Equal physical custody? You try it.

by Carolyn on July 21, 2009

Everyone wants to hold on tight

Everyone wants to hold on tight

I started a bit of a kerfuffle on another site the other day and I decided to write an opinion piece to reflect it.  I didn’t think I would be writing these, but the topic is interesting and I’d love to hear other people’s perspectives:

Child custody.  There aren’t many topics as polarizing as this one.  Really.  It ranks right up with politics and religion.  And debating it is not for the meek or faint hearted.  I knew that, but it’s not what I was thinking about as I wrote my comment.  I had just finished reading an interesting blog post over here and it really caught my interest.  The piece highlighted the author’s belief in equal physical custody of children after divorce.  She relayed a bit of her own personal experience as a divorced mom.  She stated that her ex husband chose not to have a role in her children’s life and that it of course was damaging to them.  She then listed a smattering of studies, detailing the detriments to children from absent fathers.

Now I don’t think anyone can dispute the importance of fathers for all children.  Children of divorce are no different.  But equal physical custody?  You know what that means, right?  It means three nights at mom’s house this week and four nights the next.  Or maybe it means this week at mom’s, next week at dad’s.  Having all your time split evenly down the middle.  Living precisely one half of your life in one residence and one half in another.  Sound like fun?  Would you want to do it?

So I wrote my comment.  I simply questioned the need for a 50/50 split and stated that although I had extenuating circumstances that made my paternal visitation less than most, I was glad not to have had to endure that.  And boy, the father’s came out swinging!  It shouldn’t have surprised me, but it did.  I hadn’t paid close enough attention to my wording.  And in a polarizing argument, wording of course is everything.

I thought I was being misunderstood.  It seemed the father’s were mostly angry that the courts tend to automatically choose the mother as the primary custodian, when they were just as capable.  And to that I can only agree.  If they want to be primary caretakers, they should have an equal opportunity for that.  If it’s legal reform that’s needed; go lobby.  Chances are, they’d find me supporting them all the way.  I don’t really care which parent the child resides with.  Only that in end they reside with one of them.

Because we all need a home.  A place that is ours.  And I feel that no matter how well you try duplicate it, a 50% arrangement robs a child of that sense.  Not to mention the continual upheaval; the back and forth.  I also brought up how difficult it would be for kids to answer one of the basic questions of kid-dom.  “Where do you live?”  The question that answers whether they reside in close enough proximity to be playmates.  I know things have changed.  That children of divorce are more mainstream now.  But this is a gateway question for kids!  Who wants to explain their family drama after initial introductions?

Well, at least the moderator was nice enough to pull down the few comments that had name calling in them.  Because the response to that second comment was certainly passionate.  Amidst the profanity, there were examples of how well equal custody works and mentions of child support.  And I’m going to ignore the support thing.  Because a father wanting to spend time with his children should never be motivated by a desire to reduce their price tag.  And I’m going give everyone the benefit of the doubt and assume it never is.  I’m making my point from there.

Because in the end I don’t really care about the fathers who feel slighted and disadvantaged at being called ‘secondary’ or feeling like a visitor.  And I don’t care about the mother’s who feel that being primary during marriage entitles them to remain primary through divorce.  I know both ache to be with their children.  I know it kills them to give up any time.  But I care about the child.  Whatever age they might be.  And the biggest problem here is that you can’t ask them.  Because the child of divorce aches to be with both of their parents too.  And they will always put their own needs aside in the name of time with a parent.  So if continually jumping from house to house is the price of spending time with them equally; it will be paid.  Without nearly a thought and even dressed up with assurances that they’re okay.  They’ll pay the price and make it look like it cost them nothing at all.

And there is my point.  Why must they pay?  Can’t the child of divorce have both?  Mom and dad present in their life and a stable ‘home base’?  Don’t they deserve it?  Oh I know it won’t be easy, parents.  You want to talk co-parenting?  There it is.  It would require whoever is ‘secondary’ to make more phone calls, attend things their child is attending, have them over for evenings and (oh no, not the dreaded!) visit their child at their ex spouses home along with enjoying their scheduled visitation.  It would also require the ‘primary’ to aid,  accommodate and welcome those things.  Equal parenting doesn’t have to depend on equal physical custody.  All it really depends on is co-parenting.

Is it a pipe dream?  Do I ask too much of divorced parents?  I hope not.

Because mom and dad were mature enough to get married.  Then they were mature enough to have children.   After which they were mature enough to get divorced.  Can’t they be mature enough to put their own issues and wants aside and give their children everything?  Shouldn’t the price be theirs to pay?  I think so, but that’s just my opinion.  From a grown up child of divorce.

Polarizing.  I can almost feel the heat coming though my monitor as you twitch towards the comment button.  You may agree with me completely or want to wring my neck.  And that’s okay.  I’d love to hear from you.  Because I’m not meek.  And I’m not faint hearted. If anything, I’d call myself an…advocate.

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Grown up child of divorce's guide to making shared custody work — thegrownupchild.ca
August 13, 2009 at 1:58 pm

{ 41 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Urchin July 21, 2009 at 2:03 am

Somehow I just don’t see maturity playing a part in any of the above. But I have a stilted view on the subject. Not being the child of divorce I can’t tell you which I’d prefer.

However! You do make a compelling argument on the subject of “making an effort” when it comes down to it. And isn’t that what it’s really about? Simply, making an effort?

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2 Carolyn July 23, 2009 at 8:41 pm

Exactly Urchin. As a parent, doing the very best you can each day for your child. Making the effort.

