So, you are in the middle of child custody issues in your divorce and you want to know the best way to handle the situation. You have found yourself in the right spot! Custody issues can be ugly, murky, and drawn-out, but they do not have to be. Follow these rules (from a family therapist) to get through the custody battle with your child(ren)’s well-being intact.
Custody Battle Tips From a Family Therapist
First and foremost, make sure you pick your battles. There will be little opportunities to fight (i.e. drop-off sites, different house rules, etc.). But, don’t fall for it! You will not agree on everything, and that’s okay. That’s why are you’re divorcing. You are different people with different values that are irreconcilable. But it is more important now than ever that you don’t fight over every little thing. Your child(ren) should witness their parents handle disagreements in a mature and reasonable way. Instead of arguing about the little things, allow your ex-partner to win sometimes. Okay, so the drop-site is closer to them. And, maybe they allow more sweets at their house than you would like. At the end of the day you need to consider – is the conflict truly worth the pain and agony of arguing with your ex again? Probably not.
Be Willing to Negotiate
After reading the tip above, you may be thinking, “But there are things worth arguing about!” And you’re right. There absolutely are. The last thing I want you to hear is that you need to be passive and allow yourself to be bullied. Rather, you need to be willing to negotiate. If there is something that you disagree with and you cannot let it go, consider what you can negotiate. For example, if they want your child(ren) for an extra day or two, could you allow that for this time, then could you have an extra day or two for yourself during your turn with them? There is always wiggle room and it’s not always black and white. Find the middle ground with custody issues, whenever possible.
You are going to have some nasty words and thoughts about your ex-partner in this process. That’s perfectly normal, but don’t express them to your child(ren). The situation is frustrating for the time-being, but the last thing you want is for your child(ren) to have a negative view of their father/mother for the rest of their life. Your child(ren) are very impressionable right now and what you say could affect them for a long time. The father or mother bond is something that is priceless in a child’s life; no matter how much you think they’re being an ass right now. In order to help you think about what is appropriate or not appropriate to talk about with your child(ren), find a good support system. Find help with a friend, family member, or therapist that can assist you in taking care of yourself while also thinking of ways to express yourself in an appropriate way to your children.
“Winning” Means Your Child’s Well-Being
People often talk about “winning” custody battles meaning that they got what they wanted out of the arrangement or the court-case. But, in reality, it’s not you against your ex-partner. It’s you and your partner fighting for a common cause – your child’s well-being. So, it shouldn’t be personal. Instead, it should look more like teaming-up between the two of you to decide what would be best for your shared child.
With all of this said, there probably has already been some conflict and struggle with the transition for your child(ren). So, not only should you focus on taking care of yourself while going through all this, but also make sure your child is taken care of. Get them a counselor, therapist, mentor, or get them involved with an activity. I am one of the rare therapists that thinks children in the midst of custody battles often get over-therapized. So, make sure you find a therapist that your child feels comfortable talking to, but also be mindful of when they may have had enough therapy and would prefer to just live the life of a kid. They deserve to do the things that their peers are doing rather than being wrapped up in appointments.
With custody issues, pick your battles. Most things are not worth fighting for. Be willing to negotiate disagreements so that your voice is heard, and your ex-partner’s voice is also heard. Keep those nasty words and thoughts about your ex-partner to yourself – the things you say right now could affect your child(ren) for a long time. Finally, remember “winning” means that your child’s well-being is at it’s best, rather than you getting what you want out of the disagreement or court case.
About The Author
Chris Cummins is a couples counselor at The Marriage and Family Clinic in Denver, Colorado. He focuses on working with with couples in high conflict and couples who are experiencing substance abuse. Living in Colorado, Chris enjoys hiking traveling and anything else outdoors.