and it can be ever larger if you also have to pay for child care before or after the official preschool hours. Preschool is often done on a half-day basis, which leaves parents working full-time needing extra child care. The problem becomes who pays for this expense. Child care expenses are included in the child support calculations in some states, but if they aren’t in your area, it’s a good idea to come to an agreement on how you’ll handle child care and preschool costs and put it in writing in the parenting plan.

Emotional Outbursts and Anxiety

You may notice your child having more emotional outbursts, nightmares, or worries at this age as well. One reason for this is that your child is understanding more about their environment and starting to understand the different concepts of past, present, and future and that things can change. This is also a normal time when children start to worry about their parents dying or other bad things happening to their family that they may see on the news or hear adults talking about. Divorce is a big change for your child, so it’s normal for this to bring up even more intense emotions and fears that your child doesn’t have the skills to handle and process yet.

Asking Questions About the Divorce

At this age, your child may also start to ask a lot of questions about the divorce. If you’re going through the process, your child may ask why you aren’t living with the other parent anymore, want to know if you still love each other and them, or when you’re all going to be a family again. If the divorce happened a while ago, your child may want to know what happened that caused the divorce or what life was like when you were still married. This is a normal part of your child processing the divorce and understanding where they came from and where they are going. It’s normal for children to be curious, and one of the best things you can do is answer as honestly and age-appropriately as possible.

How to Make It Work

Knowing what your preschoolers rights are and what to expect at this age when it comes to your child and the divorce is only half the battle. It’s also important to address things as they come up appropriately and from a joint perspective with the other parent if at all possible. Here are some strategies to get you started.

Provide Age-Appropriate Information

While it may be tempting to side step the questions your preschooler has about your divorce or what’s going to happen in the future, it’s best to answer them as matter of factly as possible Remember that your child doesn’t have the same life experiences or emotions attached to your divorce as you do, and often a simple, honest answer is enough to satisfy their curiosity and provide some security. For example, if your child asks, “Are you and Daddy going to get married again?”, your answer could be as simple as, “No, we’re just good friends now.” Being honest ensures that you’re not giving your child false hope, but answering simply also ensures you avoid over-explaining and giving your child more information than they really need to deal with.

Try to Stay Consistent With the Schedule

At this age, your child’s routine is very important. The sense of structure and stability that it brings them can be especially helpful during all of the changes that happen with a divorce. That’s why it’s a good idea to stay as consistent with your child’s schedule as possible. And this includes both their daily schedule as well as the custody schedule. While it’s common for parents to have different rules or ways they do things at the different houses, keeping key things like bed times the same can make things much easier on the child and the parents. You can use the calendar and journal feature on 2houses to make this even easier.

It’s also a good idea to do everything you can to keep to the visitation schedule that you’ve outlined. This ensures that your child knows what to expect and where they are going to be when and with whom. One way to do this that can help the child is to give them a calendar that’s color-coded for each day they spend with each parent. Then, your child can cross off the days on the calendar as they pass and always know when they will see the parent they aren’t with next. Of course, there will be times when the schedule has to change, and that’s OK too, but make sure to take the time to explain it to the child and let them know what’s happening next.

Take Advantage of Technology

Preschoolers, in particular, benefit from as much regular contact with both parents as possible. While it may not be realistic for your child to see both parents every day in person, you can leverage technology to help fill in the gaps. Phone calls and video chats can be a great way for your child to maintain connection with one parent when they are at the other’s house. These conversations don’t have to be long either — especially taking into consideration the attention span at this age. But even a quick 5-minute chat can help ease a child’s fears about a parent forgetting about them or maintain that connection with a quick “love you and goodnight” before bed.
The best thing you can do for your child is to keep yourself healthy, encourage a positive co-parenting relationship with the other parent, and make decisions in the best interests of your children. While this age can bring challenges, there are also many positives to embrace both for your child and your family as a whole.

The Rights of School-Aged Children During the Divorce Process

School-Aged Children

One of the best parts of being a parent is watching your children get older. Their personalities develop even more, they can carry on real conversations with you, and they no longer require the constant care that newborns and preschoolers can demand. However, growing up also brings some differences to the divorce process, how the child’s wishes are considered when it comes to custody proceedings, and what issues you may face in trying to co-parent your school-aged children.

Rights of School-Aged Children

While very young children and babies don’t have much to do with the divorce process, the courts do start to consider the wishes of the child in some cases. However, it’s important to understand the difference between your child’s rights and the court’s consideration. For example, in Arizona, the courts consider the child’s wishes when it comes to who they live with. However, this doesn’t mean that they have the absolute right to choose.

The courts are still tasked with making decisions in the best interests of the children, and the judge always has the final say. So even if your child tells the judge that they want to live with you, the other parent can still present a case to the court about why it’s in the child’s best interests to live with them, and the judge will have to make that decision. 

It’s set up like this because children don’t always know what’s best  for them — as any parent knows. In some cases, a child may just want to live with the most permissive parent who is going to let them do what they want, even if that’s to stay home alone, not have to do homework, or play video games all day. Allowing the child the absolute say in who they live with could also create the problem with the child wanting to switch houses every time they got into a fight with one of their parents. Neither of these situations would really be what is in the best interests of the child, and the courts expect the judge to be able to wade through all of this and make the decision that is in the best interests of the child.

