Child Custody: How to Bring Home a WIN for Your Children

Look, hiring a lawyer and “winning” a child custody case is a long, expensive, and grueling process. It creates further discord, tension, and stress for everyone involved and regardless of the circumstances, the children themselves tend to lose, no matter how positive you believe your intentions are.

The reality is Family Court can take years to resolve, thousands of dollars that could have been used for your children, hours of work for court dates and years off your life due to the stress. A great alternative to help create stability in your children’s lives through this already hard time is Co-Parenting.

Co-Parenting can be accomplished on your own, through the help of counseling and mediation, and a plethora of other ways.

The Co-Parenting Path

As difficult, and in some cases, as impossible as it may seem, Co-Parenting is a path that truly puts your kids first. It may not be easy, in fact, it probably won’t be easy.  But, it is best for your children. Children need to see their parents acting respectable to each other. A child’s parents’ relationship will serve as a model for the type of relationships they will one day have. Further, your children will grow up happier and healthier and they will one day know you did your best, given the circumstances.

Children who have shared parenting and whose parents Co-Parent are more likely to have higher self-esteem, which helps a child’s development. Low self-esteem often leads children to partake in juvenile delinquency.

Children who don’t have adequate time with both parents result in:

  • 63% of youth suicides
  • 85% of youth in prison
  • 71% of high school dropouts
  • 75% of adolescents in substance abuse rehab

By setting your differences aside and truly focusing on your children’s needs and Co-Parenting, you can create better outcomes for your children.

Respect Your Children and Everyone They Love

Children aren’t born with a natural ability to respect others; in many regards, respect is cultural. This has to be taught. In fact, children are natural manipulators, working to meet their own personal needs. It is our job as parents to teach them to not only respect us and others but to also respect themselves.

The best way to teach respect is to model it. Always remember that kids mimic everything they see. When you treat them and all of those they love, with the respect that will help to guide their behavior. Conversely, if they see their parents behaving in a disrespectful manner, that will encourage them to be disrespectful. They are putting all of their trust in you to teach them right from wrong. Be the role models they need and deserve!

In some ways, the definition of respect may be universal. However, we are all different people who have different ideas of what respect means to us. This is why you need to ensure you’re in alignment with your co-parent. Being consistent will help to alleviate confusion for your children and better facilitate the learning process for them.

“How would your life be different if…You stopped making negative judgmental assumptions about people you encounter? Let today be the day…You look for the good in everyone you meet and respect their journey.” – Steve Maraboli

Encourage Your Child’s Family Relationships

Family is fundamental to the healthy development, growth, and socialization of children. They thrive on love, learning, and human connections. Nature and nurture factors will both strongly impact a child’s outcome. The more love and support they have, the more confident, independent and loving they will be.

Children of intact families are generally surrounded by family members who are naturally encouraging their relationships with the rest of their family. Even if one parent works outside of the home or travels frequently, the children know they will return, they are talked about in their day-to-day lives, and they are likely surrounded by their pictures, possessions, and presence in their home.

With separation and two separate homes, parents need to make a more conscious effort to encourage their child’s relationship with their other parent and family members. Children need to know they are loved unconditionally, and they are allowed to love without restrictions or guilt. Teach your children the importance of family.

“Family is not an important thing. It’s everything.” – Michael J. Fox

Open and Honest Communication

It’s no secret that communication is challenging. As co-parents, it’s critical in order to ensure you are working together collaboratively as parents.

Good communication will help manage and balance the child’s two homes, help to develop trust, and it will allow you to comfortably talk about school, health and other important topics to maintain a mutual understanding of the children’s current and future needs.

There are a few rules that are non-negotiable:

  1. Adult matters shouldn’t be discussed in the presence of children
  2. Listen to understand, not just to respond
  3.  Communicate honestly in a timely manner

If you are struggling with face-to-face communication due to conflict, personal schedules, etc., you can begin with other forms, such as video, phone, email or text. Written communications will be more difficult to read tone and non-verbal cues, but it can be a very effective method. It may also be helpful to begin your partnership as if you were in a formal business relationship, similar to if you were communicating with your child’s teachers or babysitters.

