When you are in the middle of a difficult divorce, it’s important to establish a clear parenting plan as early as possible in the process. It doesn’t matter if you’re going to fight over every item in the marital home, your children deserve the structure and stability a clear parenting plan provides. As you consider a physical custody schedule, first think about what will work best for your children. You must think about their school schedules, their regular extracurricular activities, each parent’s work schedules, the distance between each parent’s residence, and the distance from each parent’s work to the children’s school.
1. Make a Physical Custody Schedule Right Away
It’s hard enough on your children when their parents decide to divorce. Children need stability and a routine they can count on to help make going from living in one house to two houses a little easier on them. The first thing you should establish in a divorce involving children is a physical custody schedule. The faster you can create a schedule that works for everyone in the family, the easier it will be for your children to adjust to their new circumstance.
2. Be Reasonable When Establishing a Physical Custody Schedule
Although a contested divorce is difficult to go through, you must take a step back and try to be reasonable when it comes to your children. You must truthfully look at the relationship your children have with you and your spouse. You must remember that children do best when they are allowed to continue to have a strong relationship with both parents. While you may hate your spouse, your children love him or her. While you may want to point out and focus on every flaw your spouse has as a parent, this will not help your children. Instead, focus on the relationship between parent and child when it comes down to establishing a physical custody schedule.
3. Talk About Legitimate Concerns Regarding Parenting
If you have legitimate concerns regarding your spouse’s ability to parent your children, be honest and talk about what your concerns are. If you don’t like your spouse’s parenting style, this may not be a legitimate reason for your concern. Now, this can become a legitimate concern if you and your spouse don’t agree on how to punish your children or whether a child should be left alone at home. If your spouse is an alcoholic or has a drug addiction, these are legitimate concerns that need to be discussed. When you draft your proposed parenting plan, you should raise your legitimate concerns as it will be much more difficult to raise them later in the case and expect to get a revised custody arrangement.
4. Don’t Ask Your Children About Your Spouse
Children should not be placed in the middle of your divorce. Children simply want to know that both parents love them and want to be a consistent part of their lives. Asking your children about what your spouse is doing will immediately place them in the middle. Taking it one step further and purposefully telling your children how horrible their other parent is will only harm them. You should always do your best to parent your children and show them respect by enjoying them when they are with you without any questions about their other parent. Your soon-to-be former spouse’s current personal life should not be part of your parenting.
5. Learn What Your Children Want
The court doesn’t want you to speak to young children about what they want for a physical custody schedule. However, older children can verbalize what they want out of a shared custody arrangement. Does your high-school-aged child want to stay in the same house during the school week? Does your teenager have a very busy after-school life? Does he or she have sports or other after-school activities? Are you viewed by your older children as an active parent or an absent parent? If you were an absent parent due to work or work-related travel, will this change now that you are going through a divorce? While it may be hard to think about discussing these questions with your children, the time spent could make the divorce easier on them if it results in the right physical custody schedule.
6. Do You Have a Support Network
Being a parent is hard work. Raising children as a single parent without a support network is even more difficult. Take a moment and think about your post-divorce life, and how being a divorced parent is going to impact your support network. If you and your spouse relied on your in-laws instead of your parents for childcare or regular babysitting, will that resource be available to you? Probably not, so how are you going to replace that support? Look at the people around you and figure out who you believe will still be close to you after the divorce is over. You shouldn’t create a parenting plan based on a support network, but it is important to know that you have help if needed.
7. Pick One Form of Communication and Don’t Change
If you and your spouse struggle to communicate in a civil manner, it’s important to establish one form of communication right away. Today, many parents utilize an online software program, such as Our Family Wizard, Talking Parents, or AppClose, where both parents can send messages, create a shared calendar, remit payment requests, and upload important documents. This program results in all parent communications being stored in one location. If you must bring up parenting disagreements to the court, these recorded communications can be presented as evidence to hold a parent responsible for what he or she is communicating with the other parent.
As you go through your divorce, it is always best to keep the needs of your children in the front of your mind. While you may want to fight the other person over the division of marital property, you must start by thinking about the type of physical custody schedule that will work best for your children. They need to know that you are there for them, that you are ready to take care of them, and that you love them unconditionally. Divorce is hard on children. You don’t need to make it harder by refusing to negotiate a reasonable physical custody schedule.
Should you need the assistance of an experienced divorce and child custody attorney or have questions about your divorce situation, know that we are here to help and ready to discuss those questions with you.