Posted by: itneverrainsinseattle | February 5, 2010

Custody Questions…

As Suzanne reminded me in a recent comment on this blog, I need to keep my eye on the prize with regard to the matters at hand: job, separation, etc. One of the things that is looming particularly large for me ishow Penny and I should handle the issue of child custody.

We have three young children, all boys. The oldest is seven-and-a-half years old, with his younger brothers each spaced three years apart. They have very disparate needs, time-wise: the oldest is in second grade and is on a gymnastics team, which means practice three nights a week (and meets on occasional weekends); the second child is in half-day preschool with swimming lessons twice a week; the youngest is still in diapers but is no longer nursing, and does not have daycare.

Penny and I also have commitments of our own — an evening class for her on Tuesday evenings, and taekwondo classes for me during the week, as well.

With Penny and I running our own business and working together both in running the business and in managing the household, we were able to swing the kind of flexibility that their weird schedules have developed into. With our business soon to go by the wayside (and for those of you who have been following the story-in-progress, my most recent attempt to sell our business whole to another local company has fallen through, so I’m back to square one on that front) and our household soon to be divided, schools and schedules are likely to have to change for everybody.

The nature of who gets what kind of employment situation will obviously affect all this, as well. I have database work that I do on the side, for example, that used to be my full-time occupation. If that business were to pick up again (and for the moment, it is doing exactly that) and continue to be as flexible in terms of when I put my time in, I could conceivably be more flexible in managing these arrangements than if I landed back at a large software company and had to resume working sixty-hour weeks in exchange for more easily verifiable income. (Banks and landlords prefer that to free-lance, because it looks more predictable.) Then again, a larger, more regular paycheck makes putting the youngest into daycare and the second child into full-day pre-school a more viable option.

Penny’s eventual employment arrangement will also affect what she can accommodate in terms of time and cost. There is also going to be the issue of compatibility of our two schedules with each others. Until our respective income streams are figured out, it’s premature to establish a long-term plan for how we are going to handle splitting up who-takes-care-of-the-kids-when. But it’s not too soon to start thinking about our options.

As I mentioned previously, Penny and I both want to share custody and are agreed, at least in principle, to do so fifty-fifty. The laws and the courts of our state favor that kind of arrangement. We are both capable parents. But at their current age and with our shifting household and employment arrangements, what would be best for the kids?

In reading a number of my fellow bloggers’ blogs as well as comments here, I see a lot of arrangements fall into place by default — one parent or the other doesn’t really want an active role in child rearing, for example, or job constraints force the issue. I also see a lot of arrangements being highly contentious (which saddens me and worries me for them, but also makes me determined to do what I can to avoid that with Penny, if at all possible.) Penny and I both want to be actively involved in raising our kids, and we each want the other to be actively involved, as well. Since the canvas is still blank, I’d want to start thinking now: all things being equal, which arrangements would be best for all involved?

Alternate each week?

Mondays-Tuesdays in one house, Wednesdays-Thursdays in the other, and alternating weekends?

Alternate each month?

School nights with one, and weekends and summers with the other, alternating major holidays?

Alternate each year?

Mornings with one and evenings with the other?

Alternate each hour?

Okay, those last two aren’t serious, but I’ve known families that have used each of the other arrangements. (The alternating years was for a couple who knew they were going to live in different states, and the arrangement only lasted for three or four years, by which time the mother finally gave in to her alcoholism and gave up custody entirely.)

At the outset, our plan is to have apartments nearby each other, to make transitions easier.

What do you think, dear reader? What has been your experience? I know that the childrens’ needs (and the parents’, for all that!) will change over time, and so any arrangement we devise will likely be changed over time, as well. But still… what have you seen (or tried yourself) that has worked? What have been the drawbacks? What do you recommend or recommend against?

Time to start brainstorming….

And thanks, as always, for your thoughts!

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Responses

  1. As you know I’m going through the same issue…what is best for my kids? So I don’t have much advice on what is good. I can tell you that we tried the every other week thing and it was no good. The little ones (my kids are about the same ages as yours) don’t do well with long separations from their mom. Little ones need their mommies. Try to make the separations for shorter time periods..no more than 3-4 nights. That said we are doing the thing where one parent has M/T, the other has W/Th and we switch every other weekend. My kids hate it. I have friends who do it and their kids are just fine. So it’s probly a good idea to get Penny’s buy in to try different ideas out and see what fits you guys best, agreeing that it can be changed if it doesn’t work and will be changed as they get older. I wish things were so cordial between me and my stbx. Good luck.