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3 Tammy July 21, 2009 at 12:32 pm

After reading some of the posts on the other site, it seems to me that the fathers feel like if they don’t have the full or atleast 50/50 custody it means they do not love their children as much. By the passion they have about the subject you can tell they love them very much. I see what you are saying Carolyn. I wish both parents would see it too. Just because the child doesn’t live with you it does not mean they love you less. If only these parents would put that time and energy into just being with their children and not worry about who sleeps at who’s house more etc. I am sure their children would feel freer to speak up about things if they saw that their parents put them first and not show their own insecurities to them. The primary caregiver should also not be hurt or dicourage a child from asking if they can sleep at the other parent’s house.

Mind you this is coming from a person who knows nothing of divorce(thankfully). I am learning new things everyday from you. Thanks.

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4 Carolyn July 23, 2009 at 8:45 pm

Your welcome. It’s a whole different world where everything can become complicated. It’s hard to stay focused on what’s really important sometimes. And you are right. At who’s house someone sleeps is not the predictor of who they love most. And yes, it takes cooperation and effort on all sides. You understood my points exactly.

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5 Susan July 21, 2009 at 1:03 pm

You do not want to look at the total picture. You do not want to discuss support as part of this. You are looking through rose colored glasses. There are so many custodial mothers who treat their ex husbands terribly. Support payments are part of the total picture. Do you think if a father does not pay support would he be welcome to visit his children, or if he bought a nice new expensive car and did not up his support payment, would the mother be happy to see him. Her children are the only way to get back at the other parent. It may not be right but it happens all the time. How did your mother treat your father. Did she make it easy for your father to visit you. Did she promote interaction with your father?

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6 Carolyn July 23, 2009 at 8:56 pm

Welcome Susan! Or should I say welcome back? Anyway, this wasn’t a commentary about what my parents did right or wrong, so I’m not going to make it one here. What this was is an opinion piece on my feelings regarding equal physical custody. And so with all due respect, I’m going to reserve comments for this post to that subject alone.

Of course there are lots of divorced parents who do horrible things. Lots of fathers who inexcusably walk away from their children; separating themselves without regard for the resulting impact. And lots of mothers who use their children as pawns; treating their children like rewards instead of human beings. But again, this piece wasn’t about the atrocities that can occur after divorce. It was about how parents can rise to the challenge of maintaining for their children the standard of living that those in nuclear families have, despite being divorced. I know I have high expectations. You can say I wear rose colored glasses, but you could also say the same about those who advocate for world peace and and an end to global warming. Just because my views are idealistic doesn’t make them wrong.

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7 Parker July 21, 2009 at 8:04 pm

You make a very compelling argument, and it’s unfortunate that so many folks on the other site had such a strong reaction to it. Of course a parent can be very involved without having actual physical custody – you could have sleepovers, even, but your kid could still have one ‘home base’. The only thing I wonder is whether you are relying on evidence that kids in shared custody situations are just ‘faking it’ when they seem OK, or if you are projecting from your own experience… because it feels a little like you are also making a black-or-white argument that shared custody is NEVER a good situation for kids, and I just feel like every family is unique and sometimes it might be the best, and some kids might actually be OK with it – even though I agree with you that in most cases it is probably not the best choice. And I 100% agree that parents should be the ones making the sacrifices, not the kids.

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8 Carolyn July 23, 2009 at 9:02 pm

Welcome Parker! Thank you for your comment!

You make a good point. I don’t have any evidence that children in a 50/50 physical custody arrangement saying they are happy are really not. I don’t know of any studies even looking at this. Boy, that would be difficult to set up, but the results would be fascinating, wouldn’t they?

But again, don’t misunderstand. I do believe very strongly in shared physical custody. Even up to 30% or 40%. I think that time spent privately with each parent is essential. I just also believe they should have one place that is called ‘home’.

Thanks again for commenting! I hope to hear from you again, Parker.

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9 Parker August 13, 2009 at 4:41 pm

Sorry for the lag time! I appreciate your response. I think I did misunderstand a little bit, but I completely get what you are saying here:

“I do believe very strongly in shared physical custody. Even up to 30% or 40%. I think that time spent privately with each parent is essential. I just also believe they should have one place that is called ‘home’.”

Thanks for clarifying!

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10 Carolyn August 13, 2009 at 8:59 pm

No problem Parker! Glad to see you back.

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11 Liz McLachlan July 22, 2009 at 7:50 pm

Hi Carolyn…once again, great posting! A couple of things…first, you know you hit a passionate subject when you get others reeling off into highly defensive modes. I am always amazed at how quickly online blogs, media postings, etc. go from certain levels of understanding, to appropriate opposition, and then out of no where it seems to hit a nerve with someone and all is lost! Anyway, I read the blog and the craziness you explained and I understand what you were trying to supportt.

I grew up in a non-equal physical custody arrangement. Before I go on, I should clearly state that as an adult, I understand the significance of having a place to call home vs. two part-time places you “stay” at only part of the time. This non-equal custody arrangement is the arrangement my parents decided on right from the beginning of their divorce so as a 4 year-old I had no say in the matter.

Fast forward a couple of years and you find a very lonely 6 year-old wondering why her dad didn’t choose her and why he didn’t want her to be a part of his new family. As a child, I grew up believing that I was supposed to like being a part of my mom’s new family and I wasn’t going to be a part of my dad’s new family – AND thinking that I wanted this arrangement any other way was wrong. So I settled…and it hurt.

Okay, so all of that said – I can understand now what they were attempting to do…they were trying to establish some sort of stability in an otherwise unstable situation. They knew it would be difficult for me to split between the two and it would create a shift in my life, my new sibiling’s lives, and my step-parents lives. I needed stability, I just didn’t know it then.

One thing I haven’t mentioned is – although they had this arrangement, as the years went on the visiting time we (my dad & I) did have in place became less and less as the “stability” in our lives returned. After my 8th or 9th birthday – I haven’t seen or heard from my dad since. We all seemed to move on into our arranged stable life. So now I have to ask – if there was another arrangement in place would I still have a relationship with my dad? I guess I will never know…but this is my story.