Rights of Children by State

We’ve included a table below of whether or not each state considered the child’s wishes in custody and visitation matters. However, it’s important to keep in mind that laws change on a regular basis and much discretion is left up to the judge. It’s a good idea to always check with a family law attorney familiar with the laws and judges in your area before making any big decisions.

StateAre Children’s Wishes Considered?
CaliforniaNot specifically
ColoradoNot specifically
District of ColumbiaNot specifically
GeorgiaYes, children 14 and older can decide
IdahoNot specifically
IllinoisYes, children 14 and older can decide
IndianaYes, for children 11 and older
MaineNot specifically
MarylandChildren 16 and older can ask for custody changes
MassachusettsNot usually
MinnesotaYes, depending on age
MississippiNot officially
MissouriNot specifically
MontanaNot specifically
NebraskaNot specifically
New HampshireYes
New JerseyNot specifically
New MexicoYes, especially at 14 or older
New YorkNot specifically
North CarolinaYes
North DakotaNot specifically
OregonNot usually
PennsylvaniaNot specifically
Rhode IslandYes, depending on age
South CarolinaNot specifically
South DakotaYes
TennesseeNot specifically
TexasNot specifically
UtahNot specifically
VermontNot specifically
WashingtonNot specifically
West VirginiaYes

Specific Issues Regarding School-Aged Children

While the main issues when you’re divorcing with school-aged children tend to hinge around custody and child support, there are some other factors that come into play at this age. Understanding what the difficulties and challenges are that can present during this time can help you and your child’s other parent create a plan — or change an existing one — that reflects your child’s wants and needs.

Playdates and Birthday Parties

Once your children are in school, this is often when they really start to make friends and develop social relationships. And with these relationships come more invitations to playdates and birthday parties. In most cases, this is a good thing, but if you have a custody schedule, it can complicate matters — particularly if one or both parents isn’t willing to be flexible or compromise. For example, if you only see your child every other weekend for overnight visitations and they get invited to an overnight birthday party on that weekend, that would be taking some of your time. If the other parent isn’t willing to let you make up the time or switch weekends, it can create conflict.

Extracurricular Activities

The ages of 5 through 12 are often when children start participating in group sports and extracurricular activities or become more invested in these things. Maybe your child just smiled and waved from the baseball field during tee-ball, but now they want to be part of a traveling baseball team. These types of extracurricular activities can put a huge strain on the custody and visitation schedule. While tools like the 2houses calendar feature can help you keep track of who needs to be where when, it may eventually require some additional accommodations to be written out in your official agreement. The cost associated with these things, as well as which activities your child will participate in, are also often points of contention between co-parents.

Emotions and Puberty

While many parents think of puberty and hormones taking hold in the teen years, this process actually starts much younger and the first stages of puberty in girls especially can start as early as age 8. You may notice that your child is more emotional, has more frequent tantrums, or seems to be easily stressed, anxious, or depressed. All of these things can also be made worse by the conflict and change that happens with a divorce. 

How to Make It Work

At any state of co-parenting, communication is key, but this is even more true during this time when your children start to develop lives of their own and you may feel more like a chauffeur than a parent. Here are some strategies that may help you navigate this part of the parenting journey.

Talk to an Attorney

The best thing you can do for yourself and your children when you’re trying to figure out what rights your school-aged children have during the divorce process or how you can handle issues that may come up is to be informed. Most often, this means talking to a family law attorney. Many people think of seeking legal counsel as a move toward conflict in the divorce process — or even after the divorce is final. But knowing what the laws are in your state and how the judges in your area usually handle things can actually provide you and the other parent with critical information that can make it easier to come to a compromise or address things out of court. 

Even if you just want to make an official change to your custody arrangement that you both agree on — such as who will be designated the residential parent for school purposes — an attorney can ensure that you file everything correctly and help you get through the process as efficiently as possible.

Present a United Front

This is the age when children really start learning to play their parents against each other. They learn that if one parent says no, the other one might just say yes without even ever knowing the first parent already gave a decision. This happens in every household, regardless of marital status, but it’s just logistically easier for children of divorced parents to try to manipulate the parents against each other to get their way. 

The two main ways you can help stop this is to make sure that you stay in open, honest, frequent communication with the other parent and learn that it’s OK for your child to be upset with you. When our children are little they throw temper tantrums in the grocery store and we understand that 3-year-olds are like that sometimes, but when they get older, they learn to make reasoned arguments and use your insecurities and parental guilt against you. It can be helpful to have a canned answer, such as “I’ll have to think about it and get back to you” so that you can have the time to talk with the other parent and make sure you’re both on the same page with whatever the issue or request is.

The Rights of Babies and Toddlers During the Divorce Process

Babies in divorce process

Any time you are going through a divorce and there are children involved, it adds another layer to be aware of. This is even more true when the children are very young. They cannot yet express their needs, fears, wants, and anxieties well — or at all — and that can make it more difficult to be sure that the decisions you are making are what’s best for your children. However, knowing what issues may come up and how the courts deal with determining the best interests of children at this age and having strategies in place to navigate it all can help.

