Sharing custody of a child can be a major adjustment for parents and kids alike. And like any adjustment, it can be difficult to know what to expect from the experience until you're actually in the midst of it. However, you can proactively address likely obstacles in your parenting plan to mitigate problems down the road.
For instance, your parenting plan can set rules and expectations for exchanging custody.
Dropping of, or picking up your child can be a more emotional and challenging experience than you might think, especially in the beginning of the transition. Parents can still be dealing with unresolved emotions and issues lingering from the divorce; children can feel upset or guilty about leaving one parent to go with the other.
To make this process easier, you might consider including the following rules in your parenting plan.
- Minimize face-to-face interactions. For instance, you might have one parent drop a child off at school and the other parent pick up the child, or agree not to enter each other's homes during exchanges.
- Keep it neutral. Meet in an equally convenient place at a convenient time for both parties. If there are concerns about conflict, choose a public place like a library or restaurant.
- Don't discuss unnecessary topics. You may need to explain a child's schedule, or that he or she isn't feeling well. These child-related topics are appropriate during an exchange, but do not discuss any emotional or potentially upsetting topics. Save those for after the exchange, when your children are not present.
- Stay focused on your child. Your child may be feeling scared, sad, guilty, or upset about an exchange, so focus on doing what you can as parents to make it easier for him or her. Have everything ready to go; keep goodbyes brief and positive; avoid any statement, action, or emotional outburst that might make a child feel badly about leaving.
If parents cannot keep exchanges peaceful and safe for the child, formal intervention may be necessary. You may need to have witnesses present, or you may need to revisit the custody agreement. Under such circumstances, legal guidance will be critical.