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12 Carolyn July 23, 2009 at 9:24 pm

What a heart breaking story, Liz. Thank you for sharing it. It’s so unfortunate that your father faded into the background instead of forging his own place in your life. And I guess that’s one of the overall points I was trying to make. As a mother (and knowing you are one too), I never feel like it’s my children’s job to maintain or strengthen their relationship with me. That is my job. As their parent. And as their parent I can’t imagine any obstical that would ever stand in the way of me maintaining the very best relationship I could with them. No matter the trials. No matter the sacrifice. No matter the headaches. My relationship and their well being would always come first.

But isn’t that so typical for us? As children of divorce to somehow wonder that if something else had been different; the situation, the custody arrangement, us…that maybe then the relationship with our parent would have been better. Instead of placing the responsibility at the feet of whom it belongs.

Because I’m not sure. Maybe if things had been different, he would have been able to maintain a relationship with you. Maybe it would have made things easier…for him. But relationships always take effort at some point or another. They’re always hard at times. But what it comes down to is that you are right. You’ll never know. And the wondering must hurt so much. Thank you again for sharing Liz. Your bravery is inspiring.

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13 Bob Norton August 2, 2009 at 11:47 pm

Arguing agaisnt 50-50 custody is like arguing against gravity. The scientific research on this is in and the score for joint custody is 225 to ZERO. Joint custody is proven superior for children by over 225 different scientific studies and not one ever showed that sole custody was good for children. The incidence of various social pathoologies goes up by a FACTOR of 6 to 24 for a dozen problems with children. It make no difference if the joint custody is ordered or agreed to really as both are included and this is a minor issue. This is scientific fact and argining your feeling and your personal convenience over what is best for children (and the constitutional right of both parents) is just plain silly. Continuing sole custody is essentially propgating child abuse. It is only entitle parents, lawyers and courts that profit by sole custody. Children are destroyed in many ways. Open your eyes to the facts at http://www.FathersUnite.org and http://www.BestInterestOfChildren.org

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14 Carolyn August 3, 2009 at 12:09 am

But Bob, I never in this post argue for sole custody. I’m talking only of 50/50 physical custody. And I don’t believe it is in the best interest of the child to have their lives essentially ripped in two. I’m speaking to children of divorce being able to retain a primary residence, not only having contact with one parent. I’m sorry you misunderstood.

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15 Mike August 10, 2012 at 10:49 am

You argue about ripping a child’s life in 2 by a 50/50 custody arangement. Maybe more women and men should have thought about this before they destroy their families through divorce. Divorce messes up children anyway you cut it. Sometimes the effects are serious sometimes not so serious, but serious nonetheless.

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16 bad mummy August 7, 2009 at 11:33 pm

First, I have to point out that I dislike the term ‘custody’ when it comes to our kids. I am the custodian of my daughter, but all too often we associate ‘custody’ with ‘ownership’.

In any case, I am a Mum who shares custody of my daughter in a 50/50 set-up. Her dad and I were married, then separated but living in the same house, then separated and in different homes. It was two years ago last week that we set up two homes for her; she was 22 months old.

She is now almost 4. She has two homes. Two primary residences. She is with me for a week, then to her dad’s for a week. She spends her days at the same daycare. About once a month we get together as a family for a casual dinner or time outdoors.

There are costs. Her Nana doesn’t see her on Mother’s day because M is with me. Likewise, my dad doesn’t see M on Father’s day because she is with her dad. I don’t attend playdates with friends if she is not with me. Her dad and I miss out on the firsts. Sometimes I ache to be with her, see her and she’s not with me.

But there are a few things that make this co-parenting possible. First and foremost, we put our own issues aside for her sake. We talk to one another at least once a week and there is always the option for the other parent to call to talk on the phone with M. We visit one another homes and this past winter I let him spent the day at my apartment with a pot of coffee and my car keys when his neighbourhood lost hydro.

Also, there is no child or spousal support being paid. The non-subsidized portion of daycare is being paid out of the ‘baby bonus’ I receive for her. I also use those funds for any classes she takes or more costly items that belong to her but will be shared between the 2 homes (like the portable DVD player M now has for long car rides to visit grandparents).
I buy clothes for both houses because I make more money (oh, and he cannot buy kid clothes to save his life).

M started at her current daycare while we were living together but separated. They are very on top of ensuring we BOTH receive newsletters and art work. They are also aware of M’s schedule and help with transition Fridays (she’ll be dropped off by one parent and picked up by another). It also helps that they embrace and celebrate all family structures – 2 moms, 2 homes/divorced parents, multi-generational homes.

Call me naive, but it’s working. It’s been 2 years and one week and there have been bumps, but no more so than with other toddlers/preschoolers. If I discipline her or tell her no, she may tell me she doesn’t like me and wants Daddy, but I hear this happens in 2-parent homes. We haven’t entered the school years, which will involve even more communication about homework and such. But we have spent the last 2 yrs laying the groundwork, so I’m fairly confident we are going to be able to effectively parent in two homes with a 50/50 split.

When I made the decision to end the relationship, I knew that her dad was not going anywhere. That she would not have a part-time dad or an absent father. If that had not have been the case, I probably would have stayed in the relationship. I would have put my happiness aside in order to ensure she had an involved/present father.

Sorry for the epic comment, but – in our situation – we are making co-parenting work.

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17 Carolyn August 8, 2009 at 8:37 am

Thank you for this and welcome Bad Mummy! The level of co-parenting you and your ex are performing here is exemplary. Unfortunately it *is* the exception as opposed to the rule. I really like the framework that you have set up here. I agree that it’s working and will work for your daughter in the future. Another benefit is that she’s really not going to know any different.

