Your kids are your life. And when you find yourself needing to suddenly share custody of them with your ex, well ... it can be difficult to swallow. But once you've made the decision that joint custody is the best custody arrangement for your family, you need to move forward in commitment to making it work. Use these tips to transform something you may be legitimately hesitant about doing into something that has the potential to be really beneficial to your children with these 6 rules for making joint custody work:
1. The kids come first
As a newly single parent, this may be the first time in a long while that you've even begun to think about what you need and want. And in a lot of ways, the new beginning you're experiencing is an ideal time to express yourself and stand up for the 'you' that's been pushed aside for a long time. But... it's also important to realize that even while you advocate for your needs, your kids' needs have to come first. And that may mean quieting that inner voice that doesn't want to compromise or share parenting time with your ex right now.
2. Find the schedule that works for your kids
Shared custody doesn't have to mean 50/50 joint physical custody. It's important to find the routine that suits your kids best. Remember, too, that even when parents do aim for a 50/50 custody split, that doesn't necessarily mean 50 percent of the time in each day. It can help to reframe your objective as working toward 50% of the time that your kids are being actively parented. So 50 percent of their after-school and weekend hours, as opposed to 50 percent of the 168 hours in a given week.
3. Put your schedule in writing
Some states require written parenting plans, while others do not. But even if you live in a state that doesn't require it, establishing a concrete, written parenting plan can be immensely helpful -- especially for parents sharing joint custody. Start by printing our exclusive parenting plan worksheets and scheduling a meeting with your ex to work through each question. Make sure you include the most critical parenting plan topics, including your regular residential schedule, your plans for creating holiday schedules you can both live with, and guidelines for how your kids will get to and from each visit.
4. Stick to the schedule
Particularly in the beginning, it's important for everyone to get accustomed to the routine before you start introducing one-off changes. Then, when you do need to make changes, do so in a courteous manner. Give the kids -- and your ex -- as much notice as possible. And when your ex asks you to change the schedule at the last minute, try to be as generous and understanding as you'd like him or her to be with you.
5. Put the past in perspetive
This is one of the most difficult rules for parents sharing custody -- often because there's a good reason why you're no longer together. But remember that your ex can still be a great mother or father to your kids. Try to have an open mind and allow yourself to see him or her in a new light, if possible.
6. Never put your kids in the middle
This is a cardinal rule of shared parenting. Your kids have the right to enjoy a stress- and tension-free relationship with your ex. So don't create knots in their stomachs by covertly pumping them for information or expecting them to communicate with your ex for you.