5 Do’s and Don’ts of Shared Custody

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You may already know the basics of custody etiquette—not dropping your child off late and no bad-mouthing your ex in front of your child. While these are important, there are many other unspoken guidelines you should know about for a smooth and happy shared custody experience.

Whether you’re reaching an amicable agreement with your ex, or going to court with lawyers, here are five dos and don’ts of shared custody:

1. Don’t Ever Ask a Child To Choose Between Parents

Some parents may feel it’s respectful to ask their child who they want to live with or stay with this weekend. Unfortunately, there’s no right answer a child can give in this situation. The child knows that whichever parent they don’t choose will be hurt, making it an impossible, heartbreaking choice.

Never sit a child or teen down and ask them where they want to live. It doesn’t matter if your child is four or fourteen. You shouldn’t have them make that choice. Most importantly, never ask a third party, like a friend, relative, or therapist, to have this conversation with your child—your kid knows that whatever they say will get back to you.

2. Don’t Make Your Child Feel Guilty for the Time They Spend With the Other Parent

Things will never be completely equal. Some weeks, one parent may see a child more than the other. One parent may be able to afford a nicer vacation, while the other gets to see their child on a special occasion.

Never make a child feel guilty for enjoying that special time with their parent. Instead, they should feel loved and accepted by both parents. Never act sad or worried when a child heads to see the other parent—children are not emotionally equipped to be burdened with your conflicted emotions over sharing custody. Build your own support network of adults, such as family, friends, a therapist, or support group to vent and share these emotions.

3. Do Ensure Your Child Has Plenty of Time With Both Parents

Unless there’s something that puts the child at risk with one parent, a child does best when they get to spend plenty of time with both parents through all stages of childhood. The child and parent form a lasting bond, which allows the child to see different parenting styles and feel love from both parents.

If a bond with one parent is missing, this can have a lasting and damaging emotional impact on the child.

You, as a parent, may feel like your heart is breaking every time your child leaves you for the other parent, but know that this is what is best for them.

4. Do Focus on the Individual Child’s Needs

Every child is different. Some children have extraordinary medical needs, learning impediments, or other conditions like ADHD or Asperger’s. Often, these conditions make a predictable routine very important. These needs trump all other concerns, and if what’s best for your child is to do homework in the same house every afternoon because of their Asperger’s, then that’s more important than splitting time between parents fifty-fifty.

5. Do Communicate Openly, Honestly, and Frequently With Your Ex

Including your ex-spouse in decisions about your child may be the last thing you want to do if the breakup has been painful. But this is what your child needs. There will be thousands of decisions that need to be made for your children before they reach adulthood, and judges cannot, and should not, make all these decisions for you.

Clear, respectful, consistent communication has to happen for your children, regardless of how angry you are with your ex.

Related content:
Helping a Child Cope with an Absent Parent
Divorce and Kids: Managing Your Child’s Behavior When the Family Breaks Up

About

Nanda always knew the courtroom was where she wanted to spend her career. She has made a name for herself as one of the top choices among women practicing family law and criminal defense in Roanoke, Virginia. She’s the owner of Davis Law Practice and her clients appreciate her empathy and commitment throughout the entire process. She helps them make the best decision for them and their family, and is always willing to go to trial to achieve the best result for her clients. Originally from northern Virginia, Nanda graduated magna cum laude from the George Mason University School of Law in 2012, and graduated from the University of Virginia in 2008. Nanda is the Vice President of the Salem Roanoke County Bar Association, and the President of the Roanoke chapter of the Virginia Women Attorney’s Association.

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