Many divorcing parents fight over “custody.” It has been found that underneath, they are usually not fighting about the children, but rather about something else. Usually that something else is one of the prizes or assumed benefits that parents believe flows from winning the “custody” label. When you are working on establishing a parenting plan, try not to get stuck on “custody.” Instead, think about what plan the two of you can create that will allow each of you to be the kind of parent you want to be. That is what is really important.
If you are worried about the other parent’s attempts to gain “custody,” then try to determine whether those attempts are really efforts to gain something else. If they are, you can then separate what you really want from the issue of when the children will be with each of you. The following are some of the real reasons (or what is sometimes called the prizes) that people are most often fighting over when they say they want custody of the minor children:
Who will live in the family home? The fight over custody of the children sometimes is really about who gets to stay in the home. The answer to this issue is to work in mediation on providing adequate living arrangements for the both of you.
Who will receive child support? The fight over custody of the children sometimes is really about who will get child support. The answer to this issue is to separate the issue of money from the issue of parenting. Your mediator will be able to help you with this when you go through the budget process.
Who will be able to move out of state in the future? The fight over custody of the children sometimes is really about preserving the right to move with the children or trying to prevent the other parent from moving with the children in the future. The answer to this issue is to discuss a possible agreement about both of you committing to remaining in the same area for a period of time.
Who will be in charge of the parenting schedule? The contest over custody of the children sometimes is really about who will be in charge and who must ask to see the children. The answer to this issue is to create a parenting schedule. With a schedule, there will be no game playing because the schedule will control who has the children, not one of you. Your mediator will be able to help you with this when you begin the process of building your parenting plan.
Is one parent trying to punish or hurt the other? The battle over custody of the children sometimes is really about one parent’s attempts to hurt the other or both parents’ attempts to hurt each other as much as possible. The answer to this issue is to realize that fighting in this way only succeeds in doing harm beyond repair to the children. Also, if the two of you find yourselves in this situation, consider marriage-closure therapy so that each of you can resolve your negative emotions and get on with the job of parenting.
Who is able to protect the children from the poor-quality parenting (drinking, gambling, or whatever) of the other parent? The battle over custody of the children sometimes is really about protecting the children from the bad influence of the other parent. The answer to this issue is to focus on the real problem, whether it is alcohol or drug abuse, inattentive parenting, inconsistent discipline, or whatever, and to make certain that your parenting plan stipulates ground rules about parental behavior with regard to that problem.
Who has the greatest fear of losing? The battle over custody of the children sometimes is really about the mother’s fear that it will appear as if “something is wrong with her” if she does not have sole physical custody. The answer to this issue is to focus on building a parenting plan and building some trust between the two of you so that neither of you has to fear the worst from the other. Another answer is to substitute the language of the custody labels such as agreeing to call it “Shared Parenting” in place of “Joint Physical Custody.”