Developing an Effective Joint Custody Arrangement

by Dr. Reena Sommer

Author of Developing An Effective Parenting Plan

You've finally got your divorce decree and you feel you can now breathe a big sigh of relief. You may even be thinking, "no more divorce attorneys, no more divorce negotiations and no more custody battles!! - I can finally get on with my life without my ex."

For the most part, you are right - your professional relationship with your divorce attorney is over, and you are now in a better position to make decisions about your future. However, here is the rub! As a parent in a joint custody arrangement, your relationship with your ex-spouse will continue as long as your children are part of both of your lives.

This reality check often comes as a huge shock to parents who are newly divorced. After all, the reason they chose to end their marriage was because they didn't get along and wanted to get away from each other. What now! Well, there is life after divorce, even for a joint custodial parent. The challenge for couples is to redefine their relationships and to develop cooperative co-parenting plans based on their shared concerns for their children.

In redefining a relationship, former spouses need to make some important shifts in thinking and feeling. An area of difficulty for many couples is making the shift from being emotionally married to being emotionally divorced; moving from a relationship based on intimacy to one that is more businesslike in nature. The major problems lie in the area of personal boundaries. People make the mistake of feeling that they still have the same call on each other as they did while married. For example, an ex wife may feel she is still entitled to know with whom her ex husband spends his time or how he spends his money. Likewise, an ex husband may feel he can still comment on how his ex wife parks the car or wears her hair. Once divorced, these issues should be of no concern to either ex partner. In essence, they are simply "none of each other's business". When couples make this shift in thinking and feeling, the old buttons that could be pushed, no longer work.. The emotional divorce is then complete.

In developing an effective and cooperative co-parenting plan, the following should be considered:

  • Each parent must recognize the other parent as being competent to care for the children and to have their best interests in mind

    • Each parent must be willing to give the other parent full authority to care for the children while they are in his/her care

    • Each parent must recognize that any criticism of the other parent made in the presence of the children is destructive and detrimental to their well-being

    • Each parent must be willing and able to put their personal feelings aside when communicating with the other regarding the children

    • Each parent must put their children's need for love, safety and security above their own needs.

    When people are able to meet these challenges, they will experience the following benefits of being a joint custodial parent:

    • Having the peace of mind that their children are being cared for by someone who loves them and will place their interests above all

    • Having the time to devote to one's own personal interests without being concerned about the well-being of the children

    • Knowing that there is someone to share problems and concerns that may arise regarding the children

    A joint custody arrangement can transform a once flawed relationship into a productive parenting effort where neither person feels that he or she is a "single" parent.