How do I make joint custody work?
January 12, 2017 12:21 PM   Subscribe

I am in the process of getting divorced and I have two sons, ages 4 and 7. How do I make joint custody work most effectively for me and my kids?

At the moment, the kids are living with me, and my (soon to be ex) wife is around in the evening every day. She is in the process of closing on a house that is only a few block from my house and soon we will start 50/50 joint custody. We have a draft of a divorce agreement, and I understand the basics of joint custody - we will each have the kids for half the nights, and we will alternate weekends. Because of work schedules, we do not have a set schedule yet, but I expect to have them roughly every other night during the school week. But I have some very basic questions about what I should expect/what is the norm for joint custody and what is best for the kids.

1. Should the kids have two of everything (coats, boots, ipads, toothbrushes, etc.), one for each house?

2. On nights where the kids are at their mom's house, would it be a good idea to call and talk to them about their day in school, etc.? Or would it be better to let them focus on being at the other house undisturbed?

3. Should I insist on fixing a schedule that will be consistent over time, (ie, which nights will be mine etc), even if it may be hard to accomodate because of work, or should I remain flexible about which days? What is best for the kids?

4. Related to (2), what should be the expectation about each parent telling the other about day to day activies when they are with the other parent? A daily phone call/text about the kids? Is that too frequent? Or only when something unusual happens? I don't want to be left in the dark, but I also don't want to be a pest.

5. We have told the kids the basics of what is happening and that mommy and daddy will be living in separate houses. Is there anything else we should do or tell them when the day comes to start?

6. How do I keep track of schoolwork? How do I make sure it is being completed when the kids are at the other house?

7. Are there any recommended apps for sharing a joint calendar and/or keeping track of kids expenses that we will split?

8. What other tips/suggestions would you give about how to make this new situation work best for me and the kids?

Finally, a little context. The divorce was not my idea and I am seeing a counselour to deal with the issues that I am facing. I would describe my interactions with my wife as cordial, but occasionally tense.
posted by notme to Human Relations (30 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
 
They should definitely have two of everything like toothbrushes and other toiletries at each house - you want them to feel at home in both houses, and not having that stuff in both houses seems like it would be like full-time commuting. They shouldn't ever have to take luggage between houses unless they want to. (Maybe not the coats/boots though, since they're likely to need that stuff when moving from house to house and that would get logistically confusing real quick, and probably not the ipads because I can't see much benefit from that.)

I wouldn't call the kids because that would cut into their time with mom, and I think sharing info with your ex every day is major overkill and would disrupt both your lives a lot. (I also think you'll feel a lot less anxious about this after a little while - it makes sense that you worry about your kids when they're not with you, but they'll be fine!)

Unless you really don't trust your ex and/or kids to be on top of schoolwork, I wouldn't sweat this either, but maybe the seven-year-old should have a weekly planner that you can check.

Also - make sure to check in with the kids about whether they're ok with the alternating-day schedule. It could wind up working out great, but it's possible that they might find it stressful and would wind up preferring something like alternating weeks.

Come up with an agreement for how you will handle holidays.
posted by showbiz_liz at 12:35 PM on January 12, 2017 [5 favorites]


Seconding alternating weeks. Alternating days was insane for me as a young teenager, though the commute was car-only (so no way to get anything I forgot, etc). Honestly, my custody arrangement devolved into "kid makes a case to stay with the nice house because damn living in a house trailer even half the time is a miserable experience" but it sounds like that's not a factor (plus my parents had a weird living-arrangement swap baked into their separation agreement). But yea, be prepared for pushback on "every other night." It felt like I didn't live anywhere, and that was pretty awful.
posted by Alterscape at 12:42 PM on January 12, 2017 [28 favorites]


I am in this same alternating-days situation (technically, my current spouse is). Had I been there at the time, I think I would have advocated for alternating-weeks instead.

1 -- As much as you can, yes. But bear in mind that some stuff is going to get carried from one house to another (esp. winter wear and school supplies), and be flexible about getting back "your" coats.

2 -- We don't do this unless there's something important that we know happened.

3 -- We're very consistent (M,W,alternating weekends), but we're flexible about trading ("Hey, I have a thing out of town the first weekend in March -- can we swap?")

