Making Custody a Win-Win
Rose M. Allen, Extension Educator — Family Resiliency; Ellie M. McCann, Extension Educator — Family Resiliency; Joanne L. Musich, Extension Educator — Family Resiliency; and Minnell L. Tralle, Extension Educator — Family Resiliency
While custody arrangements rightly need to put children’s interests first, they also need to work for both parents. A “win-win” solution for a joint custody arrangement after divorce means that the plan:
- Puts the children’s interests first, and
- Is fair to both parents.
“Fair” doesn’t necessarily mean that both parents will get everything they want in a custody arrangement. It just means they will be satisfied with the outcome and can make the arrangement work. With that in mind, here are some questions to ask as you and the other parent develop an effective arrangement for joint custody of your children.
Note that the process outlined below only applies when both parents are capable of providing a physically and emotionally safe home for their children — and therefore can coparent their children. If the court has awarded sole custody to one parent for safety reasons, the questions are irrelevant.
Ask Basic Questions
Before discussing parental and child preferences for custody, you need to answer some fundamental questions regarding your children and living arrangements:
- Will your children receive adequate supervision in both your homes? Any arrangement you develop must allow for adequate supervision.
- How old are your children? The younger children are, the more they need to spend approximately equal time with each parent. This is especially true for infants and pre-schoolers, who do not have a well-developed sense of time, but do realize when they’re not spending enough time with each parent.
- Do you and the other parent live close enough to each other that your children can get to school, friends, and community activities from both homes? If not, how will you handle the situation?
- How well will your children handle moving between homes? Your answer could affect the schedule you work out — at least initially.
- How close is a child to a parent emotionally? Does a child relate better to one parent than the other at this time? Depending on the answers, you might need to adjust a child’s schedule for moving between homes; this will require patience and flexibility. Remember that parent-child relationships often evolve over time, so you’ll need to be flexible about changes, too. Whatever schedules you develop, they must uphold parent-child connections; don’t let relationships deteriorate.
Your answers to the basic questions above will help you develop an outline for a joint custody arrangement. Next, talk about preferences:
- What custody arrangement do you want? What are your preferences concerning living arrangements and time spent with each parent?
- What custody arrangement does the other parent want?
- What custody arrangement would each child like?
Your next step is to assess each party’s preferences (yours, the other parent’s, and your children’s). You need to ask how each preferred custody arrangement would:
- Support the relationships your children have with other important people in their lives, including siblings, grandparents, other relatives, teachers, friends, and — of course — you and other parent.
- Overall, does it serve the best interests of your children?
Finalize Your Plan
You and the other parent must be honest in assessing the benefits and drawbacks of each preferred custody arrangement. If you are honest, you’ll probably find that no single arrangement would best serve your children’s interests and satisfy both parents. Most likely you’ll have to have to draw from all three preferences to develop a “win-win” custody plan.
Minnesota Judicial Branch. (2001). A parental guide to making child-focused parenting time decisions.
The Office of the Revisor of Statutes. (2013). Minnesota Statute 518.17.
Can Custody Be Changed? — Custody can be difficult to change but it is possible. Find out more.
Child Custody and Parenting Time — Minnesota Judicial Branch — Get the basics, as well as forms, related to child custody and parenting time in Minnesota.