Q: After years of just kind of drifting apart, my wife and I have decided to end the charade we have been living and file for a divorce.
Please understand that apart from disappointment, probably shared between the two of us, we are not parting through a hail of innuendoes or other moments of hatred and anger. We have no animosity. But we do have some concerns.
We have built up a sizable farm over the years and we will have to come to some kind of an understanding to preserve the financial integrity of our lands while ensuring that each of us has our fair share of the assets.
We have agreed to each hiring whom we think are competent lawyers to help us negotiate our finances. That should settle the farm.
The other concern is the major one. That is the children. We have two kids: a boy, who is eight years old and a little girl who is going on six.
Naturally we want what is best for both of them. That which seems to come up most frequently in conversations with each other and with other people with whom we have chatted in the community is something called shared custody. In shared custody, the kids would spend equal time with each of us and we would team up to deal with schools, recreational activities and family commitments. That sounds workable.
Do you know anything about shared custody? I would like to hear what you know.
A: Joint custody seems to be a preferable option for many families that are separating but otherwise recognize the significance of both parents in the developmental of their children.
It may not have the security or stability found in intact families but it is certainly preferable to those single parent custody arrangements that put one parent out to pasture while overwhelming the other parent with too much responsibility.
But joint custody doesn’t always work either. The extent to which it is successful is drawn from the abilities of both parents to recognize and respect the territorial boundaries of each of their homes while giving the children parallel routines so that living in one house for a few days is not significantly different than is living in the other house. Let me explain.
Although both you and your wife seem to be heading into your divorce within an amicable framework, divorce itself can bring out the worst in us. Who knows what your futures are going to bring. You could easily get caught in some kind of a competitive thing with your wife, just as she could get caught up in a moments of possessiveness and want more than her usual time with the children.
Your amicable divorce could end. Getting things going into a negative streak does not take much. But if you have firm boundaries between your homes, so that what goes on in your house is not discussed or reviewed with the children in her house it can work. The converse is also true, protecting her from misadventuresome comments in your house.
There will be moments that beg the need for conversation. Somewhere along the way one or both of you is going to decide that as the children get older the times that they are with each of you need to be reconsidered. Instead of one week back and forth they may prefer two weeks or longer. When this comes, when one or both of you wants to review the fundamental structure, you would do best to do as much of it as you can in writing. Writing requires clarity and when the requests are not clear misunderstanding can lead to unnecessary conflict between the two of you. If what you ask is in writing, the misunderstanding can be identified and corrected.
The biggest concern, otherwise, are the routines one house to another. Somehow you and your wife need to agree to bedtimes for the children, to times they are most likely to have their meals and the times they can set aside for their homework. The more that you can work together on understanding the times for your routines, the less likely that the children will get caught trying to play one parent off on another parent.
Shared custody is built on responsibility. As long as you and the children’s mother carry your sense of responsibility into shared custody, both of you can expect to have those moments when parenting brightens your hearts.
And isn’t that wonderful?