Joint custody is the legal custody of a child that’s split between both parents after divorce. When it comes to sharing custody, it’s important the arrangement works for you, your ex-spouse and your kids. It isn’t always easy sharing custody, especially if it was a messy divorce, but it works best when both parents are cooperative and respectful. Your kids come first, and it’s important you and your ex don’t forget that when splitting up holidays and working around your schedules and commitments. If you can figure out a custody arrangement that works best for all of you, it can have plenty of benefits for your kids.

Co-parenting and Joint Custody

Co-parenting is when both parents play an active role in their children’s lives after divorce. If you and your ex can co-parent amicably, it can have a positive influence on the mental and emotional well-being of your children. Your kids are more likely to feel secure, stable, and happy, and will be able to form a good relationship with both parents if you can co-parent well.

As co-parents, one of the most important decisions you’ll have to make regarding joint custody is how to split the custody time. Joint custody doesn’t necessarily mean the time has to be divided equally between both parents. There are numerous different arrangements, depending on your and your ex’s location, the age of your kids, etc. Some popular custody arrangements are:

  • The 2-2-3 plan: Mom gets the kids on Monday and Tuesday, dad gets the kids on Wednesday and Thursday, mom gets the kids Friday through Sunday, and then it switches with dad starting on Monday.
  • Monday through Thursday/Friday through Sunday plan: Although it’s not exactly even, this often works best for young kids in school to have consistency throughout the school week.
  • Alternate weeks/months: Some co-parents decide that a longer period of time would work best for their kids’ schedules, so they switch every week or every month.
  • For co-parenting and joint custody to work, there are some things you and your ex have to work on to develop and maintain in your parenting relationship.

Here are five secrets to making joint custody work.

1. Remember: It’s All About the Kids

It’s important for you and your ex to put your egos aside, and remember the most important part of joint custody is the kids. The divorce may hurt, and you may want to focus on your own needs, but you have to remember to create a happy, healthy situation for your kids in both homes. Your kids don’t want to see you and your ex arguing, they don’t want to be the messenger between the two of you, and they don’t want to feel like they have to choose between mom and dad. If you want to make joint custody work, you have to recognize what’s best for you children and control your words and actions.

Your kids should also have a say in the process, depending on their age. If they’re preteens or teens, they may want input on where they stay on what day due to their schedules. Younger kids may want some toys at their moms and others at their dads. Let your kids have a say, but you and your ex are ultimately the ones who know what’s best for them.

2. Attend School and Social Commitments Together

At special events like your child’s school recital, birthday party or soccer game, it’s important for them to have both of their parents there. In a joint custody arrangement, you rarely have to see your ex if you don’t want to, but put your kids first when it serves their best interest. These gatherings are limited, so if you and your ex can agree to deal with each other and be civil, it will be beneficial for your kids to see both parents attend. It may be difficult, and if your relationship with your ex is not in good shape, it may be best to attend events separately until the timing is right. But if you can both make it work, it will be beneficial for your children.

3. Improve Communication with Your Ex

If you had a rough break up, your ex might be the last person you want to communicate with, but if you want to make joint custody work, you have to maintain effective communication. Always think of your kids’ well being when you communicate with your ex. You don’t even have to talk in person if you’re not ready for it. You can speak over the phone or via emails or texts, but try to keep things civil and always make your children the focal point of every conversation.

You can also use tools like Google calendars and iCalendars to organize your arrangements. This stands as a record and ensures no one forgets which days they have the kids, what activities they need to get the kids to, etc.

4. Logistical Living

Joint custody will be easier if you and your ex live close by. It doesn’t have to be in the same neighborhood or on the same street (although some divorced couples opt to live under the same roof), but it makes it easier on the kids if they don’t have to travel far to get to each of their parent’s homes. Plus, what if your son leaves his recorder at his mom’s, or your daughter forgot a book she needs for a school assignment? Will it be easy to run over to your ex’s to grab forgotten items? Or will you have to drive half an hour away just to pick something up?

If you do happen to need to grab something your child forgot, you should specify the details of this arrangement in your divorce agreement. Will the parent-on-duty have to call ahead to the parent-not-on-duty? Will a text to let them know you’re coming over suffice? It’s easier on all parties to live closer together, so no one has to travel too far if something like this happens or to drop off the kids. Especially if you have an arrangement like the 2-2-3 plan where your kids are switching between homes quite consistently, it will be less stressful for everyone to have the two homes close together.

5. Make Adjustments as Needed

The custody arrangement you make at the beginning of your divorce doesn’t have to be set in stone forever. Your kids will grow, and their needs and activities will change, as will yours and your ex’s. Sit down from time to time to figure out what works best and make adjustments when circumstances change. It’s important to keep in mind that both parents have to agree to the new arrangement. Just because you want a change doesn’t mean your ex will agree, and vice versa. If you can’t agree on the changes, you’ll have to go to court to have a judge rule in a custody hearing.

Joint custody can work if both parents can communicate well and respect each other. Remember, your kids and their needs always come first, so focus on that when you’re creating your custody arrangement and go from there.

(c) Can Stock Photo/JackF