Is that really in the kids best interest or for mine?
I have heard it hundreds of times from Judges: “If you let me decide what happens with your child, neither of you will be happy.”
Despite your respective positions on what is best for your child, truer words were never spoken. Walking out of court from a custody trial, few persons are ever very happy. This is true for a few different reasons. For one, a judge’s decision regarding time share is rarely going to align with either persons concept of an ideal time share, and ultimately be very far from what is ideal for the child. The judge doesn’t know your child, is busy, and ultimately gets to go home to his family or own time share schedule with his children leaving you to pick up the pieces. This is no slight on judges, and they will be the first to admit that this is true. Further, the process of a custody battle is a financially and emotionally draining exercise that will turn even the most reasonable people into quivering emotional messes. Most importantly, after months of attacking each other, your ability to raise your child together is severely damaged, and this ultimately harms the child.
This is why, whether or not you can agree on financial issues, it is always advisable to mediate at least the time share portion of the case.
A few basics: When we mediate custody we are really mediating time share or custodial time with each parent. And when discussing time share, it is always best to avoid percentages, i.e. “I want 50%” or “How can you only offer me 25%”. This tendency is unfortunately born of the worst part of our system that ties time share with the child to support. And yes, the more time share the high wage earner has, the less support that person will pay. So you have to let this concept go, at least in the immediate. It is important to understand that there are thousands of permutations of a custody schedule that can be developed to design a time share that makes sense.
It is a truism that where one parent has traditionally cared for the child and one parent as been the breadwinner, there is a disconnect that everyone has to get over. The wage earner wants more time with the child than has traditionally existed in the relationship and the primary care giver believes that the wage earner wants more time because of support.
To successfully mediate a time share arrangement, understanding where each parent is coming from is vital.
The wage earner is terrified. Chances are they have spent most of their child’s life feeling that they should have spent more time and worked less, but could not work less because they had a duty to provide for the family. They are losing the family that they knew so well and they are scared of the prospect of not being able to see their child on a daily basis, even if that was only for an hour or two before bedtime. Sure some are only concerned about support, but like most people, they don’t realize what they have until they lose it. They are looking at this loss and are grasping on as tightly as they can.
The primary care giver is looking at the commitment they have given to the kids and seeing that they have devoted their life to raising the child. They may have foregone education or a career, and they are seeing that they did a bang up job with the children and why should things change. They have developed the skills to raise children over all these many years, and this is a skill that needs to be developed. Good parenting does not come naturally and must be honed. Well the primary care giver has quite simply honed their skill more than the wage earner.
So now you know where each is coming from, it is imperative to focus on how to develop a schedule for the child that makes sense for everyone. The beauty of mediation is that the parents can understand who their child is and develop a scheme that makes sense for him. Even more importantly, if the arrangement doesn’t work, it can be changed later on and adapted to meet the child’s needs.
A few bits of sage advice in designing these arrangements: The amount of time you spend with the child is far less important than the quality of the time that you see the child. You will have the relationship with your child that you want to have, regardless of the time that you have.
It is also unrealistic to expect that if you work until 6 or 7 at night that multiple evenings or overnights really make sense for you. Children need help with homework, they need dinner, they need to get ready for bed and calm down, and it is extremely difficult to do all of this is the two hours at night. We chose to work for our child’s well being, and this is not changing now. However, at the same time it is those small moments at night: bath time, story time, dinner around a table that often hold the beauty of being a parent and it is what the wage earner is most concerned about loosing out on.
And it is these small moments that are important for the child too. That is where the primary caretaker comes into play. It is your duty to insure that the children continue to have these moments with the wage earner, because it is important for the child.
How many nights? Well, again it all depends. If your child is having trouble with the divorce or with school than less of these nights are necessary to provide consistency, stability and a good nights sleep. In this instances these small moments can be made up by 30 minutes at the local park after dinner or even a regular telephone call. My step son has really connected with this father by playing online Xbox games where they can play together and talk to each other over a headset. These are small moments too.
If your child is adapting well, then more times during the week may be appropriate and extremely beneficial. You have to keep an eye out for signs that the time share is not working and adjust accordingly. If the child is always tired or his school work suffers, we you may have to back off on the weekday time, or if he is doing well, increase the time.
You can adjust to meet your child’s needs in mediation because you don’t leave mediation having slung mud at each other. In court, the gloves come off, motivated by zealous advocates, and anger at the other person is what you really leave with.