Organising the custody of children after a divorce is one of the most stressful things that people can go through. For some couples it can involve lengthy court battles. In rare cases of abusive parents courts can order that the parent has no access at all.
However, a lot of couples do not face such drama. Although it is still extremely difficult for families to come to their own arrangements, the effects are a lot easier to cope with than having a decision forced down by a judge.
If children are old enough, many parents like to include them in the decision about custody. This is a difficult thing to do and must be handled sensitively and appropriately to their age, but many children cope better if they feel they have been empowered in this way.
If you and your partner do want to involve your children in the custody decision, then you must ensure you do so very carefully. You must be at a stage where you can talk to your children honestly and openly together without any bickering between you. Children must be able to see you still as a united front and not worry that any of their decisions will cause further upset.
It is worth either consulting a child psychologist, or doing plenty of reading on the subject before you start. Children do not always respond to situations in a logical way and even teenagers do not have all the communication to say what it is they want and can therefore lash out and do the opposite.
For example, a child may know that one parent who is not the main carer has been unfaithful and has moved out. As an adult we would think that the child would be angry with that parent and seek solace with the main carer and ‘innocent’ parent. However, many children lash out at the remaining parent as they perceive them as the person who should have protected them from the emotional turmoil. This can leave the main parent feeling very hurt and aggrieved, so it is important to understand how and why your children may react.
How to help
If you are to help your children decide, then you must do so in an unbiased way and reassure them that both parents will always be there to provide love and support and their decisions will never be held against them.
If you do not feel that you can do this, then allowing children to choose is not the right path for your family. Let them know all the facts about where they would be living and who with and how they would get to and from school and how far away from their friends they would be.
Answer any questions they have, and if it seems like the burden of choosing is too much for them then seek an alternative route.
Still seek legal advice
Even if you have had the most amicable divorce and have come to the most amicable of decisions about custody involving all your children, it is imperative that you seek legal advice to put it all down on paper.
This is not just to protect against future conflict, but also to help you to make decisions about factors that you won’t have even thought about. For example, who looks after the children on inset days when you are both supposed to be at work? Who is the first contact for the school for any medical issues? There are a whole wealth of problems that as co-parents you will have to deal with, having it in writing will ensure you know what to expect when the unexpected happens.