Making Joint Custody Work
The use of joint custody arrangements has become increasingly popular in divorce and child custody proceedings. In fact, Alabama state law requires a divorce court to consider joint custody in every case and presumes that such arrangements are in the best interest of the children if both parents request it. The policy underpinning this Alabama law is one that seeks to assure that children have "frequent and continuing contact with parents" and "to encourage parents to share in the rights and responsibilities of rearing their children after the parents have separated or dissolved their marriage." Ala.Code § 30-3-152.
While joint custody arrangements have the potential to provide children with stability and close relationships, such outcomes are rarely easy to attain.
For many divorced parents, a joint custody arrangement can be exhausting and infuriating. It requires parents to set aside their resentment and make shared decisions, interact with one another and communicate to each other about how to raise their children. This is often easier said then done. Here are some co-parenting tips to make joint custody work for you and your family.
1. Kids First, Emotions Second
As difficult as it is, for any joint custody arrangement to work parents must not focus on the their conflict, but focus on their children's needs. Joint custody orders are not entered because they satisfy the parents needs. They are ordered because they (in theory) serve the children's best interests, stability and future well-being.
To successfully share custody parents must compromise. There will be soccer practice and piano lessons during your custodial time. You can't be the "Disneyland dad," where only fun happens during your custodial time and all the hard parenting decisions are left to your ex. Each parent has to be an active parent, helping with projects and homework assignments. Compromise shows your children that they are more important than the conflict that ended the marriage.
2. Communicate, Then Communicate Some More
Communicating with your ex will be difficult. After all, poor communication may be the reason you got a divorce in the first place. Regardless, it is something that can't be ignored; it's essential for your joint custody arrangement to work. When communicating with your ex, approach it like a business transaction. Be respectful, cordial and calm. Speak slowly. Make requests. not demands. Instead of saying, "You need to pick the kids up today from school," say "Would you be willing to pick the kids up today from school." Focus the content of your conversation on the kids needs, not yours.. Above all else, do not use your children as messengers. The adults are talking here; act like it.
3. Use Teamwork
Its ok if you and your ex have different perspectives on how to raise children. However, each of you has to learn flexibility, respect for each other's point of view and how to agree on some very basic rules, including homework, curfews and prohibited activities. Try to come together on appropriate forms of discipline and make them consistent, whether the infraction happend at your home or your ex's. If your child is grounded at Mom's house and is not allowed to watch TV through the weekend, then the same rules apply when the child visits Dad for the weekend. Conflicting rules will only confuse children and create instability in their lives.
4. Important Issues
It is crucial to your relationships with your ex and your children, and its crucial to your children's well-being, to be open, honest and straightforward about medical needs, education and finances. With respect to medical needs, either you or your ex might decide to be the primary parent to communicate with medical professionals or you might decide to attend appointments together. Either way, it is important that each of you are kept in the loop regarding your children's health and well-being. With regards to education, each of you should be informed about class schedules, extra-curricular activities and parent-teacher conferences. Finally keep accurate records of shared expenses to keep financial stress in check. Be gracious if your ex provides opportunities for your children that you couldn't afford.