4 -- Only unusual stuff. If you're seeing them at least every fourth day, you'll find out about the day-to-day stuff soon enough.

5 -- Depends greatly. Focusing on them is the main thing: the standard "This is not about you, it's not your fault, we both still love you very much."

6 -- Ugh, this is a pain in the ass. As far as long-term stuff, make sure you're talking to their teacher, and talk to your ex regularly (weekly?) about it. But until you have a good reason to think otherwise, do them and your ex the favor of assuming that she wants them to succeed in school too.

7 -- Google Calendar works well for us for scheduling. For expenses, we just keep receipts and send each other an email every now and then to balance.

8 -- As I say in #6: remember that your ex-spouse still loves your kids, and the odds are pretty good that her decisions are not being made to spite you. Tell yourself that every now and then. Have a friend who you can occasionally (like, once or twice a year occasionally) ask, "Hey, am I being the asshole here?"
Don't assume that you'll work something out later about potential issues. Do the hard work now (as my current spouse puts it, "You're gonna cry. You want to do it now, or later?")
On preview, plan for holidays now. We found it best to say that basically any birthday/holiday on a Friday, Saturday, or Sunday flips the whole weekend (e.g., if it's the other house's turn to have the older boy on his birthday and it's on a Friday that we normally would have, the other house gets that whole weekend). They balance out.

As I say, I'm in the same situation. Feel free to MeMail me for details or further advice or just to vent.
posted by Etrigan at 12:46 PM on January 12, 2017 [4 favorites]


one thing i can tell you drove me nuts as a kid, and as such, please keep it in mind:

my dad really did not know what to do with us on his weekends. frequently, he would leave us on our own at his house while he went to see people or work or whatever it was he did. he lived, literally, about 1/4 mile from my mom's house. and since i got bored, and restless, and didn't feel like i needed to be at my dad's since he wasn't there, i would go home to my mom's. that is, until my stepfather had a fucking fit about me not being at my dad's on his weekend and took my house key away. and for whatever reason, my mom went along with this.

please, please, please, present a united front with your soon to be ex and tell your kids that they are welcome at either of your homes at any time. also, talk to her about neither of you taking it personally when it happens. i had different relationships with both my parents, and i felt more comfortable with my father on some issues and more comfortable with my mother on others. it was a slight to neither, and it sucked when they started fighting over it, because you can damn well believe i felt that tension.

just some perspective.
posted by koroshiya at 12:56 PM on January 12, 2017 [18 favorites]


I was a child advocate for a preschool-aged kiddo who was on an alternating days arrangement with his parents when I began the case. The very first thing I pushed for was to go to alternating weeks. Kiddos need as much consistency as possible in order to feel secure--the divorce will already be a huge upheaval for them, and being in the same place for a week at a time and building a routine with both Mom and Dad will be a big help.
posted by epj at 12:58 PM on January 12, 2017 [10 favorites]


The best thing you can do is be flexible with scheduling and accommodating to their other parent.

1. Toothbrushes and anything they wouldn't normally put in their backpacks on a school day, yes. Coats and boots, no. Socks and underwear, yes. If you can, space out the time they are switching between houses so they are not moving every night. You are in the same neighborhood so they should be able to go back and forth pretty easily and not lose friend-time. Fewer switches for them are better. Be flexible.

2. Both, it depends. Talk with them and their mom. And expect it to change once new routines are established.

3. Flexible is best. Typically they spend Wednesdays with you but if one of them gets into scouts and mom becomes a den mother, then Wednesdays become mom's and you take them on Thursdays. In fourth grade they have math tests on Tuesdays and you're the better math tutor, so Monday nights become your night. It's all about what is happening in the kids' lives.

4. Err on the side of more communication at first, until you are both used to the separateness and your kids being apart from you. Then find your rhythm. She may want more info when they are with you, you may be chill about what they're up to when they're with mom. Or vice versa.
And it will change with different developmental stages.

5. That you both love them very much, that whatever they are feeling is ok, that it is not their fault.

6. Communication. In intact families there is usually a default parent. If that is your ex, then support that by keeping them in the loop on whatever happens at your house. If it is you, then ask for their support while acknowledging their contribution.

