Custody and Visitation Dos and Don'ts

One thing divorce does not change is your being a parent. Whether you develop a traditional visitation schedule or a flexible co-parenting plan, whether the arrangement is temporary or permanent, you can help make the time you spend with your children happy and productive. When questions regarding custody and visitation arise, an experienced family law attorney is the ideal source for competent counsel.

The following are some hints on making the most of your time with your children — and making the transitions easier on them.

DO

Balance flexibility and promptness. Try to be on time when your children are being picked up or returned. It lets your kids know that visitation is a priority to you. It is also important to be flexible about traffic, play dates and illness. This will relieve some of the stress of transitions for your children.

Make visitation time parenting time. Resist the impulse to be a Disneyland Dad (or mom) by cramming your kids' time full of treats, outings and special events. Don't over-schedule your children. Your kids need time to just be with you and to talk with you while you can really listen. Kids respond to rules and responsibility, and it makes your space feel more like home.

Make your home their home. Get to know your neighbors and help your children make friends. Set a loose schedule so your children know what to expect. Use checklists, or separate sets of clothes and toiletries, to make sure they have what they need in both places they live.

Make age-appropriate schedules. Toddlers and teenagers have different needs. Do the research and make sure your visitation schedule or parenting plan is meeting the emotional needs of your child's current developmental stage.

Include extended family. Try to fit in visits to grandparents and other extended family so your child stays in touch.

Respect your former spouse. Let your former spouse know about changes in your schedule and travel plans or if a new babysitter or romantic interest will be with your kids while they are with you. Communicate where you will be while you have the children and decide together how emergencies should be handled.

DON'T

Don't equate money with love. Encourage and facilitate your children's time with the other parent. It should never be about whether child support has been paid. That can make your kids feel like they are worth exactly as much as the support you receive.

Don't let divorce emotions spill out during visitation transitions. Don't fight with your former spouse in front of the children. Don't use guilt or try to make your kids feel bad about enjoying being with their other parent. Make every effort to be polite to each other when the kids are around or when they can hear you.

Don't make your kids arrange their own visitation. Setting schedules is an adult responsibility that you need to do for your children.

Don't make the kids into emotional mules. Don't ask your kids to carry messages to your ex, don't ask them to spy and don't subject them to the third degree about every detail of time spent away with the other parent. The more they are able to enjoy their time as kids, with few adult worries, the better.

Don't take your child's side in disagreements with the other parent. Let your children know they need to resolve problems with their other parent independently and don't let them pull you into the middle of a dispute — unless you believe they are in danger or you have serious concerns.

Don't allow your child to manipulate visitation. Unless your child is under five, he or she must understand that visitation is not optional. Children under five are often resistant to visitation switches and need extra patience. At any age, if visitation resistance persists, the parents should seek professional help to address the issue.

Don't feel like you have to handle it all yourself. An experienced family law attorney will have the knowledge to help you reach a resolution of your custody and visitation legal issues.