For decades, the traditional custody arrangement for children of divorce has remained unchallenged. But in the past ten years or so, there has been movement towards creative, even unusual, thoughts on the subject.
Kids fare better when both parents are involved.
In an article for The Federalist, What ‘New’ Studies Say Is Best For Children Of Fractured Homes, Leslie Loftis talks candidly about custody. “Typically, one parent gets primary custody, while the other gets Wednesday evenings, every other weekend, half the summer, and alternating holidays. This is so normalized that I was recently encouraged to host a women’s event on Wednesday night because that’s when the kids of divorce are with their dads. It is widespread and predictable.”
But are such arrangements in the best interest of the children? Loftis believes (and new research supports), “What children want and what children need — what they see as stability — is open access to both parents.”
It is common today for courts to favor joint or shared custody for divorcing parents, where the care, responsibility, and decision-making for their children is shared, with the general thought that both parents should be involved in their children’s lives. Of course, there is always the exception for cases where there’s a danger such as abuse, addiction, or instability and not in the best interest of the child or children.
Still, the above-mentioned custody arrangement is typical, with one parent being the primary caregiver (full physical custody) — which is more often than not the mother — and the father given visitation rights. Even the terminology used can be intimidating. Giving one parent full physical custody while the other is merely granted visitation with their child can in itself prove damaging to families. Sadly, embittered exes have been known to make it difficult for the other visitation parent to see their kids, too often the side-effect of a contentious divorce.
Divorcing parents need a parenting plan.
Even if a divorce is amicable, it is important to develop a solid parenting plan, laying out detailed schedules for parenting time ;and guidelines for each parent’s role and what their responsibilities will be. In fact, legal terminology and the implications of such are often put aside for a more child-friendly approach and easier to understand words and terms. But the best thing parents can do is decide in the beginning that the kids come first and put aside their grievances and make it work, no matter how they feel or how difficult it is.
Parents who wish to remain present and involved in their children’s lives can come up with a joint physical custody schedule that works for them. Some choose a more equal split of care with alternating weeks at Mom’s house and Dad’s, while others opt for a two-week switch, and still others choose any combination customized to what suits your family best. It’s a good idea to consider the child’s age, their needs, and temperament when setting up such an arrangement.
Robert E. Emery, Ph.D. offers advice on parenting plans and schedules in his book The Truth About Children and Divorce. “Different schedules work better for children of different ages. That’s why I’ve outlined alternatives according to the age of your children below . In general, younger children benefit from having more of a “home base.” School-aged children can manage more complicated schedules – as long as the parents can help them negotiate the complications. And you need to consider a third schedule for teenagers: Their own.”
Birdnesting or nesting.
Some co-parents are also breaking ground with new innovative arrangements to keep their children from feeling the effects of divorce and the disruption caused by transitioning back and forth between two homes. Instead, it’s the parents who take turns living with the children, the adults shuffling back and forth, suitcase in hand.
Journalist Kelly Moyer opened up about her own experience with nesting in an article for weLife, Birdnesting: New Spin On Co-parenting. “Over the past eight years, my ex and I have each lived part-time in Eva’s House, and part-time in our own separate living spaces. For a few years, we shared a live-aboard sailboat named Buttercup. My ex would stay on Buttercup while I was at our daughter’s house, and vice versa. It was tricky — and living aboard a 27-foot sailboat during Oregon’s nine-month rainy season isn’t exactly cozy — but it worked. Our daughter, along with our four family pets, has been able to stay in her own home and spend equal time with mom and dad.”
Birdnesting, or simply nesting, isn’t for everyone. It takes a great deal of cooperation between co-parents to make this arrangement work. In Moyer’s case, the separate living arrangements have changed over the years (depending on circumstances) including a year of doublenesting (see subheading below). And, sometimes the cost of maintaining three separate homes precludes many from exploring this option at all. But for truly determined parents who can make it work, it can be a win-win for the kids.
Doublenesting, a spinoff of nesting.
This is a variation on birdnesting where co-parents remain in the “nest” together with their child or children, with each estranged spouse living in separate bedrooms like roommates or as in a house sharing arrangement.
One problem with both these nesting options is such living arrangements may keep parents from living their own lives. Dating post-divorce can become an issue, which already often causes tension. Sometimes, nesting is merely a short-term solution, like waiting until the end of a school year, or for the housing market to improve. But for many couples, the benefits outweigh the problems of nesting with the ex and they have chosen to continue nesting until the kids are grown and have flown ;the nest.
House-sharing for single moms.
According to the Single Mothers House Sharing ;program, “33% of all households in America are headed by single parents. 14 million are single moms raising more than 25 million children alone. 41% live at or below the poverty level. 45.4% have multiple jobs.”
The home sharing program’s goal is to connect compatible, single mothers for the purpose of sharing a home and raising their children, whether because of divorce, circumstance, or due to the death of a partner. “With our unique house sharing service we have proven that two moms sharing a house together can achieve more than one struggling alone.”
House sharing has become a viable option for many single mothers as well as for empty nesters, especially women, who find it financially difficult to live alone after divorce.
Working together to be the best co-parents possible.
It all starts with you, the parents. If you can’t put your differences aside for the sake of your children, no arrangement, typical or outside the norm, will work. Here at Wevorce, we’re pretty forthright about asking couples who come to us for divorce to be the adults. We aren’t trying to be mean or harsh, in fact, we probably understand better than anyone what you are going through. We empathize with the heartbreak, the stress, and the overwhelming emotions. But, our philosophy is built on getting you through a difficult process in order to begin again. If you still have children at home, that future — that new beginning — will include them. And we want everyone in your family to be happy and healthy.
So, it starts with you. Do you want to be the best co-parents you can be? Of course you do. And, Wevorce ;knows it is possible and we’re here to give you the tools to ensure you have a strong foundation to build on for years to come.
We’re not alone.
Over the past few years, Wevorce has discussed many issues concerning relationships, parenting, and divorce, giving you our heartfelt guidance and tips. But we’re not alone in our philosophies. In The 18 Best Things You Can Do For Your Kids After Divorce ;article by Brittany Wong on Huffington Post, they asked Twitter and Facebook followers to share what they believed to be the best thing to do for kids after divorce.
Here are our top five picks taken from that great list:
- “Modeling good behavior by getting along with the ex is really critical to the kids’ stability.”
- “Be consistent in everything you do. Be dependable, reliable, and make them laugh. Often.”
- “Act like adults.”
- “Allow your kids equal time with both parents. They deserve it.”
- “Love your kids more than you hate your ex.”
The good and the bad of it.
The bad news is … you’re getting a divorce. The good news is … you and your family will survive this. It’s no longer a black-and-white world and you have options — lots of them. If you and your spouse choose to make the best of a bad situation and do it in a manner that benefits your children, you will do just fine.
Later, when they are grown and have their own children, they will look back and see how fortunate they were to have you as their mom and dad: two people who managed to do the right thing despite being in a difficult position.