8. Holidays! If at all possible, allow them to establish traditions of their own. My arrangement had my kids spend every Christmas eve/morning with me and Christmas dinner/night with their father. It allowed for real traditions of their own to develop that weren't colored by their parents' calendars. Easter meant much more to their father than to me so they spent all of their early Easters with him. Halloween they always trick-or-treated with my house as home base because that's where their friends were, and it's a kid holiday, not a parents' calendar holiday. Etc. The calendar helps the parents; the flexibility helps the kids.

Just asking this question gives me hope that you aren't going to use your kids in a proxy war against your ex the way so many parents do. Raising kids requires you to adapt constantly even in the best situation; when coparenting with an ex it is more complicated but can be done well if both parents put the kids first. Be open, be flexible, be loving. Keep doing what you are doing. I'm sorry for your situation.
posted by headnsouth at 1:01 PM on January 12, 2017 [1 favorite]


Since your relatioship still sounds relatively sane - could you find an arrangement where you and your wife do the commuting while your kids stay in one place? At least until they're a little bit older?
posted by The Toad at 1:03 PM on January 12, 2017 [4 favorites]


Instead of alternating days or weeks, my best friend's family growing up did Mon & Tues night at Mom's, Weds and Thurs at Dad's, and then alternated weekends. That way, Mom and Dad each saw the kid each week, but there were 5 night stints at each house baked in instead of so much back and forth. Keeping in mind it was not my family, it seemed to work fairly well when they lived within blocks of each other. Still rode the same school bus, etc. I always thought it was a pretty smart plan, as these things go.
posted by freezer cake at 1:09 PM on January 12, 2017 [10 favorites]


This will probably not be necessary but in case it becomes necessary, think now about how you want things to work if either parent moves away. Who drives the kids, who pays for it, how far can each person travel before it is an unfair burden on the kids to be en route so much of their time. Does the parent initiating the move need to also accept long weekends and summers rather than joint physical custody? How will that person ensure they remain relevant to the children? Will you input a clause (if legal in your state) that gives a guideline for support payments in the event that someone moves? I strongly recommend getting this hammered out and written into the divorce agreement now. It will save you thousands of minutes and dollars in the long run to have it sorted.

Also, let it be okay that you are coming up with your own unique routines and rituals with the kids. Your house doesn't have to be a facsimile of the other one, barring any massive value differences in parenting that would conflict with the parenting plan.

I do recommend that you try to offer the kids age-appropriate support that is NOT a parent. Perhaps notify the school guidance counselor so they can check in with them, or a trusted teacher. Kids may not want to talk about it but they may really want to, and need a safe neutral person to do that with.
posted by crunchy potato at 1:13 PM on January 12, 2017 [2 favorites]


Alternating days sounds maddening for kids. If you're going to go that route--and bear with me here--have you thought about having the adults swap houses and the kids stay put? We did a variant of this when I was a teenager and it actually worked out well. The adults in the situation had more resources to handle the dislocation, and we got the comfort of our same old home with just a different parent around.
posted by whitewall at 1:16 PM on January 12, 2017 [4 favorites]


Instead of alternating days or weeks, my best friend's family growing up did Mon & Tues night at Mom's, Weds and Thurs at Dad's, and then alternated weekends.

This is basically what I and my ex-wife have done, and it has worked well.
posted by Chrysostom at 1:17 PM on January 12, 2017 [6 favorites]


I agree with the other posters, specifically that alternating days will make everybody nuts, and [on preview: most of] the other recommendations.

Alternating weeks (specifically, Monday to Sunday) is much better. The end of the week is defined by delivery to school on Monday. Each parent's week will end with a (we hope) fun weekend.

Since the two homes are so close together and you both work, consider sharing the after-school caregiver, if you have one, for even more consistency between the two homes.

Also consider duplicate school books to the extent possible. Those backpacks are heavy. Leaving a book at home = the way it should be. Lugging a book between homes = torture.

The Toad's idea works for some people, but wouldn't work for me.

