Child Custody Do’s and Dont’s

During a divorce, emotions run high. Child custody may be a hotly contested issue. Each parent wants to do the best they can at providing their children with a stable environment. With the help of the experienced family law attorneys at Milligan, Beswick, Levine & Knox, parents can make custody arrangements that are advantageous for everyone.

Child custody questions fall into two main categories. The first of these is legal custody. This entitles the parent to make decisions regarding their child’s schooling and health care. The other category is physical custody, which stipulates where the child resides. It’s possible to share custody or have one parent assume total responsibility. Every family’s situation is unique and requires a unique solution. Regardless of which custody arrangements work for your family, keeping some useful dos and don’ts in mind can keep you and your children healthy, happy and productive.

DO

Behave with decency and respect toward your ex-spouse. This signals to your children that their parents are still committed to providing a stable environment. Keep your ex-spouse informed of scheduling changes and whether or not you have an upcoming trip. Make certain your ex-spouse is informed if your children will be spending time jointly with you and a new love interest. Also, have a plan in place to handle emergencies before they arise.

Make room for your children at your new place. Whether temporary or permanent, making your kids feel as if they belong there is important. By setting up a room that is designated as “theirs,” you are telling your children that they are a priority. Help them to become familiar with the neighborhood, and to make connections with local kids.

If you do not have primary physical custody of your children, it is important that you resist the temptation to be the “fun” parent. Instead, establish rules and provide discipline as usual. They should know that when they are with you, they still have to brush their teeth and behave respectfully. Continue to be a responsible parent, and the transition will be easier.

It also makes sense to institute an age-appropriate schedule for each child. Bedtimes and meal times should be observed, and it’s helpful to coordinate with your ex-spouse to try to establish routines that happen at both homes.

Be punctual, but also be flexible. If your ex-spouse is late dropping off the kids, don’t assume that they are purposely doing so. Bad traffic and unforeseen issues can be innocent reasons that a schedule goes awry. Use understanding and respect.

When you have your kids with you, be sure to include time with extended family so that grandparents, aunts and uncles don’t lose touch with your little ones.

DON’T

Don’t allow children to dictate the terms of visitations. If they are older than about 5, then they are old enough to understand that visitation is required. This is a difficult concept for young children, so don’t hesitate to seek professional help if your kids are routinely resistant to visitation.

Don’t use your children as spies. Don’t question them about events and activities that happen at their other home unless they broach the subject. Even then, do not question them closely, but make simple, supportive remarks. Similarly, do not ask your child to pass a message to your ex-spouse.

Disagreements between parent and child are par for the course, but it’s not your job to side with them against your ex-spouse. Even if you disagree with your ex-spouse’s approach, talk to them about it, never your child.

Don’t allow bitterness and anger to color your time with your child. Don’t express negative emotions to your ex-spouse at custody transitions. Remain calm and respectful without putting your child through additional emotional distress.

Don’t think you’re a better parent because you spend more money on entertainment. Similarly, don’t come between your children and their other parent because child support has not been paid. Your child is not a pawn to be used for leverage.

Although child custody issues can be emotionally fraught, it’s not a situation you have to resolve yourself. Seek help from the family law attorneys at Milligan, Beswick, Levine & Knox to find constructive solutions to difficult problems.