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Child custodyDivorce

How to Break Up and Share Custody Without Damaging Your Child

brownp0710Unfortunately, nearly half of marriages end in divorce. For couples with children, this means potential conflict that can disrupt children’s lives and have a long-lasting negative emotional impact on them, unless the break up is handled in the most constructive manner, with the children’s best interests in mind.

Assuming there is no chance at reconciliation, end the relationship and move out as quickly as possible. The worst fights occur in this twilight of a relationship, when the couple knows their days are numbered, and all the resentments and frustrations of the failed relationship surface.

Most parents know not to argue in front of children, but sometimes stuff happens. If you and your ex cannot get along for the few minutes it takes for a custody exchange, here are a few general rules that judges often order to help keep the peace in front of the kids.

Don’t go to the house. Arrange drop-offs and pickups at school or daycare so that there is no interaction between parents. For instance, for a weekend visit, the custodial parent picks up the child Friday after school and then returns the child Monday morning.

Stay in the car. If you must do an exchange at either parent’s home, park in front of the house for a drop off or pick up, and have the child go from the house to the car alone. The other parent stays in the house. The parent who is driving can text or call when he or she has arrived. Obviously, the child has to be old enough to safely walk from the house to the car unaccompanied. If a parent needs to walk with the child to the car, the parents should not speak, unless they can manage a cordial “hello” in front of the child.

Be Separate but equal. At children’s events, such as school concerts or sports games, parents should sit apart and avoid interaction. Each parent should allow the other to visit with the child independently for five or 10 minutes, as time allows, before or after the event, for hugs and photos etc. The parents can arrange in advance who gets the first shift. If this is too contentious, then the parents should split up the events, so they alternate attending them.

Share the holidays. If it is not court ordered otherwise, parents should split up holidays fairly, either dividing a full week in half for longer breaks, like spring break or the winter holidays, or alternate years for shorter holidays, like Thanksgiving. The same drop-off pickup rules as weekend visits can apply, whereby the parent picks up and drops off at school; otherwise the “stay-in-the-car” exchange applies.

Leave new boyfriends, girlfriends, and spouses out of it. Whenever there is no way to avoid an encounter between warring parents while the kids are present, ask your new partner to wait elsewhere while you interact with your ex.

Do not talk about the ex in front of the child. Even if your ex did something horrible to you, chances are your child still loves him or her dearly, and your attacks only exacerbate the internal conflict within the child, who feels torn between loyalty to two parents.

Do not ask the child about the ex. If the child wants to tell you what he or she did with the ex during a visit, the child will volunteer that information, but do not ply the child with questions. Otherwise the child will feel put in the position of a spy.

Do not make the child a messenger. If you have a message for your ex, then send it in an email or a text or call when the child is not present. This includes any notes, child support payments, or the like. The child should never be a go-between for the parents.

Apply the “mother” filter. When you are speaking with your ex or writing to him or her, pretend your ever-gracious and forgiving mother is listening or reading over your shoulder. Of course, if your mother hates your ex too, and substitute in your Sunday school teacher, a respected counselor, or other person of calm mind and voice of reason.

In the end, civil relations between you and your ex will have a big impact on your child. Children are the ones who suffer when both parents cannot be present at their piano recital or big game. Even if the child is not exposed to arguing, they feel the tension and negativity around them, which can cause them to feel sad, angry, confused and mixed emotions that may result in them acting out in harmful ways. Even if you don’t want to improve your interactions with your ex for your own sake, you need to do it for your child.