Seconding Etrigan, do the hard work now, and relax, it's going to be fine.
posted by JimN2TAW at 1:22 PM on January 12, 2017 [3 favorites]


I've not been divorced but morally supported a friend through it. They started on the alternate nights thing but quickly changed to a system where both had them 2 days a week & alternate weekends like others have stated. Consistency really helped the kids. The other thing that helped everyone was keeping the same after school care arrangement. So both parents used the same babysitter basically. What ever you end up doing consistency is the key, while some flexibility is nice kids feel more secure with a routine.
posted by wwax at 1:33 PM on January 12, 2017


Wow! Thanks for all the great and thoughtful replies so far.

Let me give a couple quick clarifications. In our divorce agreement, we have agreed on how to divide holidays and vacations etc. I am more anxious about the day to day experience of joint custody.

Also, I know the choice of schedule is a tricky one. We are going to start with every other day , but I am going to be flexible and also consider longer periods of time.

As I have really been the primary parent for quite some time, the thought of letting go and trusting my ex is difficult, but it is what I need to do.
posted by notme at 1:57 PM on January 12, 2017 [1 favorite]


Chrysostom: "Instead of alternating days or weeks, my best friend's family growing up did Mon & Tues night at Mom's, Weds and Thurs at Dad's, and then alternated weekends.

This is basically what I and my ex-wife have done, and it has worked well.
"

N-ing this. My ex and I did that with our son for twelve years and it worked out well. We also had houses nearby each other so that he never felt like he lived in two different towns. He would basically get on the school bus at my house on Wednesday morning and then take the bus to his mom's house that afternoon and then reverse that on the next Monday.
posted by octothorpe at 2:10 PM on January 12, 2017 [1 favorite]


Every time the kids have to shift custody, it's a big transition, a whole lot of emotional gearing up and down and adjusting to dad's style or mum's style. You want the fewest routine changes for the children, which is why a week on, week off is such a popular schedule for equal joint custody, so kids get a stretch of time that fits around school and is predictable and reduces transition time.

If you make it a week, you can have calls with the kids to talk about school at a set time in the evening. They'll miss you, and a week is too long to go without seeing another parent. If your relationship is amiable enough, you could have a midweek meal where the non custodial for the week parent takes the kids out to give the other parent a break and vice versa but be flexible on that.
posted by dorothyisunderwood at 2:14 PM on January 12, 2017


Please be very gentle with your kids, now and as they grow older, when it becomes clear they've forgotten something important at the other house. It could be a jacket or their homework or one piece of a puzzle or who the heck knows what. It was a deeply painful part of my growing up as a child of divorced parents that my parents were so shitty about this. It was *hard* for me to think ahead, particularly with respect to homework. That project that's due next week...for which you need Textbook A, but it ends up being left at Parent X's house because you don't need it right now and then all of a sudden oops you need it. It was *doubly hard* that I got lectures about "being responsible" whenever this happened. I'm in my late 40s and I still remember the pain and stress of this. (Just realized I was literally clenching my jaw as I typed this.)
posted by BlahLaLa at 2:14 PM on January 12, 2017 [23 favorites]


From the perspective of a stepfather who has been living this:

1. Should the kids have two of everything (coats, boots, ipads, toothbrushes, etc.), one for each house?
Definitely on basic things like toothbrushes. I wouldn't go crazy trying to duplicate everything, but over time they will accumulate things in both places. You're close enough together that it's not the end of the world if something is forgotten at one house, which will happen. Also, sometime soon, you will buy them an expensive gift that you're excited about them having at your house. They'll be all excited and want to take it with them to your ex's. You will never see it again. This will make you crazy. Bury it, remind yourself that it was for THEM, and assume it will even out over time. Because it will.

2. On nights where the kids are at their mom's house, would it be a good idea to call and talk to them about their day in school, etc.? Or would it be better to let them focus on being at the other house undisturbed?
I would not intervene for routine things like this, let them settle in. You'll hear from them often enough (especially when things are not going their way and they demand to Call Daddy, which is a game you need to play extremely carefully), and that'll be a good time to ask how things are going in school, etc.

3. Should I insist on fixing a schedule that will be consistent over time, (ie, which nights will be mine etc), even if it may be hard to accomodate because of work, or should I remain flexible about which days? What is best for the kids?
You should be flexible and cordial with your ex, and help each other out even when it's not convenient, thus serving as a positive role model for them and doing what is best for all of you.

