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Parenting Issues This forum is for discussing any of the parenting issues involved in your divorce, including parenting of step-children.

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Old 05-02-2011, 01:48 PM
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Default Joint Physical Custody: Smart Solution or Problematic Plan?

From here Joint Custody: Smart Solution or Modern Mess


By Roz Zinner, LCSW-C
Divorce and Family Mediation Services
Suite 301
1406-b Crain Highway S
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Divorce Mediation in Maryland

Background

In recent years, shared or joint physical custody has gained tremendous popularity as a means of caring for children after a divorce. While the court has the final word on custody decisions, the judge or master upholds most negotiated settlements.

Physical custody refers to the parent's right to have the children actually reside in that parent's home. Shared physical custody can take many forms, from summers at father's and the school year with mother, to switching homes every other day. Children have two primary residences, even if time in each is not equal. Joint legal custody, outside the scope of this article, refers to the shared responsibility, regardless of where the children are living, for making major decisions about a child's welfare including education, health care, and religious upbringing. Frequently divorcing couples share legal custody without sharing physical custody. When divorce mediators work with couples they help in developing a parenting agreement, and avoid the inflammatory term "custody" when possible. In this article, however, the term "custody" will be used for purposes of clarity.

Why has joint physical custody gained in popularity?

One positive reason is that women and men are realizing more the importance of fathers to children, and more men want to have a primary role in their lives. Many fathers are no longer content to be the biweekly visitor while Mom retains sole custody. As traditional marital roles shift, our concepts of the best way to parent children after divorce change also.

Another reason for the increase in popularity relates to the increase in mothers who must work full-time. Solo parenting becomes quite difficult for a mother with a demanding full-time job, especially one with overtime or a commute. Many couples, whose pre-separation lives were already stretched thin, find they must cooperate and juggle time to manage the childcare needs of their children.

In some cases, the choice of shared physical custody is a means for avoiding a prolonged, bitter custody battle unlikely to yield any real winners. Because of the very nature of the adversarial process, conflict is often exacerbated and communication breaks down. Judges attempt to rule in favor of what is in the best interests of the child, and when there are two competent parents, this is an obvious solution.

What are the advantages of joint custody?

1. Living in both households allows children to maintain a strong relationship with both parents. Research shows that half of all children in joint custody arrangements see both parents weekly, but only about 1 in 10 children of primary custody agreements see their non-custodial parent that often. (1)

When both parents are available, children enjoy the unique gifts of guidance, discipline, and love of each parent. Additional advantages are the role models that fathers can nurture and mothers take charge.

2. Children benefit when parental relations are cooperative and there is no extended legal wrangling. When parents are reasonably satisfied with their custody plan, they are more likely to cooperate on a range of issues. Children are less likely to manipulate, and learn that conflicts can be resolved in a civil way.

Research shows that couples who use divorce mediation, rather than litigation, decide on joint custody twice as often. In Mom's House, Dad's House, Isolina Ricci, Ph.D., wrote, "When children are free to love both their parents without conflict of loyalty, to have access to them both without fear of losing either, they can get on with the totally absorbing business of growing up, on schedule. (2)

Barbara Hauser, a social worker with 20 years experience assessing litigating parents wrote: "Parents have no idea how much they are hurting their children when they prime their child to criticize the other parent." (3)

3. Children in shared custody have "normal time" with both parents. When mothers have primary custody, "Sunday Dads" often shower kids with costly activities and gifts aimed at making up for lost time. This is turn generates resentment from mothers who feel they are left with the less glamorous jobs of setting limits and disciplining. Moreover, mothers on tight budgets feel cheated when they cannot afford to be as generous.

4. Joint custody mitigates the traumatic sense of loss and rejection children often feel when a parent moves out. Judith Wallerstein, who did the most comprehensive longitudinal study of the impact of divorce on children, found that 10 years after the divorce, children who were allowed continuous access to both parents appeared less likely to suffer from feelings of loss, rejection, and low self-esteem.

Anecdotally, clinical social workers working with children with access to only one parent, found they expressed their anger in both subtle and direct ways. They were more depressed, withdrawn, and uncommunicative, and had more somatic symptoms.

5. Children in joint custody may benefit materially, as child support is paid fully 75% of the time, compared to 46% in solo custody arrangements. (4)

What are the disadvantages of shared custody?