Communication is a skill that everyone can improve. And if you and your parenting partner have had communication problems in the past, you will need to identify the past pitfalls in order to better communicate with each other. It requires patience, but the value of good communication has no price tag. It is invaluable.

“If your relationship has enough trust, honesty and understanding, it should never require promises, terms and conditions.” – Nishan Panwar

Clean the Slate

You’ve likely been through a lot. Mistakes have been made. Words have been said that can’t be taken back. When relationships end, there is often hurt, animosity, tension, and conflict due to a wide variety of reasons. As valid as they may be, it is of vital importance to not let those feelings cloud your judgment, especially regarding the well-being of your children.

In order to sincerely commit to an open, honest and trusting co-parenting relationship, you need to accept your differences and let go of the past. Separation may be the end of one relationship, but it should not end any relationships for the children involved. It is also the start of a new relationship between you and your co-parent.

The first step to starting a successful co-parenting relationship is to Clean the Slate. This doesn’t mean internalizing bad feelings just to maintain appearances, but making a conscious decision to put the past behind you and to start anew. You are parenting partners, equals in your children’s lives. This will mean biting your tongue at times and putting your own personal feelings aside for the health and happiness of your child.

“You have a clean slate every day you wake up. You have a chance every single morning to make that change and be the person you want to be. You just have to decide to do it. Decide today’s the day. Say it: this is going to be my day.” – Brendon Burchard

Coparenting: Agree to Balanced Duties and Healthy Boundaries

Balanced Duties and Healthy Boundaries may be something you, personally, feel ready for, but your ex may not. Whether they don’t want any duties at all, or they want complete control, there are still steps YOU can take and ways YOU can positively encourage them to follow suit.

When you have limited time and your parental rights have essentially been taken away due to your ex or the “family” court, you can show through your consistent behavior that you have no desire to fight and that you just want better for your child. Conversely, when an ex seems to be backing away from parental responsibilities, rather than forcing them into a relationship, you can encourage them, and let them know how important they are to their child. Some parents may lack feelings of self-worth after a separation.

It can be frustrating if you feel as though you are the only one trying to work on a co-parenting relationship. But the truth of the matter is – more often than not, both parents feel as though they are trying. The problem is likely that we just don’t see it, appreciate it, or the effort is not what we NEED – rather, it is what the other person BELIEVES we WANT. Either way, the benefits your child will receive from having two actively involved parents, will be worth it!

If you feel as though you are the only one trying, try to put yourself in their shoes. Imagine being in their situation – their life, their job, their home, their role. Imagine how they perceive your words and your actions. Could they believe that they are making a valiant effort to co-parent? Though this exercise can be extremely difficult to do, if you practice it genuinely and sincerely, wholeheartedly, it can help you to better adapt to your challenges and improve your communication significantly.

Remember, you can’t change your ex, you can only change yourself. But, your child will fair best with two happy, healthy and active parents. So, you can choose to be a positive influence in your ex’s life or you can choose to be their biggest nightmare. Either way, your behavior impacts your child’s perception and their reality – so always keep THAT in the front of your mind.

It takes a village to raise a child, right? We all have experiences that we can share to help others. Following, five parents from our community share their personal experiences around Balanced Duties and Healthy Boundaries:

Talk to Each Other

“We have been co-parenting for 16 years, so I guess you’d say we’ve learned a lot! I felt that Healthy Boundaries was a hard one for my ex to get. In HIS defense, Communication was probably my most challenging area! Since I kept the house after our divorce, my ex seemed to feel a little too ‘at home’ for the longest time. He would let himself in without even knocking, helped himself to food in the fridge, and would even go down to the freezer in the basement to re-stock the fridge. It drove me insane! I slowly started to change the house to make it more ‘mine’. Over time, I bought new furniture, I painted, and I even re-carpeted! He just could NOT take a hint! So, finally one day, I blew up at him. I hadn’t even been to HIS house, yet he acted like he was at home in mine! Well, to my surprise, he said he was trying to act comfortable for my sake and the kids’! He said I was making it difficult because I kept changing things, and it made him less and less comfortable in ‘my’ home. Hmm, if only we had that whole ‘Communication-thing’ figured out. So, my lesson here isn’t so much about what the “healthy boundaries” are, but an important suggestion to TALK TO EACH OTHER about what those healthy boundaries are! This little gap caused the both of us two years of angst! Luckily we laugh about it now!”