Rights of Babies and Toddlers

One of the first questions that parents have when they start going through a divorce is “what rights do my children have?” In the case of very young children, they obviously won’t be given  specific say in the matter by the courts. This is because they may not even be verbal enough to communicate their preferences, but even if they can, they clearly are not mature enough and do not understand enough about what’s going on and the implications to have any part in the decision-making process.

However, your children do have the right to be properly taken care of and loved and to have a positive, interactive relationship with both parents. The courts generally try to do everything they can to keep both parents involved in the child’s life as much as possible. However, the most important thing from the court’s perspective is the best interests of the child. 

Specific Issues Regarding Babies and Toddlers

How divorce affects the children and what issues will need to be addressed and worked out depends heavily on how old the children are. In the case of babies and toddlers, there are some specific issues that come along with this age that you may need to talk about with the other parent and explicitly state in the parenting plan of your divorce agreement. We’ve covered a few of the most common scenarios below to help you get started.

Babies Currently Breastfeeding

Trying to figure out a custody plan and visitation schedule if your baby is still nursing can be very difficult. While some mothers can pump if the baby is going to be away for a short time, some babies refuse to take a bottle and long separations between the mother and child can interfere with milk supply. Some states do have special considerations for custody and visitation if a child is still breastfeeding, and you may also be able to point to previous court decisions in your state that show that the breastfeeding relationship is an important factor in determining custody and visitation.

Long-Distance Custody Schedules

It’s not unusual for one parent to want to make a long-range move back to family or for a better career opportunity after a divorce. In these cases, the traditional way of handling it is to designate one parent as the primary custodian and the other parent gets extended visitation in the summers and over most holidays. But this doesn’t work as well when the child is very young. An 18-month-old, for instance, may experience severe distress at being separated from his primary caregiver to go spend the summer with the other parent whom he hasn’t seen in 6 months. Babies and toddlers don’t have the developed sense of time and relationships that older children do, and this is important to consider when making decisions.

Separation Anxiety 

A very common developmental milestone in babies and toddlers is separation anxiety. This can start as early as 5 months or so, but most parents notice it starting to happen more often around 9 months of age. Separation anxiety can last a few years, so it’s something to be aware of as you figure out the best custody schedule for your family and how you’re going to handle helping your child transition from one household to another. Separation anxiety is very normal and is seen in nearly all children, but how it’s handled through a divorce and moving between households can make a big difference in how quickly your child moves through it and what further issues may crop up later.

How to Make It Work

When it comes to coming up with the best custody and visitation plan for babies and toddlers, things work best if both parents can set aside their differences to focus on what’s best for the children. Mediation can be a powerful tool to help parents figure out reasonable compromises that are suitable for both sides and help them avoid the more divisive process of going through a divorce trial. Below, we’ve provided three strategies to help you get started creating a plan that works for everyone involved.

Put the Focus on the Kids

Divorces don’t usually happen because everyone likes each other and gets along well. It can be very difficult to separate out your personal feelings about the other parent and the circumstances that brought about the end of the relationship, but it’s very important to try. One of the best gifts you can give your children is to at least be civil with their other parent. Even very young children can pick up on and be affected by the tension and negative emotions that happen when the parents can’t get along.

While it may seem like you’re soon not going to have to deal with the other parent very much, this just isn’t true. There will be many events and special days in the years to come, including holidays, first days of school, birthday parties, high school graduations, weddings and the birth of your grandchildren. As much as possible, try to keep the big picture in mind and remember that what you do and say now is setting the stage for decades of interactions in the future.

If you are still in the midst of the divorce process and there are disagreements over the financial aspects, try to keep those separate from anything to do with the children. Even child support shouldn’t factor in to how often and under what circumstances either parent sees the children. These are separate matters, and the more you can keep them that way the better.

Set Flexible Schedules and Routines

You’ve probably heard that babies and toddlers do well with routines, and this is true, but being too rigid can make things more difficult. For example, if you have an every other weekend visitation, but the child is sick with a fever, it may make more sense for the child’s comfort to stay with the main custodial parent or for the other parent to visit at the child’s house instead of the parent’s. Being flexible and communicating with the other parent about what is going on with the child and being open to compromise as issues arise can keep things working well.

It also helps to be on the same page as much as possible with the children’s daily schedules and routines, such as meal times or bedtime routines. 2houses’ features like the information bank and journal let you share these things with the other parents without having to search through text or worry about forgetting important info. And it also provides a way to keep the other parent updated on how the child is doing when they are away from their house.

Plan to Revisit

A last thing to keep in mind when you are working on custody and visitation involving very young children is that things will change in the future — and more quickly than you think. When your child is ready to go to preschool, you will likely have to do another overhaul of the physical custody agreement, so it’s a good idea to just go ahead and plan to revisit the agreement every so many years or at specific milestones to ensure it’s still a good fit for the parents and the child. Some times to consider re-evaluation may be:

  • When a breastfeeding infant is weaned
  • At the start of preschool
  • At the start of kindergarten
  • Any time there are specific life changes happening such as playing competitive team sports in elementary school or getting a driver’s license at age 16

Scheduling these re-evaluations can give you and the other parent a chance to get out in front of any issues that may be coming up instead of just trying to react after conflicts or disagreements have already taken place. Knowing that things aren’t set in stone forever can also make it easier for parents to work toward compromise.

