Are we serving the best interest of your children if we split up, you ask yourselves. The atmosphere in your home is toxic, or maybe just joyless, and you know that’s not good for the kids. But just because you don’t want to live with each other anymore, that doesn’t mean you can’t establish a terrific child custody agreement in two separate homes that will enable your kids to flourish and grow into healthy adults. The reasons why you want to divorce or separate, all the wrongs your spouse did to you, they no longer matter when it comes to creating a cooperative co-parenting relationship and moving forward as a two-household family. Toxic emotions & perceptions and the need for revenge are why custody becomes a brutal battle that ravages a family. This all too common conflict is at distinct odds with the most fundamental goal of a family divided, trying to set up two homes with the income that paid for only one, and may have been already stretched, and maintain a healthy spirit …
Anger, fear, resentment, mistrust, blame. True divorcing emotions. But you can learn not to let them contaminate cooperative co-parenting, and I will help you do just that. This is how you serve your children.
Impossible this is not! Through this blog; The Four Agreements of Child Custody, I will use each Agreement as a teaching tool for helping divorcing parents set aside the toxic emotions & perceptions of each other so they can create the best possible child custody agreement.
The First Agreement:
No matter what, we will get parenting right.
Divorcing parents often say, “We want what’s in the best interests of the kids”. Well that’s the best possible perspective for building a cooperative co-parenting plan on. However, our ability to reach that goal is entirely dependent on these two things:
1) What each parent thinks is in the best interests of the kids.
2) The extent to which each parent can leave out their personal emotions and opinions towards the other parent so you can be creative, fair, flexible and compromising with the other parent. After all, few people divorce because they get along so well…
And there it is. When we separate, we often find it very difficult to come to agreement with someone with whom we have been in conflict for quite some time.
That’s why the first agreement of child custody is “No matter what, we will get parenting right”.
It’s an agreement to do our jobs as parents in spite of everything else. And if we can keep this agreement, we’ll probably forge agreements that really are in the best interests of the kids. Ironically, becoming a single parent helps both parents adjust to the complete parent job description because they can focus on what it means to be the best possible parent, and have down time (me-time) to recuperate while the kids are with the other parent.
So let’s take some steps to ensure your ability to work together at this vital shared job.
Question: Do you believe that parents’ responsibilities outweigh what they feel like doing on any given day? That could be the first thing you agree upon. Parenting isn’t a choice.
Question: Do you believe that your child has the right to an uncomplicated love bond with you? Most parents long for the spontaneous embrace of their loving child!
If “yes” is your answer to these two questions, then set the questions as solid boundaries for how to get parenting right.
The First Boundary: We will abide by a list of shared Parenting Responsibilities, and not use them as an opportunity to stick it to the other parent at the children’s expense.
The Second Boundary: We will respect our kids’ rights to love both of us equally, regardless of how we feel about each other.
Take this shared perspective into your child custody mediation appointments and use session time to create two lists; 1) The Parenting Responsibilities List and 2) A list of what each parent must do to protect the kids’ rights to have an uncomplicated love bond with both parents.
As we create the details of healthy parent boundaries, we can move on to what a shared custody agreement means. To get there, let’s consider what you can agree on. On matters that you cannot agree, it will help you to make lists of your reasons for not agreeing on something in advance of your mediation session/s. Please read through this Custodial Perspectives List and jot down your answers.
- Can you agree that both parents shall have regular and consistent periods of custody with the children?
- Can you get close to a 50/50 percentage custodial split? If not, make a list of reasons why this isn’t possible.
- Can you agree to live within close proximity to each other so that the kids can maintain their sets of friends, remain in their schools, and not have to travel a lot between your two homes?
- Can you agree to share costs for the kids that are beyond the scope of Child Support? If so, make a list of what expenses you agree to share (such as sports activities, tutoring, dance lessons, etc).
- Can you agree to help each other and the kids adjust to the changes in your respective lifestyles and responsibilities?
- Are there parenting choices of the other parent that you find difficult to support?
Now read through these questions again and edit out answers that might have been written more from anger than reason, or more from fear and a resulting desire for control than an ability to trust that your kids will endure the differences between their parents!
Many of the above questions can’t be answered with a firm “YES” but hopefully not with a firm “NO”, either. Most of the time, the answer is Maybe. Maybe is good. Maybe is open to negotiation. Kids do best when parents learn to communicate, cooperate and respect their rights to have an uncomplicated love bond with both parents. For more about respecting that love bond, please go to our article: Respecting Children’s Rights & Boundaries.
Now, to help you honor the First Agreement: No Matter what, we will get parenting right, I would like to move onto the Second Agreement and use it to soften some of the discord generated answers to the Custodial Perspectives List.