I love that you see and acknowledge the drawbacks. And that *you* ensure that the other environments your daughter finds herself in (aka: daycare and eventually school) are doing their part in supporting her and you instead of expecting her to do that herself (eg: asking her why she didn’t get a newsletter for you as well). I remember dreading every September knowing I had to explain my life to yet another teacher and/or administrator. Kudos to you and your ex.

The parts of your comment I really liked were:

but all too often we associate ‘custody’ with ‘ownership’ – So well said. I could not agree more.

About once a month we get together as a family for a casual dinner or time outdoors. – So hard for co-parents to do, but I can remember feeling so good when I would see or know that my parents were in each other’s presence working as co-parents. It wasn’t that seeing them ‘together’ made me think they might get back together as a couple; just that the three of us (or however many people as long as we were three of them) being physically together made me feel whole. Make sense?

I buy clothes for both houses because I make more money (oh, and he cannot buy kid clothes to save his life). – Such a ‘man’ thing. :)

Thanks again for such an insightful and open comment. I hope you stop by again.

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18 Parker June 24, 2010 at 8:14 pm

OK, so it’s almost a year later but I am still going to reply! :)

My situation is very similar to Bad Mummy’s in that we (the parents) get along well enough to attend school functions and birthday parties together, to do major holidays together, etc. And because our son is so young (3 years) I feel like the frequent contact with both parents is really important and the transitions don’t bother him as much yet. He goes to the same daycare/school every day and we have a very consistent 50/50 schedule – although we started at mom 5 nights and dad 2 nights each week, we have added one day to dad’s schedule gradually over the past year, and now are doing mom Mon/Tu, dad Weds/Th, and then a weekend split with transition either Sat evening or Sunday morning each week. It’s a lot of transition but it is VERY predictable for him and for the school, which helps everyone. But I know from friends and all of you that our level of cooperation and amiableness is very unusual for separated or divorced parents. We very strongly identify as family and are committed to what is best for our son.

So for now we are making 50/50 work and I have to say that it has deepened the relationship between my son and his dad in ways that I don’t think would have been possible otherwise, even if we had stayed together. But one really important thing I wanted to say is that Carolyn’s posts, especially on shared custody and a primary residence, have really shaped my thinking about how our future arrangements should look as our son gets older and the transitions become more problematic for him. I expect we will do more of the after-school/evening time and fewer overnights so that he is very secure in feeling that he has a home. And I have begun to prepare myself for the possibility that I could be the noncustodial parent in that case, and that if that is what seems right for my son, I will do it no matter how difficult it might be for me.

Anyway thanks for the conversation!

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19 dsmith June 20, 2011 at 12:09 am

What a great story. I’m so glad to see that 50/50 can actually work sometimes. Me and my son’s biological mom tried doing this when he was two; she had one week and me and my husband had another week and so on. Unfortunately 50/50 can only work when both sides are willing to work at it, in our case the biological mother slowly but surely gave up her visitation, I guess some parents are just not cut out to deal with the day to day things. You guys seem to be doing really good, though. I wonder, thought, are either of you remarried? If so, do you still meet up with each other? I think that everything changes when a new person is added to the situation.

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20 Josie August 12, 2009 at 11:59 pm

Hi, I am new and just happened to see your blog. Love your style of writing. Your words are so sincere.

I am a parent who’s in custody disagreement. I, too, have a daughter and the last thing I want is for her to grow up with emotional problems.

I see your point of how the 50/50 makes it hard for the kids (and for their parents). However, what’s your proposed atlernative? I’d love to hear a better arrangement. I said that without sacaism but with hope that me and my ex can do the right thing for our daughter. If stepping down will help my child, I will do it even it hurts like removing an arm from me.

It seems to me the question is: how much together time can ensure parent-child bonding? Furthermore, how much time would it take if the other parent doesn’t encourage the relationship and tried everything he can to severe your bond with the child?

I agree the solution shouldn’t be numeric. Numbers apply to things, not people. Lacking a better alternative, I can only hope divorced parents can live relatively close if not next door.

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21 Carolyn August 13, 2009 at 11:20 am

Hi Josie. Thanks for reading and commenting. Your question is a hard one. Isn’t that the way it always goes? It’s so easy to point out the wrongs of a situation but coming up with solutions is pretty challenging. I’ve been thinking all morning about how to respond, and I have a few suggestions. If anyone else wants to add, please feel free to do so. I certainly don’t have all the answers. But what I thought about this morning is what I wish had been different in my own situation growing up with divorced parents. That, and the things I’ve seen, read and heard about working for other co-parents. I really do love the site http://www.coparenting101.org where there is a whole wealth of information on this topic. The founders Deesha and Mike are always wonderful at responding to reader questions and comments as well.

Anyway, here is what I think can be done to make shared custody work the best for children of divorce:

Live close to each other (if possible): You don’t have to be neighbors, but living within a short drive for each other will make it easier on everybody. I’m sure neither you or your ex will want anything to make it more difficult to see and spend time with your little one as much as possible. And for the little one’s sake, if they forget something or decide they really want something from their other parent’s house, they won’t feel like they can’t ask or tell you about it. They won’t feel like it’s the end of the world, it’s all their fault and that they are a huge inconvenience. And it’s important for a kid not to feel like that. :)

If equal physical custody is what you really want: I think the most important thing for the kids here is that they don’t feel like they never know if they’re coming or going. Kids like predictability. Don’t we all? Feeling like you are never quite sure where you’re going to be when can make you feel pretty helpless. I think of all the 50/50 arrangements I’ve heard, the week to week switch off (although I really hate that term) seems best. One week at your house, one week at his. The switch seems to work best on Fridays (the opposite parent picks up from school), or Sunday evenings (to start the school week off). Doing this, you can give your child a calendar for their room or a datebook if they’re old enough and mark each week with a ‘D’ or an ‘M’ (or dad/mom if they’re old enough, my 4yr old would be able to know what the letters stood for though). This way the child can look at their calendar and know what’s coming and where they’ll be. If they are older and invited to do something with friends, they can look in their datebook and know where they’ll be. Flexibility is key here. If Father’s day falls on a mom week, consider dropping them off for the day or maybe a special overnight visit and vice versa.