The bottom line is that what’s best for your children is what’s best for you when it comes to divorce, custody, and visitation. Open communication, trying to understand the other person’s perspective, and continuing to work as a team and a family even when there is no romantic relationship there are the keys to making it work.

TX Child Custody Laws for Unmarried Parents: Everything You Need to Know

TX custody laws

Every year, around one-and-a-half million children are born to unmarried parents in the United States. From the outset, these children face different custodial rules, standards, and laws than their peers born to married couples. 

As if that weren’t complicated enough, custodial rules and standards can vary from state to state. If you’re unmarried and dealing with a child custody situation in Texas, here are the TX custody laws you need to be aware of. 

Texas Custody Defaults

Whenever a child is born to an unmarried mother in Texas, the law assigns all legal and custodial rights to the mother. This is true even when the father’s name appears on the birth certificate. 

In order to claim any custodial rights over their children, unmarried fathers must first establish paternity.

Establishing Paternity

As a general rule, men have little say in what goes on a child’s birth certificate. The mother’s information is automatically included and she may choose whether or not to identify a father. Even when a father is listed, the presence of his name on the certificate is not considered legal proof of parenthood. 

As such, it is not legal grounds for custody. Under Texas laws, there are only two ways to establish paternity that have any legal weight. 

The first option is to have both parents sign an Acknowledgement of Paternity (AOP) document. The use of this legally binding form is most common among unmarried couples living together or who have parted amicably and who wish to work together to raise their children. 

The second option is to establish paternity via a DNA test. Samples must be collected from the mother, the proposed father, and the child. The samples must then be analyzed by a recognized lab to verify paternity.

Either parent can obtain a court order for such testing, if necessary. 

It is important to note, however, that establishing paternity is only a first step. Unmarried fathers do not immediately gain the same custodial rights as their married counterparts once paternity is proven. Instead, they will need to negotiate a custody arrangement with the mother of their child or request a child custody order from the court. 

Negotiated Rights vs Court Orders

Unmarried parents do not necessarily need to go to court to work out custody of their children. If they live together or live separately but co-parent in a positive and constructive way, they may be able to operate under informal agreements. 

For many couples, however, informal arrangements are not feasible. Sometimes parents are unable to agree on terms. Other times, one or both parents may fail to keep to agreed-upon terms.

In other cases, concerns about safety, child support, or other factors may come into play. When any of these things happen, parents must seek court-mediated custody arrangements. 


Texas custody laws contain very specific and unique language. Understanding this language is the first step to understanding your custody options and the laws that govern them.  

The first term unmarried parents need to know is conservatorship. Texas uses the term “conservatorship” in place of “custody.” Thus, a custodial parent or guardian is a child’s “conservator.”

There are two primary types of conservatorship. 

In joint managing conservatorship (JMC) arrangements, both parents share custody. Both have basic rights to make decisions about and for their child and an equal responsibility to care for the child. 

Under a JMC, judges may assign specific and exclusive decision-making rights on some subjects to one parent or the other. JMCs may or may not involve one parent paying child support to the other. 

The second type of conservatorship is sole managing conservatorship (SMC), in which only one parent has the right to make legal decisions for and about the child. Child support is common in these arrangements. 

Child Support

Courts may award child support to the conservator regardless of their gender. Before mothers can receive child support from the father, however, they must establish paternity. Receipt of child support is not necessarily related to access or visitation.

The exact amount of child support the court awards can vary based on numerous factors. Parents with questions on this point should seek the advice and assistance of an attorney. 

In most cases, child support ends when the child turns 18 years of age. 


The next term parents need to know is “access.” This is Texas’s term for visitation.

Non-custodial parents often still have rights to see and spend time with their children. If the parents can reach an agreement between themselves on what visitation should look like, the court will usually honor those arrangements.

When parents cannot agree, courts hand down permissions and restrictions. This includes:

  • Geographic restrictions
  • Time restrictions
  • Activity restrictions 

Geographic Restrictions 

Conservators have the right to choose where they and their children reside. In order to ensure that non-conservator parents still have access to their children, however, the court may place restrictions on where the custodial parent can live. 

For example, they may not be able to move out of the area or out of state if this would deny the non-conservator parent access to their child. These restrictions usually cease to apply if the non-custodial parent agrees to the move or moves out of the area themselves. 

Time and Activity Restrictions 

In addition to geographic restrictions, courts may also hand down other rules. They may limit the time a parent can spend with a child. Or they may limit what non-custodial parents can do, such as: 

  • Ordering the parent not to drink or use substances while with the child
  • Ordering that specific friends or relatives not be allowed near the child while they are with that parent
  • Requiring that the parent visit with their child only in supervised conditions 

Court Preferences

As often as possible, Texas courts prefer to hand down joint managing conservatorship (JMC) arrangements. Research demonstrates that the involvement of both parents is most often in children’s best interest, and so courts try to promote this whenever situations allow. 