1. Children's lives may resemble that of a travelling salesman, never settled in any one place. This is particularly true when there are no consistent schedules known ahead of time, and children move back and forth at the whim of parental needs. It is compounded when each child's developmental, educational, and social needs are not considered.

Children with learning disabilities, for example, will have more trouble organizing their schoolwork when they shuttle between 2 homes. When two parents keep track of school assignments in different places, gaps easily occur. "I thought you were keeping up with his math" is a familiar refrain.

2. The psychological impact may be a sense of lack of control and chaos in a child's life. Predictability and stability help children develop confidence and the ability to take reasonable risks.

Judith Wallerstein studied families who were contesting custody and whose shared custody arrangements were, to some extent, involuntary. She reported on her concern that the frequent transitions under joint custody can exacerbate the divorced child's fear of abandonment. "It's because the child feels safe nowhere. Conflict is bad for children, and if you put them more in the middle, it's bad. (5)

3. Expenses are greater in maintaining two full residences. There is duplication in need for clothing, furniture, and other necessities. In Wallerstein's study, 85 % of the kids from intact families headed to college, compared to 50% of children in divorced families. This at least partially relates to the long-term financial strain. (6)

4. Fathers are sometimes unprepared for the actual responsibilities of shared custody. Despite the influence of the feminist movement, the reality is that most women are still the primary caretakers of children, even when they work full-time. Some fathers grow easily into an expanded role, others have more difficulty.

5. When parents have unresolved marital issues, joint custody can exacerbate family conflict. Today, most of the 34 states with joint-custody laws give judges the power to order joint custody (or sole custody) even when there is objection by one or both parents. (7)

This fact is troubling because joint custody requires much more frequent discussion between partners, and this contact can compound the conflict and animosity already present. When a parent remarries and there are "step" children, new loyalty issues need to be sorted out. The new spouse may resent the constant presence of the ex-spouse in the fabric of every day life. In contrast, some people whose sole custody arrangement requires minimal ex-spouse contact, report that this allows them greater freedom to move forward in their lives.
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Old 05-02-2011, 01:49 PM
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What can parents do to make joint custody successful?

First, parents should consider the trust level around parenting issues they had during their marriage. Other key considerations are the strength of parents' motivation to make it work, the children's needs and personalities, and the practical and financial situation of the family.

Research points to the conclusion that the parents' emotional adjustment before the divorce may be the best predictor of how each will behave afterwards, regardless of the type of custody. Ironically, it appears that children whose parents are in less conflict will fare best in either arrangement. (8)

Shared custody works best when:

· Parents can maintain a civil, business-like relationship.

· Arrangements are planned around the children's needs and developmental requirements.

· Schedules are predictable and stable but flexible enough to change when circumstances dictate it.

· Parents live in physical proximity.

· Parents are careful to support and not undermine each other, regardless of their own feelings.

· Financial resources are available to maintain two full residences.

How can a divorcing couple develop a quality joint custody agreement?

Divorce mediation offers the best structure for discussing and negotiating both large and small details of the parenting agreement. Mediators are specially trained to help couples learn to communicate in the business-like way they will need to make joint custody work.

Partners talk face to face and remain in control of these important decisions, rather than turning them over to the unknown outcome of 2 lawyers' negotiations or the judge's finding.

Our adversarial system sets up the two parties to do battle with each other. This can be expensive both financially and emotionally. Once a downward cycle of demands and accusations gets started, it becomes increasingly difficult for partners to come to a mutually agreeable parenting plan.

It is not a coincidence that mediated divorces result in joint custody much more frequently than adversarial ones. A trained mediator can help parents discuss what is best for their children, and help them decide whether joint custody is a smart solution or a problematic plan for their family.

Footnotes

1.

i Gustafson-Peterson, Ross D., "The Effects of Divorce Mediation," Parkside Human Services Corporation, Park Ridge, Illinois, 1985.

2.

ii Ricci PH.D.Isolina, Mom's House, Dad's house, New York: Simon and Shuster, 1980.

3.

iii Zinmeister, Karl, "Divorce's Toll on Children," American Enterprise, May-June 1996.

4.

iv Glaser, Sarah, "JOINT CUSTODY: IS IT GOOD FOR THE CHILDREN?" Congressional Quarterly Inc., 1989.

5.

v Judith S. Wallerstein, "Children after Divorce: Wounds that Don't Heal," New York Times Magazine, Jan. 22, 1989, pp. 19, 42. The complete study is contained in Wallerstein's SECOND CHANCES: MEN, WOMEN, & CHILDREN A DECADE AFTER DIVORCE (1989).

