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Making Joint Custody Work

Five Keys to Succeeding at Joint Custody

Making Joint Custody Work
By Wayne Parker

Five Keys to Succeeding at Joint Custody

Divorcing fathers in the United States are seeing more and more the availability of joint custody with their former spouses. Recent publications by the American Psychological Association and others suggest that well developed joint custody arrangements are often best for helping children survive the impacts of divorce.

Like all good dads in a divorce situation, you want what's best for your children, so you decide to try the joint custody route. So maybe the kids are at your place three days a week and at your wife's three days a week and you get every other weekend. How do you successfully coordinate the scheduling, parenting and other challenges of share custody?

After talking to many fathers personally, by email and in the Fatherhood Forum, I have found five important keys to making joint custody work.

1. Put the kids first. I know of no more important attitude for a father with joint custody than putting the needs of their children first. There will be times you and your kids' mom need to compromise in order to make this happen. While, for example, you agree to have piano lessons on "her days," there will be times the lessons have to be moved to "your days." Understand and accept the realities of parenting and be flexible. Make sure that the needs of your children are more important to you than your convenience and schedule.

Make sure that you don't just take the "Disneyland Dad" approach that many mums complain about. That is, making sure the kids only have fun when they are with you and leave the hard parenting to their mums. Take an active role as a parent. Do homework with them. Volunteer to help with their science fair project. Be their cub scout den leader or help the girls earn girl scout badges. Make sure you are keeping their needs first.

2. Communicate, communicate, communicate. Next to putting kids first, the best thing you can do is to keep the lines of communication open. Keep talking to their mm uand keep her in the loop. Whether or not you can still stand your ex, you need to for the kids's sake. Make sure you both know what is going on in their lives. Keep a detailed schedule so you know what is expected. When discipline problems arise, talk it over with their mum. And keep the kids in the loop as well. Make sure they know that you care enough to communicate effectively.

Expectations can be a challenge when the kids' parents don't live together. Try to coordinate on what you expect. If mum needs them to do chores at her house, try to keep them on task at yours. By coordinating and communicating, you bring some semblance of security and consistency to their lives.

3. Show interest in them. Related to putting kids first is the need to make sure they know you are interested in them. Go to their school play, concerts, piano recitals, soccer games and the like. Talk to them about what interests them, what is happening in their lives and their social circles. Sometimes there is a temptation for shared custody dads to "delegate" these things to the mum and to be little more than a caretaker when the kids are with dad. Don't let that happen to your kids.

4. Respect your Ex. This is maybe the hardest rule of all, and one that many dads in shared custody relationships don't follow. But it is a key to keeping your kids close to you. Always show respect to your children's mums in their presence. Never be critical of her. Help them continue to love her, no matter how bad you feel she treated you (or them). Some dads (and lots of mums) behave as if their children must choose sides. "If they love her, they must not love me." WRONG! Children can and should love both their parents in a share custody situation. Take the high road on this one; in the long run, your attitude toward the kids' mum is a big determiner of how they feel about you. If you want to be close to your kids now and later, respect their mum.

5. Avoid having a serious relationship. Now I know some of you dads will complain about this one. After all, those Friday and Saturday nights alone can get lonely. But during a time when you are sharing custody, it is a bad idea to get close to a woman, and, in the opinion of many family therapy professionals, the worst time to remarry. Let's face it-if you are doing parenting right, you help the kids know they come first. When the feel your attention divided or diverted, life takes a bad turn for them. So cool any relationship that might be leading to marriage or to making you a POSSLQ (Census-speak for persons of opposite sex sharing living quarters). Be friends, date, have a good time, but don't get serious while you are sharing parenting duties.


Joint custody can work, and work effectively for kids, dads and mums, but it has to be done right. It is not easy for the parents, but it is the best option for the kids. Just make sure you are being selfless, putting the kids first, and keeping the long view. It will pay great dividends for them and for you.
Children Likely to be Better Adjusted in Joint vs Sole Custody Arrangements in Most Cases, According to Review of Research

Living Situation Not As Influential As Time Spent With Parent

Washington - Children from divorced families who either live with both parents at different times or spend certain amounts of time with each parent are better adjusted in most cases than children who live and interact with just one parent, according to new research on custody arrangements and children's adjustment.

Psychologist Robert Bauserman, Ph.D., of AIDS Administration/Department of Health and Mental Hygiene in Baltimore, Maryland conducted a meta-analysis of 33 studies between 1982 to 1999 that examined 1,846 sole-custody and 814 joint-custody children. The studies compared child adjustment in joint physical or joint legal custody with sole-custody settings and 251 intact families. Joint custody was defined as either physical custody - where a child spends equal or substantial amounts of time with both parents or shared legal custody - where a child lives with primarily one parent but both parents are involved in all aspects of the child's life. This article will appear in the March issue of the Journal of Family Psychology, published by the American Psychological Association (APA).

Children in joint custody arrangements had less behaviour and emotional problems, had higher self-esteem, better family relations and school performance than children in sole custody arrangements. And these children were as well-adjusted as intact family children on the same measures, said Bauserman, "probably because joint custody provides the child with an opportunity to have ongoing contact with both parents."

These findings indicate that children do not actually need to be in a joint physical custody to show better adjustment but just need to spend substantial time with both parents, especially with their fathers, said Bauserman. Also, joint custody couples reported less conflict, possibly because both parents could participate in their children's lives equally and not spend the time arguing over childcare decisions. Unfortunately a perception exists that joint custody is more harmful because it exposes children to ongoing parental conflict. In fact, the studies in this review found that sole-custody parents reported higher levels of conflict.

It is important to recognize that the results do not support joint custody in all situations. When one parent is abusive or neglectful or has a serious mental or physical health problem, sole-custody with the other parent would clearly be preferable, said Bauserman. The judges, lawyers, social workers, psychologists and other professionals involved in divorce counselling and litigation should be aware of these findings to make informed decisions of what environment is best for a child in a custody situation.

Furthermore, to address the question of how much the parents' emotional health compared with the custody arrangement influenced the children's adjustment, Bauserman explained that custody arrangement seemed to have more influence. By statistically controlling for past parental conflict (which indicates parental maladjustment), the joint custody children still were significantly better adjusted. This result was also found in other studies cited in Bauserman's review. More primary research is needed, said Bauserman, "on the past and current adjustment of joint custody and sole custody parents before this question can be completely answered."

Article: "Child Adjustment in Joint-Custody Versus Sole-Custody Arrangements: A Meta-Analytic Review," Robert Bauserman, Ph.D., AIDS Administration/Department of Health and Mental Hygiene; Journal of Family Psychology, Vol 16, No. 1.

Full text of the article is available at

Robert Bauserman, PhD can be reached by telephone at 410-767-4322
Nice set of guidelines and in a perfect world that would be awesome. I'm not sure how avoiding serious relationships works as parents aren't nuns or monks!

When you are swimming down a creek and an eel bites your cheek, that's a Moray.
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