Healthy Boundaries

“Because my ex only has the kids every other weekend (and he has limited funds), I always supply him with diapers, toys and clothes for the kids. I regularly receive hand-me-downs, so it’s an easy, affordable way to help him a little. The kids grow so fast, it doesn’t make sense to always have 2 of everything. Also, I coupon shop, and I like to bake too, so I sometimes even send food and drink with him. For that, I always ask him in advance though. I feel that is one of the “healthy boundaries” in our relationship. It allows him more time to focus on the kids while they’re together too. I’m not doing it to make him feel bad or to control what the kids wear and what they eat. I’m doing it because we are raising our children together. He pays child support. If I can easily do something that makes things a little bit easier for him, while benefiting the kids, why wouldn’t I?”

It’s Not Easy

“I am trying to co-parent with a narcissist. They say it can’t be done, and though it’s certainly not easy, I would argue that it can be done. I will say that it takes a lot of patience, forgiveness and biting of the proverbial tongue. But, for six years and going, it has completely turned my life around for the better. It has awarded me more time with my girls, and I (secretly) feel that I’ve helped their mother be a better mother to them. In turn, the living hell I experienced, made me a better father. I started by offering to help her whenever I could – grabbing some groceries for her, fixing her van, getting her tickets to a concert and offering to “babysit”. I’m no dummy. Slowly but surely, I had more time with the girls, I had less threats to deal with, and we started opening up to each other. Though I’m almost always walking on eggshells, I don’t excessively praise, necessarily pander, or let her walk all over me. But, I have definitely learned to pick my battles, and I accept a lot of things I once thought impossible, to the extent that I do not respond to her insults and accusations and to the extent that I sometimes worry about our daughter’s emotional and psychological well-being. But, the fact that I have increasingly more time with our girls, and my ex often confides in me and trusts me, has made it all worth the while.”

Don’t Assume

“Best advice I can give is DON’T ASSUME! Whether together for one year or twenty, you are two people with distinct feelings, expectations and perspectives. Don’t simply assume you already know each other’s duties or what boundaries need to be set. Your relationship has changed! Calm, mature discussions and respect will go a long way! And, keep in mind that feelings, expectations and perspectives can and will change!”

Learn As You Go

“I may be old fashioned, but to me, I always expected my ex to stick up for me. It may sound silly. But, he was always the disciplinary, and I used to appreciate it particularly when he would stop the boys if they were being disrespectful to me. It’s not that I can’t do it myself obviously, but there was something I really liked about him telling them to respect their mother. When I finally confronted him about it, asking why he didn’t do that anymore, he said he felt like he was crossing boundaries. He didn’t want to make it seem like I wasn’t a disciplinary, since I had them alone half of the time. He said he still teaches them to respect their mother and women in general, but he also didn’t want to confuse the kids about our relationship or take away from my authority. There’s a lot to learn and a lot of ways you’ll need to adapt. Be patient with each other. In some cases, you may need to learn as you go….”

Parenting Is Hard Enough

Parenting is hard enough, dealing with diapers, feeding, role modeling, teaching, schooling, doctors appointments, soccer practice, and so much more; why would you want to add to the stress with high conflict, worry, fear, and fighting with your ex? You can effectively learn how to initiate, develop, and maintain a Co-Parenting relationship with your ex. In doing so, you will first and foremost create a happier, healthier environment for your children, but also, for yourself as well! It is important to note, that your health and happiness is also essential to the health and happiness of your children, but we’ll touch more on that a little later.