In fact, courts use children’s best interests as the baseline for all of their decisions in Texas custody cases. 

By law, courts are not allowed to base their decisions on or allow their decisions to be influenced by:

  • Parents’ marital status
  • Parents’ genders
  • The child’s gender

Instead, custody arrangements are based solely on the court’s determination of which parent is most capable of providing a safe, stable, and loving home for the child.

Standard Schedules 

When parents do not have their own personalized parenting plans, Texas courts tend to default to one of several standardized plans. 

In a standard possession plan, the non-conservator parent gets access:

  • Two to three weekends per month
  • One weeknight per week during the school year
  • Every other holiday
  • For one month during the summer

Under an expanded standard possession plan, the non-conservator parent: 

  • Gets access during all of the same times as under a standard plan
  • Has extra overnight visitations 
  • Is permitted to pick up their child from school or drop them off at school

Modified possession plans are variants of the standard plan. They may be granted when parental or child schedules do not accommodate the standard plan. They often adhere as closely to the standard time division as possible. 

Customized plans are also common for children under three years of age, as their youth can require special considerations. 

Supervised possession plans go into effect when there are restrictions on when, where, and how the non-custodial parent may see their child. 

Abuse, Violence, and Other Special Circumstances

Texas custody laws for unmarried parents are not that different from those that apply to married parents in cases where the child’s safety is in question. 

Unfit parents cannot gain conservatorship. Importantly, however, fathers seeking sole conservatorship due to maternal unfitness must establish paternity before they can sue for custody.

In less clear-cut cases, the court considers the following factors when addressing custody in potentially unsafe situations.

  • Evidence or history of neglect
  • Evidence or history of abuse toward the child, the other parent, or someone else in the home
  • Cases or a history of assault on the part of either parent

In particular, the law singles out sexual assaults and crimes. The court can refuse to grant custody or access to men if the child in question was conceived as the result of a sexual crime against the mother. 

Supervised Access

In many cases, rather than denying parents access altogether, the court will elect to award supervised access. This can enable parents to have relationships with their children without exposing those children to unsafe conditions. 

Supervised access may include conditions such as:

  • Controlled exchange of the child
  • Prohibitions against the consumption of alcohol or other substances before and during visits
  • Parental enrollment in anger management or parenting classes

TX Custody Laws and You 

TX custody laws are complex. Nowhere is this more true than in situations where parents are unmarried. Learn more about how you can write co-parenting plans, design custom schedules, and set up the best possible custody arrangements by checking out our other great articles now.

Yours, Mine and Ours: How to Blend Two Families

Blend families

Many divorces involve children, and many of those divorced parents will go on to remarry — very likely to someone who also already has children of their own. While the Brady Bunch is a great TV show, it’s not a realistic model for what the process of creating a blended family looks like in real life. It can take many years to navigate all of the challenges that come with a blended family and to build positive, respectful relationships between everyone, but it is possible. Find out more in this guide.

Step-Parenting and Blended Families

When it comes to step-parents, the stigmas are strong. On one end of the spectrum you have the wicked stepmother (or stepfather) scenario that would paint step-parents as jealous, controlling and even abusive when it comes to their stepchildren — seemingly trying to push the children out so they can be the only thing important to the other parent. Luckily, this is more television and movie fodder than it is real life. 

Most step-parents very much want to have a positive relationship with their stepchildren and look forward to building a new family unit that blends the best of both sides into something even better. However, it usually isn’t this simple even in the best of situations and with the best of intentions. 

The truth is that step-parenting is difficult. You don’t have the inherent bond that you have with your biological children, and in some cases, you may be seen as a potential threat to the child’s relationship with their biological parent or a replacement for their parent’s ex-spouse. In order to make the transition from two families to one as smooth as possible, it’s important to be aware of both the challenges and potential strategies you can use to build positive relationships and a strong family unit. 

The Challenges of Blended Families

When it comes to taking two separate families and trying to turn it into one, it can sometimes feel more like trying to mix water and oil. You’re taking two very separate family units, with different traditions, different rules and different dynamics, and trying to create something entirely new. Here are a few of the potential pitfalls to be aware of as you navigate this process.

Differences in Parenting Styles

This is perhaps the most difficult aspect of all. Chances are that you and your new spouse have had years of raising your children and have your own specific parenting style when it comes to what’s allowed, what’s not and what you do when someone breaks the rules. For example, if you’re OK with your children watching R rated movies but your new spouse thinks that anything rated higher than PG is a no, this presents issues when it comes to family movie nights or what movies children are allowed to see with friends.

Differences in parenting styles also commonly show up when it comes to discipline. If you and your new spouse have had different house rules or expectations when it comes to chores, how the family members interact with each other or what punishments are appropriate, it can quickly become a point of contention if it’s not dealt with.

