Tips for navigating a joint-custody arrangement

Let go of anger and bitterness and focus on what's best for the children.

Work out a schedule that is manageable for everyone. Stick to it as much as possible, but be flexible if changes are necessary. When changes are made, make sure they are communicated to everyone.

Be willing to adapt the schedule as the child grows older. What's right for a three-year-old may not be for a 10-year-old.

If possible, live close enough so that the child can be easily transported.

When a child arrives, the host parent should be ready to make him feel welcome. Give children personal space in each home. A separate room may not be possible, but a dresser or shelf for a child to store personal items is important.

If possible, let children be part of the moving process and the decorating of their room, if they have their own.

To make packing simple and efficient, keep two sets of everything at each house.

During the handoff, be cordial and supportive to the other parent.

Encourage the child to keep in touch with the absent parent by telephone, letters, or e-mail. If both households have babysitters, consider sharing one sitter.

Try to maintain consistent rules in both households. Similar bedtime rituals also help the child feel comfortable.

Try to avoid the "Disney World" trap of trying to squeeze a lifetime of activity into one visit. Limit activities. Allow children to settle in. Include them in everyday activities like grocery shopping or gardening, instead of a flurry of events that makes the visit feel more like a vacation than family life.

Try to do some things as a family such as school events and parent/teacher conferences. Consider the child carefully when making major decisions regarding location, romantic partners, activities, and other commitments. Assure your child of your love and be sure to spend quality time with him every day.

*From Jennifer Wolcott's interviews with child experts and other professionals, divorced parents with joint custody, and their children.

(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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