Clean The Slate

The first key, which may also be one of the most challenging is “Clean the Slate.” There may be lots of hurt, heartache, and other emotions tied to your ex and what has happened in the past, what circumstances initiated the divorce or separation, or what has happened even just yesterday. We all struggle with these things and it can be very challenging, but these emotions can lead you to act in ways which put your emotions over the needs of your child. This can be a very dangerous thing and so it is important to get control over it before you cause any damage.

Regardless of what has happened, your child is genetically 50% you and 50% your ex. Therefore, if you exemplify the negativity that dwells within you around your child, they will feel it, they will know it, and it will affect them deeply. Your child is a part of their other parent and if your emotions, actions, and demeanor are negative toward your ex, what is that telling your child who is a part of them?

As we all know, children are impressionable and just like we watch our behavior, actions, and words around our children in all other aspects, it is equally if not more important to apply these precautions in regards to your ex as well.

A Happier, Healthier and Positive Life

So, here’s the thing, by holding onto the past, you are harboring negativity and ill feelings within you, which is unhealthy for yourself, and equally important, it is unhealthy for your child. As we all know, our children are smart, they can sense our feelings and our emotions which can be detrimental to the well-being of our children if it is ill feelings, resentment, or hate toward their other parent. It is of vital importance that you learn to let this go in order to move forward and live a more positive life. Forgiveness is a way to let yourself move on. As said by Lewis B. Smedes: “To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you.”

By forgiving the past no matter what it might be, you will free your mind and your heart of the invisible chains that deeply control your thoughts and emotions. What once consumed you, filled you with emotions, and overwhelmed you can be replaced with tranquility and peace. You can have this weight taken off your shoulders, you can be relinquished of this burden, and you and only you hold the ability to make it happen.

By taking this step and cleaning the slate you can create a happier, healthier, and more positive life and environment for yourself, you can open up the doors of opportunity to be able to create a Co-Parenting relationship with your ex, and most importantly you can effectively allow your child to be raised in an environment that is filled with mutual respect between their parents where they are surrounded by unconditional love.

This is why it is so important to “Clean the Slate.” If you can put the past behind you, focus on the future, and focus on your child you can embark on a journey that will help create a much happier, healthier environment for your children post-separation.

Communication is Hard

Communication is hard. It is even hard when you have a good relationship with someone, so this can be particularly challenging for divorced and separated parents. Although it is and will be a challenge, the first and foremost thing you should have on your mind is, “This is what is best for our children!” Remembering that simple fact as you continue working through our program and working to build and maintain a co-parenting relationship with your ex, will remind you that it will all be worth it!

We’ve all heard the phrase ‘communication is key’; we teach our children to ‘use your words’ as toddlers and won’t give them what they want for until they ask with words and ask politely. So, why don’t we utilize these same simple phrases and techniques in our own lives and in our own relationships?

Communication is Critical to Co-Parenting

Communication is an extremely important element to human interaction which allows us to express thoughts, feelings, and opinions. Without it, we are left guessing others’ wants, needs, and motives, and they are left guessing ours. Guessing leads to assumptions, and we all know what happens when we assume! This is why communication is such a critical component to co-parenting!

Your child has two homes, leaving a lot of potential for mix-ups, misunderstandings, children manipulating and taking advantage of the arrangement, and the potential of things falling through the cracks. Whether it’s your child hiding a report card, having a dentist appointment reminder sent to the wrong home, or another instance that overlaps and is in need of both parent’s awareness and attention. How can you help your child in school if report card information isn’t relayed to you or bring your child to the dentist if the other parent is receiving the reminders, but doesn’t communicate with you? There are countless instances where communication proves invaluable in a co-parenting relationship.

Minimizing Manipulation with Good Communications

It is important to set reminders or implement a process so whenever you are taking note of an important appointment, grade, or disciplinary action, you are creating a note to provide the details to your ex. Without making a note, you may forget to share the information, and without this communication, there are plenty of things that could go wrong. As an example, children are master manipulators; from a young age, they test reactions, test the boundaries, and they begin to learn how you react to their actions. Children will learn from your behavior, and they will catch on to any lack of communication between their parents. And, trust us when we tell you — they WILL try to use this to their advantage! It is natural behavior for all children. They do this in intact families as well. A prime example is kids asking one parent if they can do something, that parent says “no”, so they immediately go and ask the other parent in order to get a more favorable answer.

