In one of our first blogs, we looked at the top five child custody mistakes you should avoid. Today, we'd like to look at child custody through a different lens and examine seven things you should do to make your child custody arrangement more manageable.
Whether you're in the midst of a custody battle or navigating a newly formed access schedule, today, we're advising parents on a multitude of custody situations. Without further ado, here are seven things you can do to make your custody arrangement easier.
1) Try and Mediate Custody with Your Ex
An aim of courts in a custody battle is to ensure that, if possible, the children involved retain a positive relationship with both parents. In situations where a parent abuses or neglects a child, courts are more likely to consider very limited contact. In the majority of custody cases, however, most courts will try and establish access schedules that allow both parents to maintain consistent contact with their children.
To that end, courts typically mandate mediation for parents, except in cases involving domestic violence between the parties. Even if you're estranged from your spouse, it's essential to comply with the court's mediation order. Engaging in mediation in good faith helps to give you more control over the outcome of your case and can be beneficial for both you and your children by avoiding contentious litigation.
2) Cooperate with Evaluators
Frequently, judges order child custody evaluations before making a final ruling in child custody cases. The court chooses a professional evaluator, who then uses a variety of factors such as each parent's
- Philosophy on parenting
- Relationship with their children
- Relationship with each other
- Living Situation
- Ability to provide their children with a good quality of life
to advise the court on how to handle the child custody arrangement.
For many parents, the evaluation is an uncomfortable process. The evaluator may ask questions you feel uncomfortable answering. Regardless, it's crucial to collaborate honestly with the evaluator. As with mediation, the more cooperative you are, the better the end result will likely be for your case. Don't attempt to manipulate the evaluator or 'game' the system by trying to coach your children to provide certain responses to questions they may ask. Additionally, don't slander your ex. Focus on making the evaluation a learning experience and handle the situation with honesty and integrity.
3) Communicate with Your Ex
Again, depending on your relationship with your ex, this may be difficult (or even impossible). Still, if you can, communicate with your ex about the custody arrangement.
You want what's best for your children and hopefully, the same is true of your ex. Assuming both of you have the same goal, now is the time to put personal differences aside and work together to develop a child custody arrangement that serves the best interests of your children. If you find communicating with your ex personally difficult but don't want to go through a parenting coordinator, you and your ex's attorneys can speak with each other or help mediate conversations.
Maintaining open communication such as how each of you can provide for your children, what your living arrangement is like, and what an ideal custody arrangement would be can help you form a mutually beneficial custody arrangement. Additionally, being open and honest with one another can make other processes, such as determining child support, more efficient.
A healthy communication style will also benefit you and your ex once you determine the child custody arrangement and move into co-parenting. The last thing you want is for bad blood from the custody arrangement to start boiling up years later when your children are going through a transition or difficult time and needs support from both parents at once.
Consistency is key here. Don't tell your ex one thing and the evaluator or court another. Set boundaries as you see fit, but maintain consistent, open communication with your ex about what actions you both should take to ensure the happiness and well being of your children.
4) Abide By Your Custody Arrangement
If your custody arrangement is determined in court by a judge, and you receive a judgment you don't agree with, it can be tempting to tamper with the custody arrangement.
Avoid taking unilateral actions such as refusing to hand over your children or refusing to meet at a particular time or location. Not only will tampering with your custody arrangement frustrate your ex and risk being found in contempt of the court order, but it may also cause your children distress and uncertainty.
If you genuinely believe your custody arrangement is unfair and want to alter it, do so by seeking a modification of the court order. If you successfully file for a custody modification order, your new access schedule is legally binding.
If you informally change your custody arrangement, the official legal custody agreement is still binding. This means that if your ex decides to revoke or amend whatever informal custody arrangement you've created, you will have little to no legal recourse to contest that decision, other than filing for a modification.
The more cooperative you are with your current custody arrangement, the better chance you stand of changing that custody arrangement in the future. So, don't refuse to abide by your custody order.
5) Be Realistic with Your Children About the Custody Arrangement
Once your custody arrangement is determined, you have the difficult task of figuring out how to ease into that arrangement with your ex. Understandably, this is a frustrating period for most parents. You're probably not seeing your children as often as you'd like, and you may simultaneously be navigating other stressful parts of the divorce process, such as asset division.