If you really want to stay away from 50/50 physical custody: But you can’t sleep at night and things aren’t just going to work that way for you…consider splitting up your child’s waking hours 50/50 with them sleeping in the same house the majority of the time. This may look like: Kids live at dad’s but mom picks up from school three nights a week and then drops them off at dad’s right before bath or bed time. Every other weekend at mom’s, maybe longer stays at mom’s in the summer or during school breaks. Again, flexibility will be necessary but at least the kids have a solid sense of ‘home’.

Spend time as a family: I know this may sound impossible. Maybe the feelings seem too raw or unpleasant to be around him, or explaining this to new boyfriends/girlfriends can seem awkward. But think of what a gift it is to give to your child. Whether it’s a family dinner once a month, a trip to the zoo or local festival, or simply a group trip to the park. For your child to have some time in their lives when they don’t have to choose whether they are with mom or dad is about the best gift you can give them (Deesha and Mike from co-parenting101 actually vacation together once a year. Amazing).

Make sure schools and daycares are completely ‘in the know’ regarding your custody arrangement: And to add to this, make sure they know that in no uncertain terms, questions regarding custody (even as simple as is your dad or mom picking you up this Friday) are not to directed to your child. They can call you or your ex and ask. This will require you or your ex calling or meeting with teachers every year, even when your kids are older and explaining how your custody arrangement works. Asking them to send home duplicates of newsletters and such (preferably one set one week and another set the other). I hated dealing with explaining my situation to a new teacher or administrator each school year. Please ensure that nobody puts that burden on your child.

Buy doubles: duplicate the most loved or used possessions. Crayons, teddy’s, toys, charger cables (for phone or iPod), clothes, coats, shoes, etc; all those things that will make life easier for them if they don’t have to lug back and forth instead of having at each house. Imagine living out of a bag! No wonder most of these kids refer to their two homes as ‘mom’s house’ or ‘dad’s house’ instead of ‘my house’ or ‘our house’.

Well, that’s a start. If I think of anything new, I’ll update the list. Maybe I’ll do a post about it too. Josie, if you have any more questions at all, please feel free to ask. Welcome! I’m glad you found me.

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22 Carolyn August 13, 2009 at 9:11 pm

See now that I’ve read your comment again Josie, I think I forgot to answer the most important question you asked:

“how much together time can ensure parent-child bonding? Furthermore, how much time would it take if the other parent doesn’t encourage the relationship and tried everything he can to severe your bond with the child?”

I’d have to answer you that any time you spend with your daughter will ensure bonding. She will cherish all the time she gets with you whether she shows it or not. We can’t help but love our parents and the time we have with them as kids (even when as teenagers we sometimes wish they’d just go away :) ). When parents try to sever the bonds between a child and their other parent it can’t help but backfire on them. Your daughter may become confused. She may not know how to feel or what to think. BUT as long as you keep trying, communicating and showing her that whatever she’s hearing is false, she will come to see the light. Parenting is such a thankless job sometimes and co-parenting can be even worse. But if you keep fighting for her, she’ll see the truth and you’ll feel better for it too.

Parental alienation is wrong. There’s no other way to put it. Hopefully your ex will come to see that before she resents him for what he’s doing to her and her relationship with you. Parental relationships are sacred and should always be treated as such. Rise above it Josie. When you see her talk to her about it (at her level of course). Ask her how she’s feeling about mommy and if she has any questions. Make sure you let her know that whatever she says you won’t be mad. Open the dialogue without ever talking badly about him (because of course she loves him too). Only talk about how much you love her and how you will always be there for her. Clear up any misconceptions she might have gotten. And then try to communicate with him too.

Good luck Josie. What a difficult position to be in.

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23 Josie August 24, 2009 at 2:59 pm

After much crying and depression, after my daughter said she wants to live with dad (based on all his false lies and promises), I did what I thought is best for her at this time.

I told her dad that I am not going to fight him and cause years of conflicts for our daughter. That I’ll go for the 50-50 in spirit and remain flexible in scheduling. And that I will not ask for any child support (which reduce his hostility immediately). I told him I would give up my idea of “best life” for our daughter, rather than have her living in conflict and become a problem teen. We had a civil dinner with our daughter and I hope this teaches her peace-making and reduce her stress.

It has not been easy. My daughter has been feeling guilty, afraid of losing me because she chose her dad, saying I don’t care, shower me with extreme affections or pushing me away alternatively. I myself is struggling with anger, loss of a dream future for her, a misbehaved child, and inability to explain myself without pointing out her dad’s lies.

While I am still giving her all the love, care and assurance on weekends, I must say this is exhasting.

So, doing the right thing is not easy because first we have to know what is right under the situation, then there’s the question of whether we are capable of doing it day in day out. I will only be relieved one day when she grows up to be fine (like you). It is only then my heart can truely rest.

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24 Carolyn August 24, 2009 at 9:23 pm

I think you did the right thing. The custody battle would have had your daughter be collateral damage and you spared her from that. It will work. You’ll all survive.

I think it’s great that you all went out to dinner. That she could see that even through all of this, you can still sit down as a family and discuss family issues. It does teach her an invaluable lesson about the strength of relationships even when the dynamics of that relationship change. It shows her that the same principle will also be applied to her. That you will both love and maintain your relationships with her despite all of the changes.

I feel for you . I know it’s hard. I know as a parent myself the worry you must live with every day. The confusion and anger the whole situation gives. Your daughter will test you. She’ll test both your limits and your love and she’s depending on you to stand firm in both your limits and affection. Which I’m sure you will. Even when you are exhausted. It’s just what us mom’s do.