If children can manipulate and get their way in an intact family, they can CERTAINLY do it in two homes when communication is lacking – or nonexistent. This reason alone makes communication integral to co-parenting. Children can attempt to skip school or attend events not agreed upon by both parents.

Work to Improve Your Co-Parenting Communications Skills

If co-parents can work to create strong communication skills, it can help in numerous ways by preventing missed appointments, completion of school assignments, and getting children to needed extracurricular activities. Some parents rely on their children to be messengers, so they can avoid communication. Children have young, developing minds and cannot always be reliable to relay messages between parents, NOR SHOULD THEY HAVE TO! You are the parent, you must take the responsibility to communicate with your ex regarding your child, and your child’s needs! And, think about what a great role model you are being for your child.

So how can you strengthen communication? Take some time at exchanges to talk to your ex about what happened while your children were with you. Update them on school, events, etc. If you are not at this point yet, written communications may suffice. Write emails or texts with all necessary information to provide your ex with what they need to know in regards to your children. Written communication can be great in the beginning allowing for an easy way to get all of your thoughts put in a calm, well thought out, and respectful manner. After practicing written communication, you will begin to feel more comfortable with verbal communications regarding your children and their needs.

Good Communication and Your Child’s Future

These communications will serve invaluable to not only your children’s immediate needs but also for their long term developmental and emotional needs. By exemplifying strong communication skills and exhibiting mutual respect, you will instill these in your children. Your children will grow up happier and healthier, with strong conflict management skills, in an environment where their parents have an open and honest line of communication.

We encourage you to open the line of communication with your ex this week! C’mon, what are you waiting for?

Partner with your Co-Parent

Often after a divorce or separation, we cut ties with our ex-partner, and maybe never talk to them again. We go on living our lives while putting them in the past as if they no longer exist. The problem is, too many parents try to do this, when children are involved, and you simply cannot just cut all ties. Accumulatively you produced a child together, connecting you and making your family forever, whether one wants to admit it or not.

Once we come to understand this reality we can begin to partner with our children’s other parent to become a team and work together for their best interest. Just because your romantic relationship ended with your child’s other parent doesn’t mean that you cannot have a relationship with them. We have multiple types of relationships in life, with co-workers, friends, family members, and so on; they are all different and have different components to them. You can still have a relationship with your child’s other parent by building a partnership, a Co-Parenting relationship where you work together as a team in order to put your children first and raise them together. This will put your children in a good place where they are more likely to thrive and develop into happier, healthier adults.

Now don’t get us wrong, we’re not saying this will be easy or will happen overnight; but, it will be worth it in the end as it is best for your children’s well-being. In fact, let’s look at a recent example of a family that testifies to this point.

Co-Parenting Example

“This is my ex. This right here is more valuable than gold. This is a man who doesn’t pay a dime through the state because when my son needs new clothes, I just call him. This is a man who buys a bundle of kids’ movies on Vudu so even I can enjoy them with my son in my own home. A man who drops off the $45 box of pull-ups at my front door so I don’t have to load him up and go to the store. One who takes his son in 10 min notices far often than he should because I have too much to get done or just need a nap. This is a man who listens to me cry because I’m stressed out. This is a man who tells his son not to forget mommy’s boyfriend when he lists his favorite people off the top of his head…A man who rushes over because we got locked out of the house or spends his evening fixing something for us. This is a man who labeled the presents he bought his son from “mommy” because mommy couldn’t get him as many. A man who still watches my sister’s kids so our son can be with his cousins. One who accompanies me to meet strangers from Craigslist to ensure we are safe. This is the diaper-bag-wearing, chocolate-milk-making, selfless, protective, generous, accomplished FATHER to my son.

The number of obstacles we’ve had to overcome to get to this point is tremendous. This was not easy, this was a choice. Stop giving excuses and come together for your children. I’m the most stubborn person that I know and forgiveness came easy to us for the sake of our son. And because of that, I see my son every single day. We always welcome each other’s presence.

