How to Effectively Navigate Child Custody Matters


When a family unit breaks down, often parents can’t agree and a custody dispute ensues, those caught most squarely in the crosshairs are children. Beyond the financial burden of legal issues, the psychological and emotional impact on children can be very detrimental.  Parents, however, can work together and navigate child custody matters for the benefit of their children’s future.   child custody matters

Child Custody Matters: Handling Schedule Changes

When parents separate, it can be traumatic on all involved, especially the children, one parent typically takes up residence elsewhere. Whereas, children had one bedroom before, they now have two. Amidst taking personal belongings back and forth between living spaces or getting new items, kids also face schedule changes, new experiences and new challenges.  

Thankfully, children are especially adaptable to change, but a few things parents can keep in mind include: 

  • Knowledge – simple things like posting a fridge calendar and reinforcing custody arrangements in everyday conversation can empower kids. When they know what’s coming and when, they will thrive amidst shifting spaces and times, even for more complex schedules
  • Consistency – once the schedule is set, stick with it. It’s unfair for a parent to fail to meet their agreed upon obligations, as it can communicate a lack of love or interest to a child. Help your children establish new, healthy rhythms by showing up and civilly interacting with your co-parent. 
  • Transparency – co-parents, especially those struggling to find common ground, should not communicate every detail of upcoming custody exchanges or visits; however, be transparent enough so children know what to expect. Make sure kids understand where they will be and when, as well as information they may need to prepare for time with their other parent. 

A child will have a sports game, concert, or birthday when it’s not one parent’s “turn” – it’s important for co-parents to be able to attend and take part in these occasions together while practicing civility. Don’t let “the schedule” cause a conflict – show up for the child and be respectful of the fact that the child loves you both and needs both. 

Child Custody Matters: Combatting Anxiety

A child’s psychological response to a separation or divorce can vary greatly. While most can adjust reasonably well, especially through cooperative co-parenting, others develop anxiety. 

Typically children who experience anxiety do so as a result of incivility between parents. Perhaps words or shouts are exchanged during an exchange, or a parent bashes the other while the child is in their care. It’s important to remember that a child is a mix and makeup of both parents. While they may tend to look or act more like one, the child is inextricably connected to both. Often a child will internalize negativity projected on one parent by the other. Children are perceptive and can feel tension; They may even blame themselves for their parents’ issues.

This tension can lead to anxiety, which can manifest in a wide variety of ways. From crying to stomach pains to subtle changes in behavior, parents need to work together to first recognize anxiety in their children, and then to work through it. Depending on their age, explaining and addressing anxiety may be appropriate, followed by helping a child:

  • Feel safe – as a supportive caregiver, each parent has the opportunity to co-regulate with their child, providing them with feelings of security, which in turn, helps them self-regulate their emotions and reduce anxiety
  • Feel heard – perhaps it’s one-on-one time during a visit, during a family meeting, or in the presence of a therapist, give children opportunities to express their worries and struggles
  • Cope – help a child find a meaningful way to deal with their anxiety, from grounding exercises to breathing techniques to journaling, or simple ideas like going for a walk, find what works

Ultimately, keeping kids out of the middle of the dispute and co-parenting well can help reduce their anxiety. 

Child Custody Matters: How a Custody Master Can Help

When parents cannot work together to find common ground in child custody matters, they need to meet with a custody master/hearing officer.  A custody master/hearing officer encourages agreement to help avoid costly legal fees caused by escalating tensions and disputes.   

When the custody master/hearing officer cannot bring about a resolution, the case will be scheduled to go before a Judge. Depending on circumstances like how contested a case is and the child’s age, they may be called to testify by either parent. Typically they would speak privately with a Judge in chambers, but still, being in the middle of their parents’ dispute will often worsen anxiety and other stressors they already face and parents should want to avoid this. 

Legal Support for Child Custody Matters

Separation, divorce, and child custody matters can have long lasting impacts on children. Parents who practice the positive tactics above can help their children navigate these situations well, adjusting and moving forward. Unfortunately, those who choose not to co-parent well and bring their children into their issues, often cause maladjustment and serious psychological problems in the short term and long run. 

Parents need to recognize the impact their behaviors have on their children and remember child custody matters are solely about the best interest of their children, not about control, power, manipulation or themselves. Whatever differences co-parents have, they must put them aside and put their children first. 

If you have children and are in a situation that may lead to a custody issue, please reach out to our Family Law team. 

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