I have put off this particular article for years as my son has grown and the situation between my ex-husband and I worked through its issues with the greatest balm on horrible wounds – time.
My son just came back from his biological father’s house after a month long visit out of state. He is now seventeen going on eighteen and things have progressed to the point that I do not have to have any contact with my ex-husband over much of anything as my son has direct communication with him and is old enough to choose what he tells his father and what he does not.
Given this situation and the fact that very recently a good friend of mine found herself divorcing her own husband and is now trying to navigate a world where joint custody and co-parenting is all the rage, I decided it was time to write my own two cents about this topic.
Co-parenting and Joint Custody
I find the idea that two people who have decided to divorce can actually pull this off a total crock. However, if you are committed to the idea then here is what is needed to help children in these situations.
- Do one to two weeks on and one to two weeks off schedule with joint custody. DO NOT split the week up into weird schedules. Children need routine and disruption in the middle of the week is not conducive to having a good routine.
- Agree upon and maintain the same schedule regardless of the adult in charge. This means that bedtimes are the same no matter what parent is in charge. Dinner happens at the same time. This means that both parties agree to have mandatory homework time at the same time no matter who is in charge.
- Agree upon and maintain the same set of rules and consequences. The rules from one house to the other should not be different. If a child lies the consequences should be the same regardless of which parent is in charge at the time of the lie.
- Parents must back each other’s consequences. So if privilege is lost on a day that the children change parental hands, the privilege is continued to be lost under the new parent.
I find that more often parents end up falling into one of two categories: there is the fun parent who makes living with them as fun and as lenient as possible and there is the parent parent who seeks to guide the child toward a successful adulthood no matter what. This parent is not afraid that the child will like them less because there are rules and schedules and understands that both are necessary in order to raise a successful adult which is, after all, the goal of successful parenting.
If the people separating could have agreed on things then the need for separation would not be necessary. Further, without the above suggested guidelines I have personally found that joint custody is most horrible on the child with outrageous and horrible lifelong consequences that the child must fight against.
Given the unlikelihood that parenting partners are going to actually agree on the guidelines above here are my guidelines for persons involved in divorce. Your job is now to be a parent and your boss is the judges and the court system. Behave accordingly.
- Never deny the gods or the path of worship you are on. Many lawyers will suggest that you join a church or stop worshipping with local pagans. If your lawyer makes these suggestions then find a new lawyer. The gods and goddesses you have been worshipping will not take kindly to a sudden change in your spirituality just to please the courts. You will need a lawyer who can focus on parenting skills and will seek to normalize your spiritual preference to the judges you may have to come before. I have personal experience in this. In the heart of the south I was accused of being a witch as a way to make me out to be the unstable parent. I stuck to my guns and relied on my connection with the gods and goddesses I worship to see me through and they did.
- Do not permit your child to talk badly about the missing parent ever. Maintain the rights of the missing parent to be a parent to the child no matter what.
- Do not talk in a negative fashion near the child or in front of the child about the missing parent, ever. The missing parent may do things you don’t agree with and you do not have the right to interfere in the relationship between that parent and the child.
- You keep a schedule and rules that are consistent no matter what the missing parent does or does not do when the child is with them. The best you can hope for is to bring a sense of order and schedule to the child when you have the child. Consistency is key. Your consistency is what will help your child get through a joint custody situation.
- Keep all contact with the other parent centered on the children alone. If the other parent starts to berate you and call you names, simply disengage with that parent and try to contact them at a different time. All contact should only be about the children, their schedule, their needs, concerns around their schooling. There should not be discussions about anything else because that is why you got a divorce. Ask yourself – would I want the judge or the courts to have heard my part of this conversation? If the answer is yes, then you are doing a good job as a parent. If the answer is no – then you need to adjust how you address the other parent.
- Use school records as a way to gauge whether or not joint custody is working. If the child is unstable then school work will suffer. Make sure you are very involved in the school and in trying to assist your child to be successful in school. Keep all records around this and ask teachers and administrators for recommendations in regards to your child’s success.
- Keep records. Keep a journal that details your interactions with the other parent. When they call and the nature of the call. When you call and the nature of the call.
- Keep all text messages between you and the other parent. Ask yourself, would you want a judge or the courts to read the text messages you send? If the answer is no, then adjust your communications with the other parent accordingly.
- Send all important communications through email. This gives a written record between the two of you.
- Obey all the courts judgements to the letter. If the courts say to pay, you pay. If the courts say to give specific communication, then you give that communication with a paper trail to prove that you have done as requested. Remember the judge and the courts are now your boss and your job is to be a parent.
- Seek professional guidance and counseling. If your child is struggling then, get a counselor and take the child to the counselor. Seek out their recommendations regarding the care of the child.