50/50 Custody: Try It, You Might Just Like It

50-50 custody of kids after divorce

Assuming there are no other extenuating circumstances such as domestic violence, scheduling limitations, or geographic incompatibility (e.g. one parent lives out of state), if your ex wants 50% custody of the children, they will probably get it.

Today, 50/50 seems to be the default (at least in California). Generally speaking, if both parents are willing and able, California will grant 50/50 custody almost always.  The courts presume that a child in California will be better off if he or she has ‘continuous and frequent contact with both parents.’

And that’s a hard argument to go up against.

In fact, a large body of research suggests children do best when they have both a mother and a father in their lives. ‘Specifically, children whose fathers are involved in raising them do better in school, are less likely to get into trouble with the law, and are more likely to be better parents themselves.’ (Jayne Keedle, “Fathers Matter”.)

50/50 custody aims at granting kids the opportunity to forge loving relationships with both parents.

aims at granting kids the opportunity to forge loving relationships with both parents

After all, nothing else on this planet can replace a parent’s love. So as much as you may think your ex is the scum of the earth, he/she is still your child’s parent, so why deny that love relationship for your child.

Turns out my ex, who was a lousy husband and barely around, really did step up his ‘father game’ after being granted 50 percent custody. I was shocked, happily so, I thought he’d throw in the towel on this 50/50 thing after his first solo week with the kids (granted he hired a full-time nanny).

Fast forward 3 years to today, he has a better relationship with the kids now than he did when he lived with them full time. I sure didn’t see that coming. His parenting style is quite different than mine, and we often disagree, but at least he cares and I know he would do anything for them.

Which brings me to the number one rule: Never speaking badly about your ex to your kids.

It won’t be easy, and you’ll slip up sometimes, but badmouthing each other can really hurt and confuse children. The best thing to do is make sure the kids have a sense of continuity and safety, and that they see the strengths and goodness in both their parents.

They need to feel the freedom to love each parent and not feel guilty or wrong in doing so.

They need to feel the freedom to love each parent

The transition to 50/50 may take some time for everyone to get used to. The kids may have some mixed emotions when they leave one parent to go with another.  Always act happy for them, whether you are or you aren’t. Even if your insides are turning into hot molten lava, never act nervous or resentful.

Tell them something fun the other parent has planned for them. And you might feel hurt if they get a bit too excited for ‘daddy’s week” but that’s how you know your parenting plan is “working.” Don’t ever say, ‘but won’t you miss mommy?’ or ‘but mommy is sad you are going’. Associate only positive feelings with the new schedule, even if it’s a huge pain the ass and pain in the heart.

“I love to see them coming, and I love to see them going’. Many parents, especially stay-at-home moms/dads, can’t even fathom only having 50% with their children. Giving up 50 control can seem gut-wrenching, like someone just amputated half of yourself, the worry and anxiety is intense at first.

But now that I’m a seasoned ‘50 percenter’, let me tell you, it’s pretty darn awesome. Why? Quality over quantity!

You end up packing in more quality time with the kids bc you’re more aware that each day is precious. Plus, you have time to yourself to recharge, so when you do get your kids, you can give them even more of yourself.

My ex and I are on a week by week schedule and I love when Monday comes and get them, then love when the next Monday comes and I send them off.

You’re going to need the time for yourself now more than ever, for you have a new life to forge, think of how difficult that would be if you had 100% custody. You may need this newfound alone time to focus on your career, or to get back into the workforce, or dating pool for that matter.

My advice for the newly 50/50 is don’t freak, but do get busy. Fill your calendar with anything, and I mean anything… exercise class, pottery, knitting, hiking, lunching with friends, volunteering, dating, meeting new friends…anything. I painted all my patio furniture by hand, got my real estate license, visited family and friends abroad, and took lots of bubble baths.

My second piece of advice is to stay flexible.

 stay flexible

As much as we loathe one another, my ex and I are always flexible with our custody schedules. I might say this is the ONLY positive thing we have going on between us.  A week is a long time to go without seeing your kids. So, we always coordinate times when the other gets to have the kids for an afternoon or evening during the ‘off’ week, as well as any other time the other may want.  He could chew my head off over something mundane then politely ask to take the kids to his family reunion on the east coast during my week.

As tempting as it is to say, ‘F off, you get Nothing from me, especially my time with the kids.’, I swallow my pride and think about how his request will affect my children.  In that frame of mind, I know surely they would love to see all their cousins and would have an incredible time. And as long as it doesn’t interfere with much of my plans, I’m all for it.

Then there are times when I want on the kids during his week, like when my brother pops into town unexpectedly and wants to spend time with them.

Or sometimes I ask him to cover my shifts because of a wedding, or something fun I don’t want to miss. And he asks the same from me. We make sure it evens out at the end of the year, or close to it.

I was skeptical about this whole 50/50 custody, but I get it now, and turns out, it’s pretty great!

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