4. Related to (2), what should be the expectation about each parent telling the other about day to day activies when they are with the other parent? A daily phone call/text about the kids? Is that too frequent? Or only when something unusual happens? I don't want to be left in the dark, but I also don't want to be a pest.
None, unless something noteworthy comes up or there are specific concerns you need to work together on.

5. We have told the kids the basics of what is happening and that mommy and daddy will be living in separate houses. Is there anything else we should do or tell them when the day comes to start?
I have nothing that hasn't already been said.

6. How do I keep track of schoolwork? How do I make sure it is being completed when the kids are at the other house?
You don't. It's on your ex when they're with her, and she will do it differently than you. That's not a bad thing, as the kids will learn the contrast in styles. They will probably necessarily need to grow up a little quicker than they would have in terms of managing things themselves, but that's also not a bad thing.

7. Are there any recommended apps for sharing a joint calendar and/or keeping track of kids expenses that we will split?
Google calendar has worked great for us. In the event that you don't know about multiple overlapping calendars, it's time to get up to speed.

8. What other tips/suggestions would you give about how to make this new situation work best for me and the kids?
Again, be flexible and helpful to each other. Say only nice things about your ex in front of the kids, and vent to someone else. Switch to weekly exchanges. We exchange on Sunday evenings during the school year, and Monday evenings in the summer because dropping off overtired kids fresh off a weekend of fun was a bad thing. We found that exchange nights were routinely traumatic ("Sunday Night Dumpster Fire") and made them extremely low key to the point of barely acting glad to see them. Just let them get settled in, and wait until Monday with any expectations. Find times to do things with them individually, rather than always having both kids together. Know that there will be times when the kids will beg to go to the other house because it's "better" for some reason or another, and it will be heartbreaking. Assume that this also goes in both directions. Do not alter schedule based on that, and absolutely do not get into an arms race with your ex trying to make yours the place they would rather be. Remind yourself that the reasons they claim to want to go are either trivial, or conjured up for strategic reasons. Unless neither of those things are true, but still don't give in to it. Split custody is their lot in life, and there will be peaks and valleys at both homes.
posted by LowellLarson at 2:25 PM on January 12, 2017 [5 favorites]


I had similar questions when the same thing happened to me a few years ago. Reading Mom's House, Dad's House: Making two homes for your child by Isolina Ricci helped me *tremendously.*

The book provided quite a bit of good advice for dealing with the legal, logistical, and emotional challenges of divorce.

I wish you all the best.
posted by the matching mole at 2:53 PM on January 12, 2017


Having spent about 5 years of my 8 y.o.'s life doing this - a nominal 50/50 custody split with both parents within about 5 minutes drive - here's my experience.

1. Some bigger budget items go with the kid. Coats, sneakers, snow gear, book bag for school, etc. Some big things (e.g. Kindle) are duplicated. Anything smaller stays at the individual households. This includes pants, tops, etc. I will wash the clothes that kiddo arrives in and send them back. similarly, I will get the clothes that I send kiddo of in, back to me at some point.

We've found it useful to have a small holdall that makes the transition too. But this is the parents' responsibility to pack, and not the kid's.

2. No calls. Sometimes the kiddo asks to text/send a pic to the other parent, when they are doing something cool. And a short dialog ensues.

3. In my experience, yes yes yes. In fact a fixed custody schedule has helped to shape and plan my work schedule, as I enter it all into a spreadsheet, and can easily see for instance if kiddo is will be with me on July 30 2017.

FYI, we do 3 days house A, 3 days house B, 4 days house A, 4 days house B, then repeat. I'm hoping to shift to weekly swaps at some point. Other parent is reluctant to though. But this is something we'll work out.

If you read me previous AskMes, I've had some good advice from folks here on getting a proper schedule nailed down. If you cover for each other, agree that you will actually be swapping time. Otherwise you could be in a position where you are providing free cover and not getting anything back.

4. It's been hard for me but the best expectation is not to have that much contact in between. See 1. I usually ask how the kiddo's time has been when I pick kiddo up.

5. In my experience I did not really do this. In my case the other parent took the decision to move out. The other partner did a lot of explaining I think.

