In a perfect world, all divorcing parents would get along great and child custody would be a non-issue. The parents would readily agree on a child custody and visitation schedule that would benefit all parties involved. In reality, one of the most painful aspects of divorce for parents is having to divide their time with their children with their ex.
If you’re reading this, child custody may already be a sensitive issue. Will your ex fight you on child custody? Will you both try to be the parent who has the children most of the time? Or, if everything seems fine now, will your spouse change their mind one day and drag you to court for full physical custody? In any case, it’s important that you are careful about child custody. Whether you intend to have joint physical custody or not, the advice is the same.
Here Are Our Top Child Custody Tips for Divorcing Parents:
- Stick to the Parenting Plan – Whether it’s a temporary order while your divorce is pending through the court or a permanent order after your divorce is finalized, stick to the child custody and visitation schedule in the Parenting Plan. If it’s your day or your weekend with the children, don’t call your ex and cancel on your kids. This does not make it look as if your children are a priority in your life. Keep a detailed log or diary of all visits with your children. Even if you’re the one receiving child support because the kids are with you most of the time, you should still catalog when your ex picks up the children and drops them off. If your spouse sends a friend or relative to handle pick-ups and drop-offs, be sure to make a note of it and record the person’s name.
- Be Active in Your Children’s Lives – This means attending parent-teacher conferences, attending soccer practices, dance classes, and karate classes, and showing up to all school-related events. If your schedule allows, volunteer in your child’s classroom, become a coach on their team, and do whatever you can to play an active role in their daily lives.
- Be Flexible – If your child begs you to let them go to Disney Land, the beach, to a friend’s birthday party, or a camping trip with their friends on your “day” with them, highly consider letting them go. Not only does this make your child happy, but it shows your flexibility. If you do let your child get their way, don’t forget to write down the details in your diary or log and explain why you let him or her go. It truly helps to be flexible, especially as your children get older.
- Help Watch the Kids – If your ex-husband or wife really needs your help watching the children because they have to work, or because they have a job interview, or because their family member is ill, don’t hesitate to take the children off their hands, even if it’s not your scheduled day. Instead of thinking of it as an inconvenience, look at it as an added bonus – you get more time with your children!
- Prioritize Your Parenting Plan if Dating – Suppose you and your spouse agree it’s okay to see other people while your divorce is pending through the court. If that’s the case, don’t schedule date nights for the evenings you have your children. Instead, always schedule dates for when your children are at the other parent’s house. Also, don’t introduce anyone to your children until after you’ve been dating for at least six months and the divorce is final.
- Consider Your Kids if Dating – Be very careful of who you choose to date. Before you let anyone into your life, do a Google search of his or her name and take a close look at their LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter accounts. Don’t date anyone with a felony record, a drug or alcohol problem, or a history of domestic violence. If you find out that your date is a convicted sex offender, end the relationship immediately! You don’t want to bring a child abuser or molester into your home!
- Don’t Use Your Children As Pawns – Don’t ask them for information about your ex, and don’t force them to be the “messenger” between you and your ex. No matter how you feel about your ex, don’t use your children to pass along information. If you absolutely don’t want to talk to your ex, use text messaging or email to communicate with him or her.
- Don't Badmouth Your Ex in Front of the Kids – No matter how you feel about your ex, don’t badmouth them to your child, and refrain from saying negative things about their other parent within earshot of your kids. Instead, let your kids be kids and allow them to enjoy their innocence. If your husband ran off with the babysitter, or if your wife developed an alcohol problem, don’t bring it up in the presence of your children, especially if they’re too young to understand what’s happening. Of course, you need to consider your children’s ages. Even if you have teenagers, there’s probably plenty of details you can spare them so they can worry less and enjoy their teen years more.
- Be Careful When Relocating – If the children will be living with you most of the time, don’t move to another county or out-of-state without seeking legal advice first. Unless you have sole physical custody, you generally need the court’s permission before you can relocate with your children. If you move without the court’s blessing, your ex can become very upset and you could be setting yourself up for an ugly child custody battle.
It’s important to understand how to handle child custody matters if you are getting a divorce, especially if you anticipate any problems with your spouse. Contact our firm to meet with an attorney and get experienced legal advice.