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Divorce and Co-Parenting

Posted by attorney Margaret Murphy

When clients come in to see their attorney, their first comments usually indicate that they want full custody of their children. In the State of Missouri, there is a growing trend towards joint parenting, or co-parenting. There are three types of custody available to parents in Missouri. There is physical custody, and that refers to where the child is physically located. Legal custody refers to major decisions made on subjects that include education, religion, and health. The third is the residential parent, which refers to which school district the child goes to, as well as where that school sends the primary correspondence, such as the report card.

There are many myths about co-parenting and joint physical and legal custody. Many parents assume that co-parenting is impossible as they have always cared for the child themselves, or that they cannot agree on anything with their estranged spouse, so how could they agree to parent together? Parents need to learn how to co-parent. They need to put aside their personal differences, and decide it is no longer about scoring points, but getting through the litigation with their child’s best interests in mind. If a child previously enjoyed time with two involved parents, that can be continued.

Another myth is that it is unfair to have a child live in two different homes, and further that a child needs a home base. Yes, it may be difficult to have your child adapt to two different homes. But remember, your child can become flexible. Children need a routine, and if both parents have one at their house, then a child knows where he or she is supposed to be every day and what is expected at each household. What is really unfair, though, is to deny your child their relationship with the other parent, the same relationship you enjoy, in order to punish the other parent or because co-parenting seems overwhelming.

Further, many clients and their attorneys believe that divorced parents are way too contentious to equally share the responsibility of raising their child together. After a couple is divorced, they both must learn how to develop new relationships in their own lives. As each parent heals, the anger and bitterness that may have originally caused a vicious custody battle starts to fade.

Many parents also think that visitation is enough for a parent, usually the dad. While regular visits are critical to the father-child relationship, a relationship where a child does not see their parent more than three times in a two-week period is not sufficient in order to grow and develop. Each visit can then become an event, where the parent is expected to produce gifts and other incentives to entice the child to continue their visitation with them. Becoming a Disneyland Dad is not the right approach, and with more custody for Dad, the relationship does not have to deteriorate into that. Each visit should involve the child spending time with their family, whether it is watching television or playing football. More time together creates a comfort level that every child needs with both parents.

Finally, a huge myth about co-parenting is that the child actually suffers because Mom receives less child support. In fact, the amount of child support does decrease as the amount of visitation time increases. However, this is because Dad now spends more time directly with the child, and as a result, is now paying for the child’s needs in a more direct manner than he was previously.

No matter what your feelings are about your soon to be ex-spouse, please put your child’s interests first. Ask your attorney about joint custody. It could be what is best for your child, and ultimately, you.

Additional resources provided by the author

Missouri Revised statutes and Missouri case law

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