Good luck with this transition Josie. I hope it is as smooth as can be possible. Hopefully things with him will improve over time too. Perhaps when he sees the example you are setting, he’ll begin to follow suit.

Josie, I hope you got to see the post I wrote as an extension to my answer to your last post. It’s entitled ‘Making shared custody work’ and you can find it by clicking either the ‘How To’ tab above, or in the Co-Parenting category on the right.

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25 Rick September 8, 2009 at 12:10 pm

First off, let me say that I appreciate the fact that you have opened up the topic for dialogue. As the editor of http://www.dadsdivorce.com, I can tell you that the fathers I interact with on a daily basis often feel that their relationship with their children has suddenly taken on a phantasmogorical twist at the hands of a family court system that has forgotten about the well-being of the kids all the while saying that it is doing everything for the “well-being of the kids” as if an impersonal, profit-motived bureaucracy could know the details of your life and what is indeed best for your kids!

There are people trying to untie this impossible puzzle everyday in new and creative ways. (Have you ever heard of the possibility of the kids staying in “their home” and mom and dad setting up their own satellite homes, moving back in and out of the kids home so that the kids have stability? Why should the kids be inconvenienced, after all?)

The point is that it’s a mess and we all wish it could be fixed. I think that a great place to start would be to take custody out of the courts and put the weight of creating a fair, workable parenting plan on the divorcing parents. They should be expected to work this out in good faith and if they can’t or if one of them is refusing to yield and work together, then the court should remedy, but only if one or the other or both refuse to work this out.

Constitutional law attorney, Stanley Charles Thorne, explained it in the way that you have two children divide the last piece of cake. One cuts and one chooses.

Also, take away the profit motive of battling for custody and good things will happen. Thanks for the great blog!
.-= Rick ´s last blog ..DadsStory: A Once-In-A-Lifetime Father-Son Trip To Alaska =-.

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26 Carolyn September 9, 2009 at 11:26 pm

Hi Rick, thanks for reading and for taking the time to comment! I actually have read about the new phenomenon of ‘nesting’ (as I had heard it referred to), and wrote a post about it here. It is a mess and improvements need to be made. I agree the onus should be on the parents to both work together and to make the transition and ‘post divorce’ life as stress free as possible for their children. It’s an interesting idea having courts only intercede when things can’t be worked out. But then what about situations that seem to go okay at first, but then disintegrate later on when perhaps a new partner or spouse enters the frame?

Great points. Again, thank you for contributing to this important conversation.

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27 Ted March 13, 2012 at 11:11 am

Yes, I totally agree with removing the profit motive in the court system – good things would happen!

Rick, if you are still receiving this comment thread, and if you have time please read my post below and any advice would be appreciated.

I will check out your website as well

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28 Mary-Jane September 12, 2009 at 11:17 pm

My husbands ex wife lives 5 minutes away. We are very forutnate. We used to have about 60/40 care in her favour, due to other circumstances we now have majority care. Probably about 90/10. Prior to us taking custody it worked out pretty well. The kids have their own rooms/toys/clothes at each house and aside from uniforms for school nothing needed to be taken from either. However that didn’t stop the ex and I from having to swap bags and boxes every couple of months with item we didn’t recognise as our own. I think the hardest thing about custody arrangements is about keeping it flexible. Things change, kids get hobbies, you need to be able to deal with the changes as they occur and avoid penalising the kids for an aggreement reached years before….
.-= Mary-Jane´s last blog ..Green Beans and Ruined Childhoods. =-.

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29 Renee November 10, 2009 at 6:59 am

I’ve heard of more than one divorced couple who let the children stay in the home and the PARENTS moved in and out based on the visitation schedule. Heck, even Jon and Kate (who can’t seem to agree on anything else) are doing that.

I agree that the children’s needs should be what motivate custody agreements, not the parents’ desires. Children should never have to pay for adults’ choices.
.-= Renee´s last blog ..Why Lifeissweet16? =-.

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30 Carolyn November 10, 2009 at 11:41 pm

It’s true, and I actually wrote a post about the children stay and parents move in and out scenario. It just doesn’t seem feasable to most parents. And once another significant other enters the picture…well you can see how that would present problems.

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31 Angelia Sims November 24, 2009 at 1:39 pm

Hi Carolyn,
I just had a chance to read this. I had seen it on the side for awhile and it interested me.

It’s so crazy how my perspective changed on this. When I was a young mom, having custody of my daughter (age 4), and her dad paying child support, and visitation worked well. When he moved out, he did not have a home. Or a room for her. She wouldn’t have been stable, until he did have his own place and a room for her (eventually he did).

Flash forward ten years, I am now dating a divorced dad with two small children. Two small children who MISS him terribly. They cling, and cry when it’s time to go home. They are miserable. The mom will not budge on more visitation. He has them overnight at his house (where they have their own room, clothes, toys) four nights a month. That’s it. Suddenly, I see the “other” side. The Dad side.

I remember my daughter at four. Crying for a half hour in the car after I picked her up from her Daddy. My child hurt and all I could think of was WHY didn’t she want me. I took it personally and it did not understand she needed us BOTH.

I would have NEVER imagined joint physical custody being the right thing, until now. Now that I see it from the other side. The pain, and longing the children have.

There is a book called, “Mom’s House Dad’s House: Making two homes for your child by Isolina Ricci, Ph. D”

I have only read excerpts, but I understand the benefits. I understand them way better, than when I was a young mother. I hope more parents will be open to this, to what research IS showing best for the child.

My Dad stepped back, and let another man raise me. He felt my step dad would do a better job. Yes, it STILL hurts. Even though I loved my step dad like a real dad. I can’t help but feel the sting of my own father…who didn’t want to be there. He didn’t fight for me. But if he’d had joint physical – well then, that wouldn’t have been an option. Maybe, he would have felt more included and entitled to be our dad.

