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 other dos and don’ts:
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SHARED CUSTODY DOS AND DON’TS
Don’t ever ask a child to choose between parents.
Some parents may feel it’s respectful to ask their child who he/she wants 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 he/she does not choose will be hurt, making it an impossible, heartbreaking choice.
Never sit a child or teen down and ask him where he/she wants 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 he/she says will get back to you.
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 one 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.
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 he/she gets 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, then this can have 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.
Do focus on the individual child’s needs.
Every child is different. Some children have extraordinary medical needs, learning impediments or another condition like ADHD or Asperger’s. This makes 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 his Asperger’s, then that’s more important than splitting time between parents fifty-fifty.
Do communicate openly, honestly, and frequently with your ex as much as possible.
Including your ex-spouse in decisions about your child may be the last thing you want to do if the breakup has been painful. However, 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 is what has to happen for your children, regardless of how angry you are with your ex.
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