Photo by Matthew Henry

There is no greater issue in a divorce case than child custody. Sole custody, joint custody, shared custody, split custody, are all labels created by our system to help define new parental roles within the family. We are a society of labels. Labels keep things neat and tidy and in their “proper place,” but they also divide and force people into “one-size-fits-all” systems. Allowing a court to label the type of custody you have over your children does the same thing. The fact is that every family dynamic is unique and there is no one-size-custody-fits-all situation. It’s not about who is the better parent; it’s about how two individuals effectively and lovingly parent their children apart from each other. The “how,” or in legal terms, the parenting plan, should be the parents’ decision not the court system’s.

A legal battle over custody is very expensive and exposes you, and more importantly your children, to the microscope of the court. Despite being trained professionals, court-appointed social workers, guardians or attorneys are strangers to your family and are no substitute for understanding the needs of your children. Remove your preconceived ideas of “custody” and understand that the best interest of a child includes all family members. It’s natural to feel protective of your children, but understand that your spouse also has these same feelings. And despite how you feel about the type of parent your spouse is doesn’t mean that their opinion means any less. Rather than waste energy and money fighting, find an alternative parenting solution that supports both parent perspectives. You and your spouse are in the best position to create a parenting plan that supports the needs of your children.

Focus on the redefinition of family roles and the division of the major responsibilities of raising your children. Create clear lines of communication with the other parent and limit your topic to kids’ only. If you need help communicating find a counselor who can assist. Like it or not your spouse will always be your children’s parent. It is in your and your children’s best interest to learn to communicate.

See beyond the lines of the imaginary battlefield between you and the in-laws. Be the peacemaker. Support healthy relationships between your children and their uncles, aunts, and grandparents. The greater the supportive family network, the better.

Be generous and depend on the family to help you through this crisis. Supporting you is not giving you money to fight for custody. If you are concerned about negative family influence on your children, bring them to a good therapist and educate yourself on the best way to neutralize that influence. Using the court system to try and remove the influence will more than likely cause more harm, not succeed and cost significant money.

Recognize how your ego plays a role in your parenting. Are you are saying “no” because it serves the best interest of your child or to punish your spouse? Find respect for your spouse as a parent of your children even if they think differently than you. Set an example of integrity by not bad mouthing your spouse. If you can’t say anything nice, then don’t say anything at all. Or you can challenge yourself by replacing negative thoughts or statements with positive ones. Teach empathy and compassion to your children. Allowing your children to spend more time with other family sets an example of flexibility, understanding, and priority. Remember the more you give, the more you get.

Don’t focus on the quantity of time with your children. It is far less important than the quality of the time you spend with them. Having gone through a divorce myself I recognize the desire for more time with your children, but understand that accepting the situation, letting go of the fight and making the most out of the limited time to create memories and simply love your children is the healthiest solution. And the time away from your children you should embrace as the time to heal and re-create yourself. Redirect the money you save by not going to court to a good therapist to help you through your transition, begin healing and creating your new life. Taking care of yourself is one of the best ways to care for your children.

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