One of the most complicating issues that come up in a divorce is how custody is going to work for the children you share. The process can be frustrating, stressful, and impacts you, your children, and your ex. Make the process less stressful and come to an agreement that works for all parties by utilizing these four tips for negotiating child custody agreements.
1. Establish physical custody
Create a physical custody agreement that you can both agree to. Factor in how much time each parent spent with the children before the separation. Try to keep things similar to how they were. If one parent spent the majority of time with the children as a stay-at-home parent, it might be beneficial to have that parent be the one the children live with primarily to minimize the number of changes they have to go through during the divorce. Outline holidays, school vacations, birthdays, and any other times where both parents might want to spend time with the children. Adhere to the schedule and don’t miss time since it could reflect poorly on you later if either parent goes back to court to modify the terms of the custody agreement. Physical custody generally entails how many overnights each parent has during the year.
2. Promote involvement
You still need to co-parent with your ex, even if you can’t stand them or have feelings of resentment. Keep discussions related to the children, visitation, activities, news, and other relevant details. Ensure that both parents have access to school and medical records, and keep each other informed about school field trips, vacation plans, or additional important information that would be useful for the other parent to know. Outline the requirements in the custody agreement to eliminate ambiguity and spell out what each parent should expect from the other. If you two can’t seem to communicate without arguing, ask a family member or friend to relay messages and keep discussions focused on to what is going on with the children and nothing else. Another option is to use a notebook, e-mail, or text messages to communicate if you have problems verbalizing what you need to say, or emotions get in the way of getting your message across.
3. Consider a third party to mediate
If your divorce is particularly nasty and you doubt you’ll be able to work something out by talking to each other, consider involving a third party to help negotiate. A neutral mediator can listen to both sides of arguments and make suggestions that put both parties on an equal level to minimize disputes. Mediation works if you’re both willing to be flexible and come to an agreement, but it’s not legally binding. You might need to look into getting legal counsel to help advocate for your position if attempts to work out an agreement keep ending without a resolution.
4. Don’t put the kids in the middle
Do not use your children against each other. Avoid having your child relay messages to your ex, and avoid saying anything negative in their presence. Leave the negotiating to the adults, and allow your children to know that both parents love them without feeling like they need to align with one over the other. Putting issues on their shoulders can make them feel anxious, resentful, and like they’re responsible for resolving the problems.
Divorce is painful, and even more frustrating and upsetting when child custody issues prolong the process. Be reasonable, think things through, and focus on reaching a negotiation that works for both parties and ultimately places the needs of the children first and foremost.