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Child custody: Taking the competitive edge off

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When Illinois parents separate, one of the most significant issues they must contend with is defining what they want their relationship with their children to be and determining how to make the ideal a reality.

Child custody arrangements can get complicated. Each parent may have particular priorities. At the same time, the children's needs and desires must be addressed and it is their best interests that are going to matter most to the court. Each person's interests deserve due consideration, but to obtain an optimal outcome means all sides need confidence that their interests are solidly represented.

The legal language traditionally used in the courts and in documents alone can be a source of consternation for many parents. Typical scenarios often have one parent being awarded custody and the other parent getting visitation rights.

That might suggest there are winners and losers, but when it comes to parenting, it is not a competition. Most experts and parents would agree the ultimate goal is to find that balance of plan elements that enhances the relationships of children and both parents.

Custody options

Many models of parenting plans have been tried over the years. Following are only a few among hundreds.

  • Every other weekend visitation is perhaps the most traditional formula and features one parent having primary custody. The children move back and forth.
  • Joint physical custody serves as a model in which both parents take responsibility for their roles by being willing to discuss and reach agreement on key issues of raising the children. Achieving the goal can be hard because of the emotional toll divorce can take.
  • Bird nesting is a relatively new concept. It requires the parents to maintain a home where they come and go and the children remain. This can be expensive and require extraordinary cooperation, but many experts see value in the stability it provides the children.

One psychologist dedicated to taking the competitive edge out of child custody discussions stresses that there is no single parenting plan that represents a silver-bullet solution. He offers that the best plan is one in which the parents cooperate, fulfill their responsibilities, remain flexible, meet each child's individual needs and takes a long-term view of the parent-child relationship - the scope of which covers years, not just days or weeks.

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