Bless you Carolyn! This is a great topic and deserving of a top post.
.-= Angelia Sims´s last blog ..Healthy Reflection on Monday =-.

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32 what to do? April 15, 2010 at 9:16 pm

While I grew up my parents were separated. Now my mother for good reason never let me be around my father. This later caused a lot of problems between her and me. I do not think that it’s very smart for one parent to talk negatively about the other parent. YOUR CHILDREN WILL HOLD THIS AGEENST YOU. No matter how much u think that said child is on (your side). This is not the way things work in the mind of a child. Like was mentioned earlier children really do tend to take the side of whichever parent they are talking to. Just as there is nothing that your child could ever do to make u stop loving them it does work the same in reverse. This is unconditional love. And no matter how bad things get, when u love someone unconditionally u do not want to hear bad things said about them. No matter whom it is saying it. If u had parents like mine u know what I am talking about. And if u are these parents: you are in no way improving the way your child looks at the other parent, Ur just pissing them off. They may not act like it, but they do not forget so easily,
As far as custody goes I have friends that did the 50 50 thing as children. It’s really not such a pricy thing in a child’s eyes. Yes it is a little bit of an inconvenience. Mostly because in a perfect world all parents would stay together and then again in that world it rains puppy dogs and gumballs down from the sky. Point being that children do need both of their parents in there life and it is really sad how there are people that are capable of being so selfish. This is the reason that it’s so hard for people like myself. With this flawed system.
My soon to be (x-wife) is a really good mother. And I do love this woman with everything that I am. While making a carrier choice that she has wanted since middle school sends her across the country she is suddenly under some allusion that our marriage isn’t working and we do nothing but fight. wich it was really not. So when she gets back I am just supposed to hand over our child to move with her to a different state. Now everything is really sudden and I have spoken with her lawyer who is trying to draw up papers in winch there is a 5050 situation stretched across the country at times maybe even the globe. No affiance to the armed forces but she made these choices and she could get deployed at any time. She is trying to fight me for primary physical custody and though our son is barly a todler she has to have it written that he goes to school wile with her. And I have summers while we rotate the holidays. Now maybe it’s just me since I am so (one-sided)
I feel that it would be better for a child to have a stable home. Going to the same school. And do summer playtime in all the different places her job forces her. Now here is my problem with the system that maybe someone has a solution. I can keep my word yet I don’t trust this woman that I apparently do not know. As far as I checked and the layers I talk to. Everyone says my only option would be to apply for the divorce and temporary custody in my state until my wife and I try to kill each other for a title. (Primary). There has to be another way besides trying to take her motherly rights without and losing my child.
It really is shameful how we treat our children as if they are possessions to be fought over. When all that is needed is for us all to step outside our box. Take a look at the situation and decide what is best for the child.

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33 Carolyn May 11, 2010 at 1:16 am

Your situation sounds so difficult. And it sounds as if you love your son a great deal. I think custody issues are so difficult for divorced parents not so much because they want to lord their child over the other, but more because they just love their kids so much and want to have as much time with them as possible. When you add into that mix, a parent who is moving a great distance. Ouch. That can get ugly.

I wish I could give you some better advice, but the only advice I can really give you is to find counsel that you trust and see what your options are. Maybe you and your ex can get some mediation help? It doesn’t sound like a perfect solution is even possible for you (just like life so often doesn’t), but maybe you can come to a settlement that you are okay with.

Best of luck to you.

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34 fairyprincessmamma April 27, 2010 at 11:20 am

This subject totally hits home for me on so many levels. As a child of divorce… and having had a father who slowly, but surely…. dissappeared from my life, for reasons i still am not entirely sure of to this day… was it money, was it guilt, or just some serious personality flaw that disabled him from being any sort of dad at all? I may never know. What I do know, is that I needed him in my life…. whether that was in the form of a phone call, or even a letter, I needed to know I existed to him. But that would not be the case for me, or my sister…. and I suppose that still haunts me to this very day. Now as a mom, having separated from the father of my child, I think my decisions are jilted by this experience and I whole heartedly see the significance of my daughter maintaining her connection to her father…. you see my daughter’s father, thus far (it has been only 8 months) demanded 50 percent custody and I did not agree that that was in her best interest. I stayed in our home, in an attempt to maintain what little normality I could for my little princess, and he moved 15 minutes away. He has her Friday night to Monday evening and she is with me Monday night to friday night respectively…. (im working on negotiating saturdays) Its a tough one for me… because although I could go to court and battle it out…and potentially wind up broke and broken…. I still have bad memories of my own parents enduring the court system, and how that felt to me…. and for what… to create more animosity between her parents? I just don’t know sometimes… I have stayed thus far out of courts…. and worked towards being amicable (we are now approaching the phase of mediation… things seem to be leveling out a bit…..knocking on wood)…. but it has been quite a struggle with her father… because for the most part he has been somewhat consumed with taking out the failure of our relationship upon me… and sometimes in the process… When it comes to custody he has used words like ‘ what I’m entitled to’ which makes my blood boil…..I worry that our daughter will carry these lifelong scars….(as do I as a child of divorce) …Anyhow… I am rambling… could’ve written a whole post here on my blog… lol… anyhoo.. I will never speak ill of her father…. ever… my mom never did of my own father… and i will follow suit…. Him on the other hand??? well… I fear his damage has already been done…. its such a difficult task… to coparent…. when the other parent just doesn’t see the value….so how the hell to you get them to open their eyes???

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35 Carolyn May 11, 2010 at 1:19 am

That can be the most difficult thing of all. Co-parenting well really takes two committed parents and honestly I can say that I think co-parenting is more difficult than parenting. I wish you all the best within this process. I really hope that the leveling out holds and that the mediation helps. I’ll be thinking about you. If you get a chance, let me know how it goes.

