Keeping the children happy after their parents divorce

  • Children
  • Wednesday, 08 Aug 2018

Carranza (left) and his ex-wife Garcia agreed they would each have custody of their son Noah on alternate weeks. Photo: TNS

Lucenda Jacobs’ 13- and 15-year-old children have their own home, but they’re never alone.

Every two weeks, Jacobs and her ex-husband swap in and out of their children’s home. The two parents bought the home, which the family refers to as “the nest”, following their divorce in 2016 after 15 years of marriage. It has two master suites, one for each parent.

“Neither of us wanted to not be in our children’s lives 100%, and we wanted stability,” said Jacobs, the author of Nesting.

The family has an untraditional custody arrangement, but they’re not alone.

“The idea is that dad used to have alternative weekends and alternative Wednesdays, but it’s not the norm anymore,” said Lynn Mirabella, a lawyer. “Now, we talk about what’s best for the child, instead of what the family wants.”

Mothers used to have all the power when it came to custody arrangements, but times have changed dramatically in the past few years.

When she started practising divorce law about three decades ago, mothers automatically received primary custody, and fathers saw their children a few days each month, said lawyer Nancy Chemtob.

But in 1999, Chemtob helped a father receive sole custody, and divorce cases began to shift, giving more and more equality to dads.

The Wednesday night dinner turned into an overnight visit, and the weekend at dad’s turned into a Friday-to-Monday stay.

A 2017 study published in Science Daily backed up the dads’ requests for time with their kids, finding that preschoolers had fewer psychological and behavioural problems if their divorced parents had joint custody – even if they bounced from house to house – than those who lived mostly or only with one parent.

Today, parents are modernising custody agreements, and anything goes, as long as the children are happy.

“There is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ custody arrangement,” said lawyer Loren Costantini. “The new trend in custody is a mindful approach, where the parents collectively and peacefully create a parenting plan that fits the needs and schedules of the family.”

When lawyer Anne Mitchell, author of They’re Your Kids Too, realised that she had stepped into the same sphere as her clients, her first thought was how to make her son’s life continue along as smoothly as possible after divorce. The answer: Do nothing that would affect him.

So Mitchell and her ex-husband continued living together but moved into different bedrooms. This arrangement lasted two years, until her ex had to relocate for work.

But a contemporary custody arrangement doesn’t necessarily mean exes have to live together or share a space.

Amanda Garcia and her ex, David Carranza, live about 15 minutes away from each other, and when they broke up about a year ago, they casually decided to split their son’s time week by week with a Sunday to Sunday arrangement.

“It sucks having him gone for a week, but we both sat down and said, ‘It’s not really about us and our feelings,’” said Garcia. “His dad is very much a part of his life, and that’s kind of how we wanted to keep it.”

During the weeks that her ex has their son, Garcia said, she communicates with him virtually whenever she or her son wants to chat.

Other families rejected the old “Wednesday and alternating weekend” agreement because it left fathers with minimal time with the kids, but they’re still searching for the perfect solution.

Brad Wenzel and his ex-wife originally left their 13-year-old son in their marital home, and they took turns moving back into the house to spend time with him.

“This was challenging, as you never knew the conditions of the house when you moved back in,” Wenzel said. “This worked best for the child, though, as he was in his element during difficult times.”

But it didn’t work for long for the parents.

So now, his ex-wife has their son Mondays and Tuesdays, while he has him Wednesdays and Thursdays, and they alternate on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays.

“There are no perfect solutions when dealing with custody agreements. The best thing you can do is to put the differences aside and focus on what’s best for the child,” Wenzel said. “They get one childhood, so do the best, so they can look back and say they enjoyed it.” – Chicago Tribune/Tribune News Service

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