One of the biggest challenges during divorce is determining child custody. In Georgia, judges typically encourage a custody plan that is in the best interests of the children and grants both parents visitation time.
Judges also grant either sole custody or joint custody. If sole custody is granted, the non-custodial parent retains visitation rights but is not allowed to make significant legal decisions concerning items such as health care, religious upbringing or education. With joint custody, both parents share in the decision-making process regarding these critical decisions.
Be consistent when making decisions, but also stay flexible
Regardless of what type of custody is granted, it is best for both parents to remain actively involved in their children's lives. This is referred to as "co-parenting" and has numerous positive benefits for children.
Although co-parenting styles differ based on family needs, divorce and parenting coaches provide some basic guidelines that can help ensure a smooth transition to co-parenting and help minimize the negative effect of divorce on children.
It is important to allow children the ability to spend as much time with each parent as they desire. Georgia law allows children over the age of 14 to choose which parent they want to live with, and children are likely to respond positively to parents who respect their living preference.
Additionally, remember that parenting was a team effort in the past, and this should not change because of a divorce. Try to respond to problems that arise in the same fashion as before the divorce. Children adjust better if parents continue to respond to situations in a consistent manner.
However, it is also important to stay flexible with decisions and realize that because divorce involves adjusting to a new situation, compromise may sometimes be necessary. Remaining open to creative solutions and expressing a willingness to "give in" to the other parent when necessary sets a great example for children, who often model their parents' behavior as adults.
Both parents should remain included in significant events
Divorce can be emotionally traumatizing for even the most mature and stable adults, so it is also extremely important for co-parents to keep arguing to a minimum around children.
It is expected that this may initially be difficult. Nonetheless, children will gain long-term benefits from witnessing their parents handle negative emotions in a mature and responsible manner.
One of the best ways to show this maturity is including the other parent in important events in children's lives, such as birthdays, graduations or sporting events. Although decisions like this may seem to have only a minor effect on children, they produce significant long-term benefits.
Finally, one of the biggest mistakes co-parents can make is forcing children to relay messages back and forth. Children commonly misinterpret messages, both intentionally and unintentionally. This disrupts the overall communication process for everyone and is likely to lead to unnecessary conflicts.
Divorcing couples struggling with co-parenting issues should consult an experienced family law attorney. The attorney can help negotiate a fair custody arrangement and visitation schedule and help ensure a smooth co-parenting process.