6.

vi Wallerstein, Judith, SECOND CHANCES: MEN, WOMEN, & CHILDREN A DECADE AFTER DIVORCE (1989).

7.

vii Glaser, Sarah, ibid.

8.

viii William S. Coysh, Janet R. Johnston, Jeanne M. Tschann, Judith S. Wallerstein and Marsha Kline, PARENTAL POSTDIVORCE ADJUSTMENT IN JOINT AND SOLE PHYSICAL CUSTODY FAMILIES, Center for the Family in Transition, 1988, p. 30.

Copyright 2000 by Roz Zinner, LCSW-C
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Old 05-02-2011, 06:23 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by WorkingDAD View Post
What are the disadvantages of shared custody?

1. Children's lives may resemble that of a travelling salesman, never settled in any one place. This is particularly true when there are no consistent schedules known ahead of time, and children move back and forth at the whim of parental needs. It is compounded when each child's developmental, educational, and social needs are not considered.
The old fashioned custody/access schedule was most commonly Wednesdays and EOW. Guess what, the child doesn't settle into the access parent's home, feels like a "travelling salesman" or a visitor. The comment "back and forth at the whim of parental needs" is a red herring. This is only true if the parents have somehow agreed between them on flex schedule. Ordinarily the schedule would be fixed and predictable for both parents and the child.

Quote:
Children with learning disabilities, for example, will have more trouble organizing their schoolwork when they shuttle between 2 homes. When two parents keep track of school assignments in different places, gaps easily occur. "I thought you were keeping up with his math" is a familiar refrain.
According to whom? Of course children with disabilities need extra assistance, they also benefit from the attention and imput of 2 parents instead of just one. One parent can easily burn out being the sole custodial parent of a disabled child. Meanwhile, keeping track of school assignments requires a bit of effort, communication and co-operation between the parents, exactly the same as when a child is spending a night over at an access parent's home.

Quote:
2. The psychological impact may be a sense of lack of control and chaos in a child's life. Predictability and stability help children develop confidence and the ability to take reasonable risks.
ALL children going through a divorce with their parents will have a sense of lack of control and chaos, this is inevitable in the situation. What evidence is there that in a shared parenting situation, where a child continues to feel they have the equal love and time with both parents, that there is LESS control and MORE chaos than when they lose one parent to EOW status?

Quote:
Judith Wallerstein
Who the f*ck is she and why should I care what she thinks?
Quote:
studied families who were contesting custody and whose shared custody arrangements were, to some extent, involuntary. She reported on her concern that the frequent transitions under joint custody can exacerbate the divorced child's fear of abandonment. "It's because the child feels safe nowhere. Conflict is bad for children, and if you put them more in the middle, it's bad. (5)
She has a concern but no facts or statistics to back it up otherwise she would have provided them. In a shared custody situation the child is keeping equal access with both parents and doesn't lose either parent to EOW status. This somehow exacerbates a feeling of abandonment?

Quote:
3. Expenses are greater in maintaining two full residences. There is duplication in need for clothing, furniture, and other necessities. In Wallerstein's study, 85 % of the kids from intact families headed to college, compared to 50% of children in divorced families. This at least partially relates to the long-term financial strain. (6)
I'm not sure why these two points are conflated since they have no relationship to each other. A significantly higher percentage of children from shared arrangements going to college is NOT a disadvantage. Meanwhile, yes, maintaining two full households can be a greater cost, however this is compared to an access parent needing to maintain at least a "1.5" household where they can have the children for weekends, instead of living in a rooming-house.

Quote:
4. Fathers are sometimes unprepared for the actual responsibilities of shared custody. Despite the influence of the feminist movement, the reality is that most women are still the primary caretakers of children, even when they work full-time. Some fathers grow easily into an expanded role, others have more difficulty.
Some mothers are crack addicts. Other mothers drown their babies. But of course it is fathers who are "sometimes unprepared". If a father is unprepared, they will learn quickly the same way the mother did. Women don't get college degrees in childcare before they get pregnant.

