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Managing Child Custody in the Best Interests of the Child

Managing Child Custody in the Best Interests of the Child

By: Catherine G. Braun

You know what THEY say! When you consult with three specialists or experts about the same concern, you are likely to get three different opinions. How are you to make the best decision without a consensus? The trick is not to look for the single correct way to resolve any issue. The secret to a successful resolution is in the process toward a well-defined goal. As a parent considering child custody, is your goal to establish that you are the best parent to assume sole responsibility for your child, or is your goal to what is in the best interests of your child? If you think the answer is one and the same to both questions, would your child agree? If you were this child, how would you feel about your parents fighting over you? Wouldn’t you want both of them to win? If one of your parents were physically or psychologically abusive to you or your other parent, how would you feel protected and still have a say in your parents’ decisions about your life?

As you contemplate the answers, please keep this well-researched fact in mind – the positive outcome of emotional and developmental challenges of childhood is dependent on the active participation and engagement of both parents. Simply stated, your child wants both of you as involved parents. Asking your child to take sides and choose one parent over the other, is not only unfair, it creates confusion and suffering. Barring physical and emotional abuse, children need to be “loyal and true” to both parents. They need the approval, acceptance, and attention from both parents. They need to know they can express their love for both of you, freely without parental resentment and competition getting in the way.

Knowing that children of all ages internalize a certain degree of blame for the unhappiness of their parents, you can reassure your children that you and your spouse are getting a divorce from each other, not from them. They will believe and trust both of you, when they experience your collaborative co-parenting. You and your spouse can put your emotions aside and manage conflicting needs, while keeping those of the children in the forefront. Here are some of the things that you can do.

First, establish a team of consultants who are willing and able to work together toward a successful resolution, based on the best interests of your child. Marriage and family counselors, divorce and relationship coaches, mediators, attorneys and financial planners can be members of this team and advocate for your child’s best interests. Remember, your child is not fully empowered by law to do anything that is best for him or herself.

As the leader of your team of experts, you need to become an educated consumer in the emotional and developmental welfare of your children and be able to discuss this with your team of experts. This process will empower you to raise your awareness and objectivity and become a parent on a mission. Should you choose to accept it, the short-term decisions about your child’s welfare must be considered in the context of long-term consequences for your child.

Creating healthy relationships can be challenging, especially during divorce. Parents need a deeper understanding of what that really, really means. I have come to the conclusion that if you are to make good decisions about your child’s welfare, you will have to have great respect for your child and the limitations of childhood. You will also need to be able to manage your own emotions productively. If you are feeling loss of control about your divorce (most people are) and the pending child custody, think how helpless your child might feel. Here is an example.

A couple of years ago, a child began a website to give children of divorce a place to interact. The site became more than a place of expression and sharing, when the founder of the site went on a hunger strike at 13 years of age. His efforts to get his parents and the courts to listen to his wishes failed. He had not seen his dad for 3 years, and his goal was to make everyone aware that “kids are humans, not property,” and that children deserve to be heard. He wanted everyone to know that what is good for parents is not automatically good for kids. He wanted all to know that the rights of children should also be supported by allowing access to both parents, and by giving children a voice in the legal proceedings that affect their access to either parent.

Loss of control in the lives of families is the number one negative effect of divorce, and children lose even more control than their parents. Children are not always able to express their wants and needs, either because they are too young, or because the stress they must endure is beyond their ability to cope. When all is said and done, in most cases, children want both their parents in their lives, actively engaged in all aspects of parenting. Parents should focus on creating a lifestyle that creates maximum participation in the lives of their children, regardless of how they feel about each other.

Unfortunately, child custody sometimes has to be settled in court. You must educate yourself on how the system works. An attorney, as part of your team of experts, can help you to keep your child’s best interests top priority, but you want to make sure that the case is not built on winning at all costs (unless your chil

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