The end of a relationship, no matter how long it was or how it happened, can be devastating. Adding children to the mix just makes everything more complicated and sensitive. You can’t really grieve for your own heart when you need to do what’s best for your children. That entails helping them understand divorce, keeping their lives as normal as possible, and figuring out how to make a custody agreement.
I know first hand how frustrating and arduous creating a custody arrangement can be. You experience an emotional roller coaster ride on par with your pregnancy, wavering between keeping yourself together for your child’s sake and breaking down in the bathroom. And who can blame you? After all, you didn’t cradle your baby bump and think, “I can’t wait to spend every other week with this child.” You didn’t think you’d miss out on major life moments because you and your partner wouldn’t make things work.
Speaking of your former significant other, they may not make the process easier. Even in the best case scenario of an amicable split, there will still be tension when deciding who gets to see the kids on Thanksgiving. For many couples, a mediator is often the answer to finalizing a custody agreement. If you and your ex can’t seem to agree on anything or the emotions are too strong, look into working with a court mediator. Because they know the laws, and are a neutral third party, it can help you and your ex come to an agreement that’s best for your children. Unfortunately, some couples are so far removed from each other that a lawyer may be necessary to making a custody arrangement. They will take care of the legal work and remove the burden from you and your former partner.
As stressful and heartbreaking as creating a custody agreement can be, it has to be done — not only for your child’s sake, but for yours too. Whether you’re working with a lawyer or drafting the arrangement yourself, here are nine things you need to do when making a custody agreement.
1. Put Your Child First
It’s easy to be selfish in a custody agreement. After all, no parent wants to be away from their child. But if splitting time between you and your former SO is in your child’s best interest, then it has to be done. Similarly, if sharing time may make things difficult for your child, then that should be reflected in the custody agreement. When my ex and I separated, our breastfed daughter couldn’t spend more than a few hours away from me. My ex put his own desires aside and spent time with our daughter at my home, keeping her in a comfortable environment.
2. Keep Communication Open
Your ex is probably the last person you want to talk to, but if you’re sharing custody of your child, you’ll have to keep communication open. Allow your child to call their other parent as often as they want, and don’t ignore your ex’s phone calls to your child. If you think their calls are disruptive to your time with your child, you can have a phone schedule written into your custody agreement.
3. Pick Your Battles
There’s no need to make every single part of the process a fight. Is having two extra hours with your kid on a Sunday worth the screaming match? Focus on the most important things and think about how they’ll affect your child.
4. Determine a Child Support Amount
Child support can vary depending on your state, so know the guidelines your state will use to determine the amount. Whether you or your ex are responsible for paying child support, it’s important to remember that the money isn’t for them, it’s for your child. Child support can also include who will cover the cost of health insurance and any medical bills for your child.
5. Decide on Joint or Sole Custody
You’ll also have to decide on the type of custody arrangement you’ll have with your ex. This will all depend on the type of parent they are and how each custody arrangement will work with both of your schedules. Again, keep in mind what’s best for your child.
6. Be Specific
Writing in that your ex will have your child every other weekend isn’t enough. You need to be specific with custody arrangements. Who will drop off your child? Who will pick them up? And at what time? The more details you provide, the clearer the arrangement is and the less likely you are to argue about it after the fact.
7. Explain Unique Decisions
If you and your ex are going against traditional custody arrangements, like neither of you paying child support, you need to write an explanation into your custody agreement.
8. Discuss All Stipulations
Writing your child’s visitation schedule is more than just what time they’ll be picked up each week. If you have any stipulations, be it what your child can watch on TV or who can be around them, make sure to include it in the document. This is done to protect you, your child, and the custody agreement you’ve already decided upon.
9. Remember Your Child Needs Both Parents
This is hard to keep in mind, I know. No matter how much you’re hurting from your divorce or how badly your ex treated you, you have to remember that that doesn’t affect their parenting skills. Just because you and your ex couldn’t make it work doesn’t mean they aren’t as head over heels for your child as you are. Your child deserves both parents in their life.