Difficult Co-Parents

While there are plenty of stories out there about how new spouses and ex-spouses are able to get along very well and may even be friends, this doesn’t always happen. In some cases, the children’s biological parent may see you as a threat to their relationship with their children and try to undermine you as a step-parent. Feeling like you constantly have to defend yourself or dealing with antagonistic interactions at every school function or visitation pickup can get very taxing very quickly and put stress on both your relationship with your step-children as well as your new spouse. Keeping communication in writing and ensuring everyone has access to family calendars and the like through an app like 2houses can help.

Diverse Personalities

Every person is unique, and this is certainly true for children. And while there’s no guarantee that your personality meshes with your own biological children, you do have the benefit of the magnitude of parental love and years of experience learning how to deal with them. When you are faced with a personality clash between a step-parent and step-child, it can be very challenging to develop and maintain a positive relationship.

4 Tips for Successful Step-Parenting

While it’s possible that you may never have the same type of relationship with your step-children as you have with your biological children, that doesn’t mean that you should just give up and bide your time until the children are out of the house. There are many things you can do personally and as a family to help create a more positive step-parenting relationship. Here are just a few of your tips for getting things moving in a better direction. 

1. Take It Slow

Remember that even though you and your new spouse have decided to start a family together that your respective children probably didn’t have that same input. If they aren’t happy about the change, it’s important to realize like they may feel like it is entirely out of their control and may feel like it is something that is forced on them. With this in mind, the focus should be on taking it slow and giving everyone plenty of grace. 

It’s normal to want everything to blend seamlessly quickly, but the reality is that this is rarely what actually happens. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, it can actually take several years for everyone to adjust to the changes in the family structure and for the two families to actually start to “blend.” By thinking of this as a marathon and not a sprint, it can help you keep the proper long-game perspective and help you notice and celebrate more of the smaller wins and progress instead of focusing on the ongoing challenges.

2. Present a United Front

While it’s likely that each family has had their own traditions, rules and ways of relating to each other, all of this has to adjust when the two families come together. This means there will be times when a middle of the road compromise is available and others when one side has to “win.” One of the best things you can do to help make that transition easier is to make sure that you’re presenting a united front with your new spouse.

If possible, take some time to discuss how you’re going to handle things before they arise, so that you are able to present that united front in the moment. In situations where that’s not possible, it’s a good idea to go with whatever the first parent to respond says and then talk about it with your spouse later away from the children to discuss both viewpoints and how you can compromise and adjust for when that issue comes up again. 

For example, maybe you let your step-child buy a candy bar at the grocery store, but you found out when you got home that your spouse wanted them to wait until after dinner to have sweets. In this case, going ahead with what the step-parent said and then having a parents-only discussion afterward to come to a compromise moving forward is the best solution that ensures both sides are heard and a compromise is made without undermining the step-parent’s decision in front of the children. 

3. Respect That Each Child Is Different

One of the great things about children is that they all have different strengths and character traits that make them completely unique individuals. However, this also means that in a blended family with more than one child, you’re probably going to be dealing with different perspectives and adjustments from each child. One child might immediately take to the new partner while another needs more time to warm up and accept the change. 

One of the best things you can do as a new step-parent or a biological parent trying to make the blended family transition as smooth as possible is to accept that each child will handle the new situation differently and respect that. Encourage the children who are happy and excited about the move and give those who aren’t plenty of time and space to process things in their own time and way.

4. Embrace the Chaos

Anytime you are putting two families into one, there is a lot of change, and it’s probably going to be chaotic and imperfect for a while — and possibly forever. By embracing the change, you open the door to welcome challenges as opportunities to grow and bond together and set a good example for children who may not yet have the tools and resources to cope.

Success Strategies for Becoming a Stepdad

Becoming a stepdad

Dating is never easy, but when you’re dating someone who already has children, the stakes are even higher. Once you realize that it’s time to take things to the next level and start considering marriage, you may have some questions and concerns about what it means to be a stepfather and what you can do to be a good one. Your new spouse — or soon to be — and their kids are a package deal, so it’s important to do all you can to be a positive influence and role model. Here are some of our best strategies for becoming a successful stepdad.

Potential Pitfalls

While you may not officially be a stepdad until you say “I do,” the work you put into the relationship with the kids from the first day you meet them is crucial to your success. Being more aware of the potential issues and challenges that can crop up as a step-dad is important if you want to stay ahead of those challenges and be proactive in cultivating a positive relationship with your children. Here are a few things to be on the lookout for.

1. Resentment From the Children

Even if you’re a great guy with the best of intentions and do everything right from the start, you still might have to contend with resentment from the children. From their perspective it can feel like you’re a threat to their relationship with their biological parent, taking some of the time and energy that the kids see as could have been spent on them. You may also be a visual reminder that their parents have separated and really aren’t going to get back together — a fantasy many children of divorce hold on to.

2. Differences in Parenting Styles

Another challenge that often affects blended families is the difference in parenting styles. This may be especially true if you also have children and have developed a specific parenting style and method of relating to and disciplining your kids. For example, if your partner thinks it’s fine for the children to stay up as late as they want on the weekends but you think bedtime should still be enforced, it can be hard to get on the same page and present a united front to the children. Other potential areas that can be issues if you have different parenting styles include the level of responsibility expected from the kids when it comes to household chores, what consequences should happen if a child gets in trouble and what to do if a child is struggling academically.