    • KT,

      It was your recent posts that pushed this question back to the front of my mind in the first place.

      And yeah, I hope Penny and I continue to remain as amicable as we have been. Your own situation sounds heartbreaking, and largely because one person can’t see past his own wants and needs.

      Here’s to better days ahead for us all — children included!

  2. Well, dear writer, you know where I stand on this. You’ll make it work. I’ve given you my easy breezy custody arrangement. It wasn’t always like that. It takes time, but things do work out.

    Thinking of you!

  3. KT makes an excellent point, and probably some of the most important advice I received when trying to plot all this out myself. Both parents have to be aware and acknowledge that a schedule that works year one won’t work year two and will likely have to be adjusted. For example, as sports/activities seasons change, parents work and education schedules, school year vs summer and the differences in daycare needs, etc, etc.

    Live as close together as you can tolerate, at the minimum, in the same school district so if there is a bus ride in the future, it can be taken from either parent’s house any day of the week. And then, beyond that, come up with an initial plan, and be prepared to pay attention to what is working for the children, and adjust accordingly as time goes on.

  4. Shared custody is the best as it lends itself to more involvement and responsibility as Kids grow older.BUT. Earlier in their life however it is not such a good idea, Kids need as stable of an environment as you can provide specially after a divorce. (it has worked for some people however)

    You might want to obtain shared custody on your orders, Physical custody, were the kids live 100% of the time needs to fit the reality of the situation[which means living with Penny during most weeks while visiting you every so frequently].

    These are young boys, they do need mommy. The older one seven has probably started to gravitate towards you naturally already. Some states [and believe or not school districts] shun shared custody for the implications it brings [legal custodians, two residences etc.; its fine if you live in close proximity but once you move (to a different school district for example) issues arise] this is so to protect the child in any eventuality.

    A judge will sanction any agreement between you two, but sharing households and switching residences every other week might raise eyebrows in a court of law.

    There is evidence of kids growing up in such environments to have have fallen through the cracks. In the end if you two make it work great, but learn the position of the courts in your State on this…not to overstate the obvious a lawyer can advise you of seemingly amicably solutions that can open up issues in court.

    I for one agreed to everything but left Physical custody untouched (not shared), my living across the country, or potentially going anywhere in the nation would have made any judge question my interest on insisting on shared physical custody. This seems arbitrary, but it has worked in my favor during my ex wife illness. I knew the State would back me up to prevent any moves of her part (which is what her parents and I prevented.) Thanks God she is recovering fine now!…Do what is right the first time, or it can come back to bite you later. 😉

    PS

    Keep in mind my situation separation, and divorce was a bi-coastal affair, so my view is skewed by that.

  5. Being married to a child of divorce, one thing I can offer is to work out the arrangements so that the life you your children isn’t disrupted constantly. For instance, I don’t happen to be in favor of the idea of switching residence every couple of days. The kids end up learning about living life in a suitcase. They never get to “put down roots” and ever feel like any one place is really home.

    Until things stabilize and your employment restrictions become more clear, it might be best not to try to plant your feet in cement on any one option, for as you note in your post, everyone’s situation requires some kind of adjustment to fit the limitations of the workplace. Your conditions are more fluid than they would be in normal times.

    I might suggest that rather than discuss right now what you will do, discuss what is NOT acceptable. Get those things out of the way now so that when you are ready to deal with separate households and when the kids stay which with parent, you won’t get sidetracked into debating the merits of a plan which the other opposes strenuously.

    Keep us posted!

  6. Ok, I’m a mum and I resent the idea that kids *need* mummy more than daddy.

    Throw all the gender stereotypes out the window, folks. They are outdated and no longer working for us.

    I offer my child certain things. Much cuddling and physical and verbal affection, random adventures (off to Niagara Falls this weekend!), reliability and responsibility for activities, health/medical, etc

    Her father offers other things. He is her playmate, her constant cheerleader, always ready with a joke.

    I cannot say that one set of ‘parenting skills’ is more valuable than the other. THe Former Mr and I split when The Mook was 22 months old. As far as she can remember, she has had TWO homes. She has a room at both, with a similar color scheme. She goes to the same daycare every day. She attends the same activities no matter which home she is at. It is ABSOLUTELY possible to share custody 50/50. It’s benefical for ALL involved!

    Deep down, I know that I was a parent for 9 months before he became a parent. Carrying a child makes me feel more biologically connected to my daughter.