In case I haven’t told you lately, I’m grateful for you. Most importantly for the motivated individual you are and how you provide Pierson with a phenomenal role model despite the foundation you once had. I love the amount of love my son will always have from you.”

As you can see Jessica and her ex didn’t just develop a partnership and Co-Parenting relationship overnight, but, they did put their differences aside and put their son first in order to give him the best life possible despite their relationship ending. This story is a true testament to not only the love for their son and his well-being but also to show that no matter the obstacles, it is possible, and you can do it. All you have to do is put the focus on your children to do what is best for their well-being.

Teach Children Healthy Relationship Values

Valentine’s Day has become a day to celebrate with the person you love, traditionally giving them flowers and chocolates, followed by dinner and a movie. But, as you know, after you have kids, you form a whole new love, a love that is like no other, a love that withstands all elements, even separation, and divorce.

With this love, it brings a whole new meaning and opportunity to Valentine’s Day. Valentine’s Day can be a great way to begin teaching your children about love and healthy relationships! Whether you are teaching them the different types of love, the acts of selflessness for those you love, or preparing them for the dating world, Valentine’s Day can be a great opportunity to teach your children about the importance of love, life, and relationships.

Preparing Children To Have Healthy Relationships

Why is this so important? The divorce rate has reached 50% while the rate of children born out of wedlock has passed 40% of all children. The importance of relationships, marriage, and family has rapidly crumbled within our society. Children who come from separated and divorced families are at higher risk themselves of going through separation and divorce. It is our role as a parent to help guide our children and prepare them for life. What could be more important than helping prepare them to have healthy relationships with friends, family, and future partner?

How is Valentine’s Day for kids? Children already see the hearts, candy, teddy bears, and cards at the stores and most likely participate in Valentine’s Day giving at school, but, what are they really learning from this sugarcoated celebration? What if we told you that there are some great teaching opportunities you can provide your children through Valentine’s Day?

You can use Valentine’s Day as a tool to help teach your children about love and relationships, you can help promote the importance of love, compassion, healthy relationships, and so much more! For young children, you can begin teaching them about what love is, the different types of love (such as parents, children, husband, and wife), and how you may treat those you love different than other people in your life. For older children, teachings could include healthy behaviors and boundaries, healthy relationships, and the importance of marriage and family.

Use Valentine’s Day to Teach Children Healthy Relationship Values

We’re sure you can think of age-appropriate ways to teach your children these important values of selflessness, love, compassion, healthy relationships, and the importance of family, but let’s hear what some of your peers plan to do with their children this Valentine’s Day!

Mark – “Make a scrapbook of their favorite pictures with their parents.”

Mark is going to be creating a scrapbook with his son this Valentine’s Day. What a beautiful project that truly lasts a lifetime! As part of this project, Mark will be promoting his child’s relationship with their mother. They will be making a scrapbook that includes both of his parents. This in itself is a great learning opportunity. It shows respect and healthy relationships between the child’s parents, allows the child to openly express love for both sides of the family, and not only allows but encourages, the relationship with both parents.

Sue – “We always do Valentine’s Day projects and create artwork, I always encourage my children to create artwork for their father!

Creating artwork is great for children, it sparks their imagination! Further, creating handcrafted artwork for their parent, while they are with you, is a great way to encourage the relationship with their other parent. It also serves as such a great way for children just beginning to express their emotions. Art is a great way for children to begin showing those they love, how they feel to help them gain deeper insight to their emotions and love itself.

Linda – “I’m going to bake with my daughter. We love baking, and we’re going to make Valentine’s Day cookies, if she wants to decorate some for her dad then that’s great.

Shared interests with your children offer a great way to strengthen bonds! This is another way for a child to express their love for their parents. By creating artwork and making specially decorated baked goods teaches children to express their individual, separate, and unique love for those special people in their lives. This may include special events or things they particularly love about their parents or family members and helps children grasp the knowledge and understanding of the different types of love.