3. The “Not My Dad” Problem

Even if you have a positive relationship with your step-children, the “not my dad” card can still come up when things get challenging — especially in the teenage years. While you are an authority figure in the child’s life, the truth is that the child is right: you aren’t their dad. And that can make it harder to walk the line when it comes to discipline, respect and being taken seriously. 

4. Dealing With the Bio Dad

In some cases, you may be the only father figure in the picture (which can sometimes be easier but comes with challenges of its own), but in many, you will have to learn how to deal with the children’s biological father. If you’re lucky, the dad will be a good guy who wants to be involved with his kid and is at least accepting of you if not outright welcoming. However, many stepdads have to deal with bio dads who don’t want them in the picture and actively try to sabotage their relationships with the children and their partner.

4 Strategies for Success

After reading over that list of potential pitfalls, you may be thinking either “yikes, I hadn’t thought of that!” or “OK, yes, I’m already dealing with this,” but the big question is “What do I do about it?” The good news is that there are specific strategies you can use to help create and maintain a positive relationship with your stepchildren. We’ve focused on four core areas below.

1. Focus on the Positive

It’s easy to get frustrated with your own biological children when they have attitudes, are throwing temper tantrums or aren’t obeying the rules. But it’s even easier when the child isn’t “yours.” One thing that can really help during these times is to keep the focus on the positive and ignore the negative as much as you can. For example, maybe you can ignore a sarcastic remark a child says under their breath as they walk up the stairs and at the same time remind yourself of last weekend when they curled up on the couch with you to watch a movie. Or when they pull the “not my dad” line, remember that time they gave you a handmade father’s day card with a special note inside.

It may even be helpful to keep a special box or notebook or even just a folder of pictures in your phone that documents the positives so that you have something tangible to remind yourself of when there’s a bad day.

2. Keep the Lines of Communication Open

Open, honest, respectful communication is key to any relationships, and this is definitely true when it comes to your relationship with your step-children. It can be a difficult line to walk between “I’m here for you” and coming across as overbearing, but it’s worth taking up the challenge. You can help foster open communication by taking an active interest in your step-children’s lives and the things that are important to them. Make a point to remember that they had a big spelling test today. Show up at the soccer game. Learn to play chess. Knowing enough about their interests and likes and dislikes to carry on a meaningful conversation and ask the right questions can go a long way toward showing them that you care and are invested in their lives and success.

It’s also equally as important to keep those lines of communication open with your partner. Even when you love someone, it can be difficult to accept someone else parenting your child or having an opinion on your child. Having regular conversations with your partner — schedule them if you need to — about how things are going and any issues that have come up can give you an easy open forum to ensure you catch any resentfulness, hurt or misunderstanding before it becomes a bigger problem.

3. Be a Role Model

The old adage “you have to give respect to get respect” is definitely true when it comes to step-parenting. One of the best things you can do for your relationship with your step-children is to model the behavior you want from them. Treat them with respect, give them grace when they mess up and remember that everyone is human. For example, if you think it’s disrespectful for a child to be sarcastic toward you, make a point not to be sarcastic to them. If you have an issue with how they are treating you and acting toward you, make sure that you continue to model positive behavior even when you are frustrated or don’t feel like it. Consistency in how you treat the children and what you expect from them can go a long way toward building a relationship.

4. Give It Time

Relationships take time. This is true for romantic relationships, and it’s also very true when you are trying to build relationships with someone else’s kids. Children of divorce in particular often really need to see that you’re going to be a permanent fixture in their lives and need to see that you are going to continue to be a positive person for them. It’s common for children to believe that if they can just be difficult enough they can scare you away or to believe that since their parents split up, it’s inevitable that you will leave too and so it’s not worth investing in the relationship. Sometimes, when the children see that they can’t scare you away and that you aren’t leaving, they settle down very quickly and do a complete 180 in how they treat and interact with you. Remembering that being a stepdad is a long game can help you keep perspective.

The bottom line is that even if your stepkids don’t take to you right away or even actively express their displeasure at the new family dynamics, that doesn’t stop you from being able to give your best effort as a stepdad. Being a good step-parent is a long game, and the effort, consistency and respect you put in now is likely to pay off in dividends later.

I’m Afraid to Make My Mom or Dad Sad: Dealing With Children’s Fears and Insecurities

I'm Afraid to Make My Mom or Dad Sad

While we usually think of the parent comforting the child and trying to ensure they are happy and healthy, children often think they also have some sort of responsibility to their parents and not upsetting them. This can be a good thing if you want your child not to misbehave, but when it comes to the emotional effects of a divorce, it can backfire. In this article, we tackle some of the top reasons your child may be afraid to make you sad and provide some tips on how to ensure that your child feels like they can talk to you without worrying about how you might feel.

Reasons Your Child May Be Afraid to Make You Sad

Many children are worried if they express their feelings or emotions that they might upset or hurt their parents, and this can lead to them internalizing those emotions and even creating false connections in their heads such as “It’s my fault they got divorced.” To be able to challenge those connections, it’s important to be aware of what your child may be thinking. Here are a few common reasons your child may be afraid to make you sad.

