Barbara J. Katzenberg, Attorney at Law

Keeping emotions in check when settling child custody

Divorce is rarely easy. Emotions usually run high, accusations are unfairly hurled and blame becomes a weapon. Throw in disputes over child custody, and the volatile has a tendency to become volcanic for many separating spouses.

Many Massachusetts children know the traumas of divorce firsthand. Most would prefer that their parents settle custody matters with a minimum of conflict. So it really is up to parents to learn to co-parent, and act like adults in their children's best interests.

Co-parenting may seem hard at first because of animosity toward an ex-spouse, and the anger and resentment that often accompany property division, alimony and child support. Many divorced patents also use child-custody arrangements to retaliate against the other spouse.

Divorce is all about letting go of the past and moving on. The focus should be on children, not on which ex-spouse has the upper hand. Very often, children are far more affected by stress and conflict than their battling parents because they have so little say and power in determining what happens next.

Child custody should be shared unless an ex-spouse is an actual threat to children's well-being because both spouses have parenting rights. There are not a lot of healthy co-parenting plans around to look at, so parents will have to learn to talk calmly to settle their differences over parenting time. Some books and some attorneys can offer good advice, but the real work toward an effective co-parenting arrangement happens between soon-to-be ex-spouses.

Bringing up children after divorce is challenging. Communicating with an ex-spouse about shared custody may sometimes be aggravating, but developing patience can help resolve most conflicts. If child custody cannot be settled peacefully between a divorced couple, then it may be best to consider the help of experts such as therapists and family law professionals.

Source: The Huffington Post, "Moving From Parenting to Co-parenting: Joining Together in Divorce," John McElhenney, Nov. 20, 2013

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