6. In my experience, you can't keep track of homework. Just make sure that it is done at your place. Any concerns would come up at teacher-parent conferences.

7. For calendars, we just use email. So there is a record. I maintain the spreadsheet with dates. For cash expenditures, I gave up on this, because while it was easy to keep track it can be hard to get the cash out of the other person.

8. A jointly-created custody agreement. You can use a mediator and not lawyers to draw one up. Lots of stuff will come up. Such as who has Xmas, birthdays, etc. Who claims kids as dependents on tax returns each year. Feel free to MeMail me and I will send further details.

Very best of luck.
posted by life moves pretty fast at 3:01 PM on January 12, 2017 [2 favorites]


Weekly trade offs (as opposed to 2-3-3 or variations) can be tricky when kids are sick and one parent has to take off multiple days in a row. Put some thought into how to handle that.

Come to some kind of alignment on who takes them to regular and ad hoc appointments, and who keeps possession of any ID or paperwork which is required for doctors visits etc.

Agree on a turnaround time for responses to requests to adjust the schedule. This is especially important if one of you is a 'planner' and ie. already thinking about a summer road trip that spans the other's time, and the other only makes last minute plans.
posted by walkinginsunshine at 3:39 PM on January 12, 2017


walkinginsunshine has a good point. Another consideration: my boss would rather know that I am available every Wednesday evening, rather than every other Wednesday evening (which boss cannot keep track of).

Advance notice for trips is the sort of thing that can be built into a custody agreement. Does not have to be binding of course but then at least both parties have something to orient to.
posted by life moves pretty fast at 4:57 PM on January 12, 2017


Another bad thing about weekly swaps is after-school clubs. I would strongly recommend the 2-2-3 method, as then "dad always takes us to karate on Tuesday", "mum always takes us to sports on Wednesday" stays consistent, and each parent can "own" that particular after-school event and make sure kit and subs are paid, etc.
posted by tillsbury at 5:38 PM on January 12, 2017 [7 favorites]


My ex and I have an every other day arrangement with our 10 year old and it works out really well (4+ years now).

While every other week would make my social life easier, going a week without seeing my son isn't an option I want to explore.

The other piece of advice I'd give is to never, ever, ever ask your kids for info about your mom. If they want to share things, by all means, listen to them, but putting them in the middle or using them as a source of info is a really bad idea.

Also, I'd also recommend communicating in writing with your ex (text or email). It makes it *so* much easier to remember who's dropping them off at the birthday party and who's got a science project due next week.

Good luck to you - you sound like you've thought a lot of things through, which is a big part of it. Feel free to message me if you need to borrow an ear or want to talk to someone who's living it.
posted by Twicketface at 6:41 PM on January 12, 2017 [3 favorites]


Even with good intentions, clothes can be a challenge. One house has three sweatshirts, the other none because the weather changed. Or kids grow and one parent keeps the clothes that fit and sends the kid back in the pants that are too short. When my kids were little, twice a year I would gather all clothes from both houses, weed out the old ones and redistribute evenly. (I was responsible for buying clothes although we would split the cost).
posted by Sukey Says at 8:05 PM on January 12, 2017


The current thinking for kids this young is a 2-2-3. Alternative weeks for children this young is just horrible.
I would strongly suggest you all work with a mediator on this.
The co-parenting handbook is a good resource.
posted by k8t at 12:46 AM on January 13, 2017


(2+ years of co-parenting with a young child)

Nthing that 2-2-3 is good, especially if you'll be close by. It's a lot of switching but once you get used to what needs to go back and forth it's not too bad and I think it is nicer for the kids.

Daily calls will be overkill, my son has been largely uninterested in that unless he's got a specific request or one of us is gone more than a few days.

Each of you needs to be willing to drop forgotten items by (favorite books, toys, schoolwork), within reason, and the kids will get better at keeping track of their items (or at least, my 5 year old has). Make your place feel like home, maintain specific spaces for each of your children that are consistent even when they're gone (beyond their bedroom depending on space).

Make sure teachers (and the school secretary) understand that there are two households, I've found that to be one frustrating thing, request two copies of schedules and notices if possible - especially for things like field trip permissions. We take photos of notices/schedules as needed with our smartphones and send them to each other.