I’m afraid to make my mom or dad sad if…I want to see my other parent.

Children often feel like they are betraying one parent or having to choose between the two if they want to spend time with the other parent. This can come up in situations like wanting to go shopping with one parent instead of the other or even just the regular custody schedule. Your child may be afraid that if they show that they are happy to spend time with the other parent that you will think they don’t love you just as much.

I’m afraid to make my mom or dad sad if…I don’t like their new boyfriend/girlfriend.

While it’s not 100 percent necessary for your child to be ecstatic about your new partner for it to work out, it can make things more difficult if they don’t get along. However, if you don’t know that your child doesn’t like your new partner, you won’t even have the opportunity to address any issues, personality clashes or misunderstandings. Your child may be afraid that if they don’t like your new partner that you will have to choose between them, and they may be afraid that you love your new boyfriend or girlfriend more than them.

I’m afraid to make my mom or dad sad if…I don’t want to go to their house.

As children get older, they tend to have more of a social life and may have plans or things that they want to do when it’s time to go over to the other parent’s house. An example of this might be a birthday sleepover that is scheduled for the noncustodial parent’s weekend. Your child may be worried that you will be upset or think that they don’t love you or want to spend time with you because they want to go to the party instead.

I’m afraid to make my mom or dad sad if…I talk about before.

Divorce and the separation of the family is a big change, and it’s one that takes a lot of processing for kids and adults alike. However, it’s common that adults get to actually do that processing through talking to friends or family, joining support groups or talking to a therapist, but children are often left to their own thoughts. Your child may be afraid to make you sad if they want to talk about happy memories from when the parents were still together or show that they are sad that it didn’t work out.

I’m afraid to make my mom or dad sad if…I ask my other parent for help.

Single parents are superheros. They do everything and have to work in and fill multiple roles around the house and in their children’s lives. After a while, it becomes second nature to just handle everything yourself, especially when it comes to your children. However, your child may also want to get help from the other parent sometimes, whether it’s advice on how to talk to their crush or whether they should try out for varsity. Your child may be afraid to make you sad or make you feel like you’re not enough if they want to get specific help from the other parent.

I’m afraid to make my mom or dad sad if…I ask them not to come to something.

In coparenting situations where the parents are able to be civil and even friendly and get along, it’s usually not an issue for both parents to attend a function for the child. Unfortunately, however, this isn’t always the case. If the relationship between the two parents is bad, it can be very stressful for the child to have everyone show up at a performance or game. They may not know where to look in the audience or who to go to first after it’s over, and they may also be worried that the parents will get into an argument in front of their friends and peers. Your child may be afraid that you will be sad or get your feelings hurt if they ask you not to come to a function so that they don’t have to split their time or deal with the stress.

What You Can Do About It

The good news is that for most parents, once they hear these reasons, they immediately think, “Oh, but that’s not true at all!” And letting your child know that these things won’t upset you or hurt you or make you sad is an important step in ensuring that they aren’t blaming themselves or carrying more emotional burden than they should be. It’s also important in keeping the lines of communication open and making your child feel like it’s safe to come to you with their issues and problems. Here are a few strategies that can help.

Remind Your Child That You Love Them Unconditionally

First and foremost, make it a point to tell your child that you love them and love them unconditionally as much as possible. When they have that strong basis of love, there will be less fear that there is something they can do or say to you that would shake that love. Children don’t have the life experience or maturity to understand the depth of parental love or that while you may not like how they are acting,  their choices or some decisions they make it doesn’t change how you feel about them or how much you love them at all.

Make a Point to Keep Your Feelings to Yourself

While it’s always good for children to understand that parents are humans too and sometimes they feel stressed or upset or angry, your child isn’t your therapist or best friend and shouldn’t be treated like it. Children pick up on every little cue, and even a sarcastic comment here and there can make your child more afraid of upsetting you or making you sad. While it’s perfectly normal to feel sad or upset if your child doesn’t want to come to your house or would rather the other parent come to “bring your parent to school day,” it’s best to keep that to private adult conversations and continue to show your child positivity and support.

Ask Questions to Foster Communication

It can be very difficult for children to be able to share their emotions and fears. They often don’t have the experience or vocabulary to understand those feelings, let alone articulate them. And even older children and teenagers may act out or do other things instead of sharing how they feel. One way to help things along is to ask questions and open the door for them to share. Instead of waiting for your child to say that they are worried about your new partner, maybe ask something along the lines of, “So-and-so’s been coming around a lot more. How do you think things are going?” Resist the urge to defend yourself or your partner and really just focus on hearing your child and validating those feelings. If there are things you need to address or explain, try to leave it for another conversation so that your child doesn’t associate that with them telling you how they felt.

Divorce is difficult for everyone involved, and unfortunately, those challenges don’t stop once the paperwork is finalized. Understanding that your child may have fears and emotions you’re not aware of and giving them an open, safe place to express those feelings without judgement can help everyone more forward as healthily as possible.