Many courts favor joint custody because studies have shown that children typically benefit from maintaining ongoing relationships with both parents. However, getting used to joint child custody can be difficult for parents and kids. Although it can initially be stressful for children to get used to a new custody arrangement, there are actions parents can take to help their children better cope with this change.
Explain the custody arrangement to your children
One of the first things you can do as a parent involves explaining the custody arrangement to your children in a way they will understand. You and the other parent should agree ahead of time on a united message and tell all the children at once. For young children, keep the explanation simple. Consider starting off by reminding the children that both parents love them and will continue to take care of them. Then explain what the change involves. A calendar marked with the custody schedule can be a helpful prop. Then try to end with a positive aspect about the situation.
Prepare children before a parent leaves
A parent moving out of the marital home may also need to be addressed when you tell your children about the custody arrangement. This can be traumatic for children, especially young children who may fear that they will never see that parent again. Allowing the children to visit the new home before the parent moves can help children process this change. However, the parent who moves out should avoid leaving without first warning the children and giving them adequate time to process the change. A few days is enough notice to provide toddlers and preschoolers, but school-aged children may need a few weeks to get used to the idea.
Help a child feel comfortable in two homes
Once you and your ex-spouse are both living in your own homes, it is important to make sure the children feel comfortable in both those homes. One way to do this is by limiting the amount of change you incorporate in your home and routine. However, some new possessions and routines may be necessary.
When incorporating new possessions, consider allowing your children to help pick them out. When incorporating new routines, try to find ways to relieve stress that comes from the changes. For example, a packing list can help a child get used to what he or she should bring from one parent’s house to the other, and a calendar with the custody schedule can help the child know when he or she will need to pack again.
A joint custody arrangement offers children many long-term benefits, but it may be initially difficult for your children to get used to the arrangement. To help them cope with these initial changes, consider how you plan to explain the arrangement, in what ways you can prepare children for a parent moving out and what actions you can take to make sure they feel comfortable in both homes.