And with regards to getting them to open their eyes? I have no answer. Although I really really wish that I did.

All the best to you.

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36 Sandi December 7, 2010 at 2:13 pm

My boyfriends two girls are with us one week on and one week off and let me say that for the past two years of living together, its always takes a day or two for them to adjust and settle in. I feel they miss out more not being able to call one home “HOME”. Personally I think its a crappy arrangement ~ I would feel that I have no place of belonging being shipped every other week and it puts a strain on our relationship at times. His kids can be competitive with my kids but my kids are older and they fluff it off. There have been times where one of my kids just would rather stay at her friends for the whole weekend when they come. It disruptive to us as well and it throws off our routine but the bonus is for my boyfriend who gets to see them for a week…if only he could be more involved as a parent rather than me parenting his kids for him…

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37 Jennifer April 7, 2011 at 3:46 am

I agree with you completely. I come from a divorced family and my Parents put us first. We lived with Mom but Dad was just as much a part of our lives, we spent weekends with him or whenever we wanted actually, it was up to us.
As a parent myself I am in a joint custody situation, it started out as joint physical too but after a while we could see that it was taking a toll on our daughter, she is now primarily with me but her dad takes her whenever he wants to or whenever she wants to go. she is much happier now. Kids do need a place they can call home even if one parent has to settle for less than perfect circumstances. If in doubt, ask your kids how they feel, now that’s a concept.
I realize kids don’t know what is best for them but they do know if they are happy or unhappy and as their parents, that should matter.

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38 Carmella May 10, 2011 at 2:56 pm

You have just gained another follower. I love the WAY you wrote that, the WORDS you chose, and mostly, I love the content. Co-parenting, physical custody, and visitation isn’t about being fair the parents. It’s about creating a safe, predictable, stable environment for the child so that the relationship with both mom AND dad can thrive fully. There are so many factors to this, including the age of a child. Like it or not, especially up to a certain age, kids have a primary caretaker, a primary parent who is their source of security. It may not be mom, it may in fact be dad, but it’s there. A child needs to know where home is. Even the thought of bouncing back and forth 50/50 makes me exhausted. Speaking from experience, on both sides of this, the parent and and the child, a sense of home, and parents that put in the effort for their kids goes a long way.

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39 dsmith June 19, 2011 at 2:58 am

You made such a great point! When my son was two me and my husband had 50/50 custody with my son’s biological mother. It was stated that he stayed one week with her and one week with us, this lasted about a year and it was horrible. I understand what you mean about there not being one actual place of residency. Thankfully little by little she gave up her visitation and after about a year we became the primary custodial parents with her having visitation. The new schedule worked out much better for my son, while we took care of everything in day to day things he still had the chance to have fun visits with her a couple of times a month. Although I will tell you that it definitely helped that he saw me as mom, making it much easier for him to not feel like he had only one parent at home, AND he still gets his bonus mom when he visits her. Years later and he is very well adjusted, he knows where his home is and he knows, and is excited, about visitation with his biological mother.

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40 Lena October 15, 2011 at 6:44 pm

I am a child of divorce considering divorce. I have looked at both sides and this is my dilemna: divorce was the best thing my mother could have done for me and my 4 siblings. My father was an emotionally, mentally, physically and financially abusive alcoholic. My father left us and did not contact us unless life was going “great” for him. “Great” meaning that he had found a woman who could support him and his limited ambitions on her own income. Since he lived a rootless existence, he could not be located to pay the minimal $125.00 a month for 5 children. My mother worked 2 jobs and raised us in a loving, supportive enviroment. We didn’t have much, but we had each other, and are all very close. I can’t say that she didn’t sometimes become bitter toward him, and say a few choice things about him, but given the situation. I can’t hold that against her.
On the other hand, my marriage is probably the worst thing I have done for our 3 children. Their father has provided a very decent living for our children, but the constant conflict between their father and I has given them a warped view of what marriage is supposed to be. Their words, not mine. They have asked me to divorce so there can be peace and some happiness for all of us. I still have one minor child at home. I don’t know what the “right” thing is in this situation.

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41 Ted March 13, 2012 at 10:56 am

I have actually been doing the 50/50 split with my ex-wife for several years now, and it has been taking a toll on my new family (wife and 2 children post divorce) in addition to taking a toll on my two children from my first marriage, not to mention me.

My daughter who is 11 really wants to live with me, but her mother is too proud to let her go and insists that the kids need both mom and dad equally in their lives. My son, on the other hand who is 7 says he wants to live here with me too but I think it’s just lip service (from hearing her sister saying it) and I really believe he would rather live with his mother. So….here is the issue – one kid wants to live with dad, the other with mom.

I am fine with this scenario. It’s almost like 50/50 sharing except both kids get to call somewhere a home. They would also both see each other every weekend because that is where the visits would happen for the other parent. This has been my biggest point (with several lawyer visits and “almost” court appearances through the years) that the kids need a more stable environment and a place they can call home. My ex-wife’s argument is that she doesn’t want to split up the kids…it would be bad for them. Isn’t what we are doing already bad for them!?!? They need a home. I certainly would not want to be bouncing back and forth between my parents…I was lucky and had a mom and dad that stayed together and did not have to deal with this issue.

Any advice would be appreciated. I loved your article and I think it was spot on. I wish I had read it when you first posted it – perhaps things would be a lot different right now…back when the divorced the 50/50 shared custody seemed like the right thing to do, and for some people this might work. For those of you thinking this is a good idea, from experience I can say with confidence this IS NOT a good idea. It probably has come from judges and lawyers thinking they would rather not make a decision for the parents, I don’t know. Either way, come to some agreement with you soon-to-be ex and think about the kids and their well-being. They need a place to call home, one of you is going to have to swallow your pride and allow the other to be with them more.

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