  7. Interesting post and responses, seattle, and I agree with everyone, which doesn’t seem possible, but it’s true. When I moved out, I found a little cottage that’s 5 minutes away from Ex-Pat’s house. Kelsea has a room in each house, of course. After 15 months, Kelsea has most things duplicated (though not big things, like computers and X-Box), but it’s still frustrating for her if she wants something from one house when she’s at the other. She made it clear that she didn’t like spending less than 2 nights at one house before switching, and we’ve accommodated that for the most part. She’s at the same school. Unfortunately, her friends are within walking distance at her Dad’s house and as she grows older, that will be more important.

    With regard to kids needing their moms, well, they always do. Hell, I still do. But they also need their Dads just as much.

    Kelsea was a Daddy’s Girl from the day she was born. But her experiences at our respective houses are very different, since we are such different people. Her time at her Dad’s is more disciplined and independent. Her time with me, which has been rarer for her whole life, is now more fun and cuddly. We laugh all the time.

    I was just thinking this morning, as I dropped off her stuff (computer, karate gear) at Ex-Pat’s, that it’s hard having to see him as often as this ‘dropping off” arrangement necessitates. Even though we are pretty amicable, we still push each other’s buttons, emotions are still raw and confusing. Distance is an important thing in the aftermath of divorce; after a time, you relationship seems to reset itself to frients/parents with less of an “EX” focus.

    All this rambling, and it comes down to, do what’s best for the kids but still take care of yourselves. Listen to the kids and try to be accomodating if their requests are reasonable (I know that’s not going to be quite the same for you, given your boys ages.) They WILL say they just want you to be together with Mommy and that will make you feel terrible, so be prepared for it.

    And don’t sweat this right now. You have a lot of other emotions and issues to take care of. It sounds like you two have the basic understanding that you will willingly share the kids. That’s where you need to be right now. The details will work out as this change evolves.

  8. As someone who’s parents divorced when I was younger, I like this plan the best: Mondays-Tuesdays in one house, Wednesdays-Thursdays in the other, and alternating weekends.

    And this is why…
    When my parents divorced I was 15, my brother was 6. My Mom moved us to another town 2.5 hours away from my Dad and we had the typical “every other weekend” at Dad’s place (which got to be less and less due to financial constraints and our extra caricular activities). For me, I felt as though my family had split. I became very angry and to this day hold a lot of resentment towards my mother over it. My parents spliting didn’t have to mean that my FAMILY split. It was not MY fault so why did I have to be forced to leave my father for such long periods of time? Not to mention my school, my friends, and life as I knew it up until that point. My parents did NOT get along and I was a child being tugged one direction then the other. I felt as though I was being punished for their mistakes and choices (my brother was much younger but still greatly affected).

    What I’m trying to say is that I think the plan I pasted above feels as though you are still a family unit working together, even though you are divorcing. If you and Penny can remain on good terms, working together as parents (as in my opinion- is your responsibility) then it will have the least impact on the children. Their lives will change as little as possible. If you have the kids Monday and Tuesday, no biggie- Penny’s not usually around Tuesday’s anyway. With the constant rotations your kids will never feel as though they’re lacking either parent or as though their “family unit” has been broken- even though your marriage has. And also- the solid schedule during the week will allow you to schedule work around it.

  9. I found you through BLW (I think).
    I haven’t read the other comments, but my thought is it’s too soon to make these decisions. There is so much up in the air right now about your future that to try and make a definite decision now would be far too soon.
    In the end, I don’t think it’s about the actual schedule, but the actual commitment from both parents to make it a collaborative effort, and to each be willing to make sacrifices from time to time to accommodate what’s best for the children.
    (My situation is entirely different. I have sole custody which is great for me and the girls in most respects, but sometimes I have wished for a couple of weekends off a month!)

  10. My instance may be a little different but here’s what we did and it worked well for us. My ex was having an affair and really wanted to focus most of his thoughts and time on the OW, so in our divorce we had shared custody and parental decision making. He lived about 3 miles from us, and the kids “home based” with me. The had bikes and could bike down to visit him any time they want (literally) and any time he arranged it, they could spend the night etc. because either one of us could drive them to the school which was between us. It turned out he didn’t really want to spend a lot of time with them, and I couldn’t make him… so I just acted as their mom and gave them one stable home.

    My Dear Hubby had an arrangement with his ex to have Sun-Wed. after school with one parent, Wed to Sun. with the other (literally 3.5 days each) He dropped them at school Wednesday, she picked them up. Again she was the spouse who had the affair, and gradually she wanted them less and less until within a little more than a year they were with him 100% of the time with about a once-a-month weekend with mom.