Quote:
5. When parents have unresolved marital issues, joint custody can exacerbate family conflict. Today, most of the 34 states with joint-custody laws give judges the power to order joint custody (or sole custody) even when there is objection by one or both parents. (7)

This fact is troubling because joint custody requires much more frequent discussion between partners, and this contact can compound the conflict and animosity already present.
When there is animosity, there are options of parallel parenting where one is responsible for school, the other for medical, or shared residence but sole legal decision making. With a week on/week off schedule there is no need for the parents to speak or have contact any more often than with a sole custody/access arrangement. When a child is with one parent, that parent is responsible for day to day decision making and there is no need constant discussion.
Quote:
When a parent remarries and there are "step" children, new loyalty issues need to be sorted out. The new spouse may resent the constant presence of the ex-spouse in the fabric of every day life. In contrast, some people whose sole custody arrangement requires minimal ex-spouse contact, report that this allows them greater freedom to move forward in their lives.
When a parent remarries in sole custody situation the same loyalty issues need to be sorted out. Emotions don't cease to exist just because a parent has sole custody. There is no evidence provided that the children are in any way exposed to greater issues here. Moreover, children are not made of glass, they are resilient and adapatable and can deal with step-parents and siblings if they are treated reasonably and with respect by the adults.
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Old 05-03-2011, 10:33 AM
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Well
I am in process of creating research base for my case. So have to read both sides to have an idea what can be thrown at me...

That why I decided to post it...
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Old 05-03-2011, 10:44 AM
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Mess, I love your comment "women don't get college degrees in childcare before they get pregnant"

That pretty well sums it up. The best option is always for the kids to know both parents, while a step parent can be a good roll model its nothing compared to their actual Mother and Father. Why should a child lose their father because Mom is a B%^$? is it the childs fault that Mom can't move forward?
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Old 05-03-2011, 02:08 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by iceberg View Post
I understand. I was doing lot's of research on this subject myself. People (men or women) who are against shared custody, their best argument is child/rens stability. They call it bouncing from home to home, different rules or discipline in each home, child feels insecure and so on.

Here is something funny. When I was with my ex she always told me # of times that she loves her father much more than her mom. I even noticed that she paid much more respect to him than to her mom.

Now, when she argues with me that moms are the more important parents and so on, I ask how come she loves her dad more than her mom. She says she doesn't
I have the same situation. I MEAN EXACTLY THE SAME (about "loves her father much more than her mom")

It's not even funny anymore ))
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Old 05-03-2011, 02:20 PM
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Same thing, my ex was much closer to her dad.
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Old 05-18-2011, 02:26 PM
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The judicial system is not set up to encourage the best interest of the child. It sides with the custodial parent assuming they always have the child's best interest in mind when we all know that's not always the case. I think the new law in the UK is perfect...let father's sign off their parental rights/obligations as soon as she says she pregnant...you'd see less women having children.

...go!
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Old 05-18-2011, 02:35 PM
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I'm thinking of filing for shared custody in my response to my ex's motion to change. She wanted to take our 13 yr old son on vacation during my time and I refused since she threatened to call the police on my last summer. She wanted to change the pick-up location and I refused so she passed empty threats of the cops. She picked him up without incident but I decided to stop agreeing to her 'changes' every summer and stand firm to my time with my son. She served me for increased support (which I can't afford with another ex I pay child support to, 2 little ones and a retired mother at home).

I'm thinking of filing for shared custody to reduce the support. My son already has his space at my house. He comes every 2 wks and all summer. She wants more time in the summer and flexibility for her trips.

Thoughts? Advice?
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Old 05-18-2011, 03:47 PM
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Asking for Shared Custody in response to her wanting some summer time with the kids doesn't look so good on you.
Asking for Shared Custody to save money also does not look so good on you (don't even THINK about giving that reason in court!).

I'm not saying that you are wrong to want Shared Custody, but, why not start with looking at how to accomodate her desire for some vacation time in summer. That seems like an entirely reasonable request.

Typically you would agree that each parent gets so many weeks each summer, and you get first choice of weeks one year, then she gets first pick the next year (or come up with some other decision-making mechanism to make the coordination easier).

The fact that she has shown some annoying behaviour is not grounds for ignoring her summer time request (or countering with your own 50-50 request).

If her CS request is within the CS guidelines, there's not much you can do about it. You could try to claim 'undue hardship' (look it up), but from what I hear, this is rarely successful. If it's above the guidelines, then tell her to get stuffed.

It sounds like you can do some bargaining though on the time split i.e. I'll give you 4 exta weeks in summer, and you give me <??> in return. Asking for 50-50 time in return is not in the same league - if you are asking for this, it is a completely separate battle.

Last edited by dinkyface; 05-18-2011 at 03:58 PM.
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