Child custody and visitation are two of the most challenging issues many couples face during a divorce proceeding. Deciding who has primary custody of the child and when the child visits the other parent can be difficult. The schedules of all parties, including the children, must be considered.
Schedules are not the only factors that impact a custody and visitation arrangement. Along with the typical factors, such as a parent’s fitness and ability to care for a child, the child’s needs and desires are also factors.
A judge is not required to consider a child’s feelings about custody. That does not mean the child’s feelings are not an important factor in a custody case.
When a child is unhappy about a child custody arrangement, that unhappiness can harm the child’s emotional and physical wellbeing. A child who is unhappy about custody and visitation arrangements may begin to perform poorly in school.
The stress about the divorce and custody agreement could also cause a child to begin to act out or break the rules. In some cases, a child’s physical health could decline. A child may develop eating problems as the child tries to deal with the emotional issues related to custody.
A child who is unhappy about the time he spends with each parent may become withdrawn and stop participating in favorite activities. Small children may throw temper tantrums. Some children may regress, such as bedwetting or wetting their pants.
Parents Need to Have Open and Honest Communication
Parents need to have an open and honest discussion about custody and their child’s wellbeing. When parents work together to resolve custody issues, children benefit greatly.
If parents have trouble working things out between themselves, it can help to have a mediator or counselor work with them. A neutral party can help parents identify issues and work together to find a solution that works for them and their children.
In some cases, parents may want to consider individual and family therapy and counseling. A counselor works with the parents and the children to identify underlying problems that might be the source of a child’s problems with custody and visitation.
The problem could be simple, such as the visitation schedule interferes with a child’s social or extracurricular activities. The issue could be something more serious, including conflicts with a step-parent or step-siblings. Identifying and addressing the underlying issues is an essential step in helping a child accept custody arrangements and visitation schedules.
Set Family Rules and Schedules Whenever Possible
Children thrive on schedules and routines. When a child has to “bounce” between different houses, it can be difficult if the two households have different rules and routines.
Whenever possible, keep bedtimes, homework rules, and other rules the same in both households. For example, neither parent allows a child to watch television until the child completes all homework assignments for the day. Both parents use and enforce the same bedtime rules and routines.
Maintaining similar routines and parenting techniques helps a child feel safe and secure, which may reduce separation anxiety. Separation anxiety can be a serious problem children face when they move between households after a divorce. Therapy could be helpful if parents are unable to address the situation themselves successfully.
Modification of Custody and Visitation Schedules
In some cases, it may be necessary to seek a modification of the custody and visitation schedules. Judges determine custody and visitation based on the child’s best interests. A judge may need to review whether the current custody arrangement to ensure it is in the child’s best interest.
A parent should consult a child custody attorney to discuss the options for modifying a custody agreement. If possible, it is best if parents can work together to develop a different custody and visitation arrangement to propose to the court. By working together, the parents can address their child’s issues while developing a plan that works for the parents.
However, if your child’s other parent refuses to discuss a modification of custody and visitation, you may need to petition the court for help. It can help to have reports and testimony from health care providers and mental health professionals substantiating your claim that the current child custody arrangement is not in the best interest of your child.
Judges only modify custody arrangements when the parent can show a substantial change in circumstances. The change in a custody order must be in the child’s best interests. A child custody lawyer can provide additional advice and guidance on how to build a strong case to modify child custody and visitation orders.