Joint Custody: Pointers for Dads


father-with-kids-sofa2It’s no secret that divorce is a possibility that many prospective brides and grooms have to prepare for. Similarly to how people prepare for disaster by purchasing insurance. However, divorce is more likely to happen than a serious car accident or a house fire. Nearly half of all marriages end in divorce, and while that may seem like a sad fact, when you consider the old days when people had to stay together no matter what, it seems like a reasonable price to pay. Divorce can actually be a blessing for many people in destructive and inert marriages. The tragedy of divorce is not that the divorce happens, to begin with, but that many of them escalate more than they need to with recriminations and character assassinations against the former spouse. This can be especially destructive if there are children involved.
Nowadays, disgruntled couples are looking for kinder gentler ways of divorcing. This can involve mediation rather than highly dramatic court battles and smear campaigns. People who are unsuccessful in staying together for their children may realize it is possible to have a cold peace with an ex and raise the children together while living in separate households. Joint custody is an increasingly popular solution for couples who are interested in keeping the peace and take equal responsibility of child raising without having to be a couple.
Traditionally, women have had full custody by default, but many men feel that this makes no sense in a world where men and women are no longer in fixed, rigid gender roles and both work and are involved in child rearing. Joint custody for many is a healthy compromise that gives both parents an important role in raising their children. However, joint custody comes with its own unique challenges from an emotional and practical standpoint.
Keeping the peace for the children
Like many other divorced couples, you might’ve spent years trying to stay together for your children. If you are divorcing, this obviously didn’t work out. It is easy for negative feelings to surface during the process of divorce and this isn’t made any easier if you have a particularly manipulative lawyer who wants you to go out and sic your ex in the pursuit of revenge or more money. If you haven’t yet divorced, avoid these types of attorneys as you would raw sewage, unless you are unquestionably being persecuted by your ex and they deserve an attack dog. Otherwise, go for a settlement that is as amicable as possible and opt for mediation so that you have an agreement in hand before you set foot in the divorce court. One of the basic requirements for joint custody is a healthy communication between the ex-spouses, and this cannot be possible if there is hatred between them. A sane, sober-minded divorce can set the groundwork for peaceful communication after the divorce.
Be open to communication
One thing that might be surprising to those considering joint custody is how much you need to communicate with your ex. On some days, you may talk to her more often than you did while married. You might have to call them up to ask if she can scan you a permission slip for a school trip the child left at her house. You may call an hour later because your child wants to set up a play date the next night the child is with the other parent. Handling minutiae with your ex remotely may seem tedious and annoying, especially since you went through a significant ordeal and paid good money to get the heck away from this person. But, that is what is involved in raising a child together in a joint custody arrangement.
Get organized
Although the last section discussed handling minutiae over the phone with an ex-spouse, every day should not be like this. One way to keep communication with the person you divorced from, to a minimum, is to become ruthlessly organized if you aren’t already. Be proactive and provide checklists to your ex through email or text of what the child needs when she or he is at their house or about field trips. Always keep your home equipped with sufficient socks, underwear, shoes and pajamas as well as toys and school supplies. Few things are more annoying than dealing with the fact that your child’s rubber boots are at your ex’s house and it is pouring rain on a school morning. This is why it is important to have everything you need in your house. Even if that means buying duplicate items for your child, including school textbooks. This can be costly, but, the toll these minor catastrophes can take on your nerves is worth the money invested in a few duplicate items.
Set boundaries
Joint custody critics ignore the benefits of a child having exposure to two loving parents in the aftermath of divorce, and concentrate only on the drawbacks. Some make the point that it is destabilizing for the child to be in one home one day and another home the next day. There is little doubt that this arrangement for a child who is used to having one home can be confusing at first. But, there are problems in every situation, and it is best to deal with them head-on.
Don’t let custody parenting critics weaken your resolve and set boundaries. A child may ask why he has to be in one home Monday and Wednesday and another one Tuesday and Thursday, but be firm and gentle in explaining that this is the way it has to be. Commit yourself to the visitation schedule or else chaos truly will ensue. This is especially true with preteens and teenagers who are old enough to travel and wander from one home to the other. Bending visitation rules can lead to a child’s being able to get away with certain things and to play one parent against the other. Keep a united front with your ex about things that are absolutely not tolerated and be in constant contact if your child goes out with friends.
Winston Churchill said of democracy that it was the worst form of government except for all the others. This can also be said about joint custody; which can seem chaotic to people who are not used to it. However, despite the complicated scheduling, the duplicate items in your home and the need to communicate with someone you fought hard to get away from, joint custody parents know it is much better to raise a child where there is a strong relationship with each parent, than to raise them in a loveless and fractious environment created by a loveless marriage or by one parent at the exclusion of the other. Be organized, stay in communication with your child-raising partner (something you can call your ex that can be repeated in polite company) and realize you are doing the best for your child by taking equal responsibility as a parent.