A shared online calendar like gmail is good, I'm sure there are more tailored apps as well. A little notebook that goes back and forth for communication might be good for schoolwork but I find a few texts a day is not that bad if you keep what you share with one another relevant and necessary, like "Kid 1 said they weren't feeling well this morning", or "Kid 2 was up early this morning, they will likely need an extra early bedtime", or "Kid 2 is resisting going to school, here's what I've been telling them" or "Kid 1 wants a playdate with Katie do you want me to arrange that on my time or do you want to have them over?". That communication is important and could also be done via email but truly text is more efficient and timely imo. Birthday parties are another thing that can get confusing if you don't communicate well, like one parent rsvp's but doesn't tell the other parent and the party falls on the other parent's day.

I live near my ex (a ten minute drive), and while it doesn't happen often we each have a spare key to the other's place. If you guys can trust each other I think it's nice to have an agreement for that sort of access so if one of you is traveling there's less stress if someone left something they really need, basically the children should never feel like the other parent's house is closed off to them regardless of who is with them. I do this so that if I'm away for a week and my son is really missing a toy, or needs his health card it's not an emergency or stress while I'm away.
posted by lafemma at 7:31 AM on January 13, 2017


From my own/daughter's experience (having just reviewed this with my 17 year old about what we did right and wrong as she's reflecting on her childhood from age 5 going forward):

- Every other day is painful and disruptive. Even half week was disruptive once she was in junior high. Kids need a sense of being able to settle in and have a sense of stability. When she was little, we did what we jokingly called a handoff report in email. "She was good/bad/lazy this week. We had an issue with this and so she's grounded from TV until Wednesday. She ate well/had a headache on Tuesday. She has a school report due Friday" This meant that I could templatize it and keep it very separate from any divorce or personal stuff. It was just health, school, appointments, social engagements, emotions and discipline.

- Two of everything basic. Don't make them feel like they have to pack/travel except for special things (laptop, school projects). Allow them to explore different sides of themselves in each home. (My daughter's room is very different at my ex's house than at mine in decor, set up, etc. She loves both rooms.)

- Either Google Voice or a mobile phone as soon as the kids have social things. Even if it's just for Aunt Jane able to text Happy Birthday and not have to worry about where the kid is, but also for coordinating play dates, etc.

- Respect boundaries and let them develop separate relationships and lives while they're not at your house. Make a routine of talking about "How was school this week, what was the best thing you did this weekend, etc." to provide an opportunity to share what's happening, but don't probe on what's happening at mom's house unless the kids offer it.

- +1 to a shared calendar - for when school is closed, who has custody when (especially for when you need to trade/adjust for things). We have a set standard, but then we trade when either of us has a business trip, etc. (something we do in the handoff reports. Great for blocking out "birthday party at Connor's" or "Class Field Trip - need to bring a lunch"

- Share documents. You can ask school to send two copies, but school won't. They just have too much to do. So setting up a method of sharing things - a shared Google Drive folder, sending a phone picture, etc. is really important.
posted by Gucky at 11:31 AM on January 13, 2017


Absolutely let the kids' teachers know what's going on - without going into all the details. Often kids let their emotions out in strange ways at school and a teacher who knows that there's some intense change happening is better able to help the kids cope, even if it's purely in an indirect way. As well, the teacher can be more understanding of forgotten papers/homework - knowing that a child spends time in two different households. Teachers can also be more sensitive about particularly assignments if they know that a kid in their class is going through a tough time.

YMMV, but my husband and I share an email address (through gmail) that forwards to both of our personal accounts. Depending on how technologically adept you both are, this may be a good thing. We set it up with ourlastname@..com and both of us have the ability to "send-as" that account without logging in. This allows us to both see any emails from school or other important places - without relying on the other to forward it along. The only catch is that it does require us to bcc the other's personal account on replies if they're important for the other parent to know.
posted by VioletU at 12:34 PM on January 13, 2017


Have an agreement re weekend activities and transportation and time. I've lost a Girl Scout from my troop because her dad wanted her to do scouting and her mom didn't, and I know other leaders who've had the same problem. As your kids get older there are going to be more things like soccer practice on Saturday mornings.
posted by The corpse in the library at 9:31 AM on January 18, 2017


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