  11. I have nothing to offer except a hug. *HUG*

  12. We were in the same place last year….

    As the whole situation was amicable and open, we have tried several arrangements based on the ever changing needs of having three kids in all their various activities and sports. We share the kids 50/50 and live about 10 blocks apart. Most activities, school, and sports are either in or no more than 10-15 minutes away from our NE Portland neighborhood.

    I am in school full time so we seem to make adjustments at Summer, Fall, Spring, and Winter based on the school schedule and the kids’ activities.

    It seems to be working well and again I emphasize being amicable and open, willing to work with each other, and adjust schedules for appts and special needs as they arise.

    For Winter term, we are doing Mon-Tues w/ me; Wed-Thurs w/ him and every other weekend. This has worked well. I will have a late class for about 6 wks on Weds so we’ve adjusted to Mon & Wed w/ me; Tues & Thurs w/ him. The kids seem to actually like that better as they get to see both of us everyday. One drops off at school and the other picks up from school.

    I am sure we will end up with a hundred variations but the most important thing is that the kids know that we are willing to work together as a team to meet Their needs along with our personal work/school commitments. Most of all, the kids know that both of us WANT and LOVE to be with them.

  13. I haven’t read the rest of the comments so I’m not sure if this is going to be a repeat of someone else’s but I would say that the hardest thing on my kids is having to go to school from different houses during the week. My ex and I have it so he has them every Sunday and Monday nights. My straight A student cannot remember her gym clothes regularly or her instrument because of the switches. I would opt for kids to stay overnight the night before school at one house. If my kids could change anything, they would like to change that.

    The hardest thing for me is having them gone for the four days every other weekend. I’m okay until the evening of day #3 and then I really miss them. However, it’s good to have that time, too.

  14. I haven’t read the other comments so I apologize if I repeat something. Having never been divorced, I can’t offer FIRSTHAND experience. However, I can pass on impressions from others as well as ideas I’ve heard.

    The most reasonable arrangement I’ve heard of started with determining odd and even year holiday arrangements. This included adding a clause about being reasonable and flexible to change that involved the extended family. One instance was being able to take the children out of town for the grandparents’ 50th anniversary even though it was “the other person’s weekend.”

    Most of the arrangements that I see with my students are half-week arrangements with changes occurring on Wednesdays. This seems to work best when parents live in the same area. One set of parents I have consult each other prior to conferences so that they can still come together. The children from these arrangements (putting the children first) are the best adjusted.

    The least successful are the primary parent with every other weekend with the other parent. These kids learn manipulation quickly and pit the parents against each other. This arrangement also seems to have the LEAST amount of parental respect. These arrangements also have a lack of common rules, preferring instead to use the children as pawns in their silly games.

    So… remember to include visitation to extended family, put the children’s needs first, keep common life goals for the children, and have common rules. Your goal is not only to be with your children, but to also offer them the same secure 2 parent environment they’ve always had. Finally, plan out odd and even year holiday schedules giving equal time to both families for events. This will keep everything civil in the long run.

    • Actually I just saw something on TV called the 2-2-3. Two days with one, two with the other and then every other weekend. That might work.

  15. Okay, this might sound insane, but……Since you and Penny are getting along well, have virtually no animosity, and there are no “others” causing this divorce, I say make this truly about what’s easiest for the kids, and think outside the box. Get apartments in the same complex. Heck, next door if possible. Let it be an adventure for the kids….you and Penny can decide who has the most energy and which of you needs a break (or has plans, or has to work, etc) on any given night. (You could have a schedule, too, of course, I’m just saying it could be very, very flexible.)
    Imagine your kid is sick in the middle of the night and all you (or Penny) has to do is go next door.

    The kids would be the winners in this scenario, and I think you and Penny are both big enough people to do this.

    It doesn’t have to be permanent. One of you could move in a year or so if you wanted to. But the transition would be so much easier on these little boys….who, let’s not forget, did not ask to be born, and don’t deserve to be the victims of this loveless marriage. If you could pull this off, they’d never, ever forget what you and Penny did for them. After all, they’re going to grow up and have an opinion, one way or another…Why not be heros in their eyes?

  16. (And yes, I know there is an “e” in heroes….)

  17. I know some people who keep a “kid’s place” and an adult place. It isn’t a forever solution, but it can help for the first while.

    They keep one larger place. The kids live there. There is another small apartment (or 2 other small apartments or rooms in houses). And whoever has custody of the kids go to the kids’s place.

    It is tricky – you have to park your ego, and not hurt the ex, and be willing to share their space.

    But the kids don’t move. They don’t shuffle. They don’t feel as spread out.

    You guys do. But that is okay. You are the grownups.


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