In the leadup to the custody order, and after, it's important for you and your ex to talk with your children about the custody arrangement as little as possible. Depending on the age of your children, the content of these conversations will need to be different. However, there are a few bases you'll want to cover in any situation:
- To the best of your ability, explain to your children how the custody arrangement is set up and stick with the arrangement that you have explained to them. Explain the arrangement to them, but do not get into unnecessary detail, such as why you and your ex are no longer together or how you and your ex came up with the arrangement. It can be beneficial to seek the help of a mental health professional for your children if they are having difficulty adjusting.
- Get into the details of the access schedule. Your children will be searching for stability, and you can provide them some by covering the details of the access schedule. Specify what times you'll be picking them up or dropping them off. Detail how holidays will work (will the family spend the day together? If not, will the children spend half of the day with one parent and half with the other? Etc.). Providing as many details as possible can help provide your children with a sense of security.
- Do not ask your children what they think of the arrangement, but listen to them. You shouldn't let your children determine the custody arrangement and you should certainly not ask for their input. However, your children will likely have insight you don't possess on different aspects of the custody arrangement (such as how dividing time between parents may affect their friendships or academic/extracurricular obligations). So, if your children speak about different aspects of the access schedule, listen to what they have to say, but do not engage in coaching or directed questioning. You can speak with your ex about what you have heard to discuss whether making changes to the arrangement might benefit the children.
6) Be an Active Co-Parent with Your Ex
It may seem counter intuitive, but you want to avoid becoming the 'cool' parent if you can. There are a few reasons you should keep the 'professional parent' hat on, even if it's tempting to take it off:
- Your children will be less receptive to disciplinary measures when you do need to take them. If you're the 'fun' parent who has no rules, be prepared for a fit when you try and discipline your children for getting a bad grade or violating curfew. It's important for your children to respect you as a parent.
- Your children will enjoy spending time with your ex less. That may be tempting for you, particularly if you and your ex are estranged, but it will make your children's lives less consistent. If both parents are active co-parents for the children, the children will have a more consistent upbringing and be more likely to have a healthy relationship with both you and your ex.
- You pigeon-hole your ex as the 'bad cop' in the parenting dynamic. Your children will, at some point, inevitably talk to your ex about all the cool things they get to do with you and ask why your ex doesn't have the same relaxed rules. You should strive to have an equitable co-parenting relationship, so you and your ex can navigate tough parenting moments together. Neither parent should necessarily be the 'good cop' or the 'bad cop'—you should both be co-parents who command equal respect and can be flexible to serve the best interests of your children.
We're not saying you can't have fun with your children or spoil them. Of course, you can! And if you want to, you should. But it's important to take a long-term approach to parenting.
At some point, your children will inevitably go through a transitionary period (puberty, the transition of middle school to high school or high school to college, etc.) they find difficult. At some point, your children will engage in behavior you find unacceptable or make mistakes.
In those moments, both parents must be on the same page when it comes to discipline. Both parents must command the respect of the children, so their disciplinary measures are honored. That's why it's vital to make sure neither parent slips into the role of becoming the 'fun' parent while the other is labeled 'the disciplinarian.' If you and your ex are active co-parents, your children will thank you later.
7) Keep Parenting Disputes Between the Parents
Just like it's important to ensure both parents play an active co-parenting role, it's essential to keep children out of parenting disputes.
At some point, your children will probably tell you about something your ex did as a parent that makes you angry. Chances are, you'll want to tell your children why what your ex did was wrong.
In a majority of situations, you should try and keep parenting disputes between you and your ex.
It's important to remember that your children have complex lives. They are trying to navigate interpersonal relationships with peers, deal with academics and extracurriculars, and maintain a good relationship with both parents. Worrying about whether they've become a catalyst for conflict between you and your ex is extra stress your children don't need.
Take up parenting disputes with your ex or, if necessary, with the court. Involve your children to the extent you have to, but if possible, avoid making them a part of any friction between you and your ex.
That wraps up our list of seven things you can do to make your child custody arrangement easier! If you're struggling with a custody case, our team at Matthew Penick Law is here to help. With over a decade of experience, our attorney will handle your case with the care and compassion it deserves.
Contact us online or give us a call at (410) 618-0863 to receive a free consultation with our team.