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This article for divorcing and stepfamily adults and their supporters
perspective on child custody arrangements
what typical kids need relative to child
what typical parents needs relative to child
"Custody" comes from a Latin word meaning "guard." In intact and
divorcing families, parents may have harmonious or conflicting styles and priorities
on how to nurture and protect their minor kids. Where major parenting
conflicts occur, adults
argue about "Who is the better parent?", rather than on "What does each child
and parent need in our two-home
family system, and how can
adults fill all these needs (nurture) well enough together?"
Effective social problem-solving begins with objectively identifying your
and the other person's current needs, and ranking them as equally
important. In my experience, typical conflicted parents aren't used to doing this.
The majority are psychologically
unaware, so they fight over who
gets their way about child-related issues (like custody), and
Premise - every parent, child, and divorcing (or step) family is
unique. Despite this, kids and adults have some universal needs relative to
custody arrangements. This article proposes these needs as a checklist. If
you seek an optimal child-custody arrangement, use this checklist for
awareness, discussion, and mutually-respectful negotiation.
What Do Kids Need?
If you were
a minor child of divorcing parents, what would you
need from the adults in your two homes to help you grow toward healthy
independence? Have you ever asked your kids what they need - and listened?
If your kids had the knowledge and vocabulary, they might say ...
__ 1) all
you grownups to
want to protect me from inheriting the lethal [wounds + unawareness]
cycle by working together to provide a
high-nurturance family. Then I need...
__ 2) you all
to accept that the "best"
custody arrangement (joint, split, sole, legal) fills the needs of all of our adults and kids,
not just mine; And I need...
__ 3) you all to care enough about me and yourselves to
learn how to
problem-solve together as teammates, instead of blaming, fighting,
explaining, lecturing, or running
away all the time. And I need...
__ 4) you each to
take responsibility for
knowing and filling your own
needs, and to help each other do that
teammates. Then you're the most fun to be around, and you really listen to
me and each other. This includes each of you learning to stop feeling so
guilty and bad about yourself." And
__ 5) you adults to agree on what you're trying to
do, long range, as the leaders of my family. Then I need you
all to work
out a shared
plan to get us all
there. And I also need...
you each to (a)
want to learn
and care about my growing-up and
family-adjustment needs, and
then to (b) help me fill them without sacrificing your own needs and resenting
me or each other;" and I also need...
__ 7) each of you
to respect and
listen to me because
you see me as a worthy person, not because someone makes you;
And I need...
__ 8) to have
enough time and contact with each of my parents and grandparents, and for you adults to
not fight about this; And I need...
__ 9) you adults to help me
feel safe in both my homes; and also...
__ 10)please don't use lawyers to solve your
fights, because they only make things worse for all of us!" And I
__ 12) set clear
rules in both my homes, and talk together so they're
not too different and confusing for me. Then I need you to enforce the rules
fairly, promptly, and respectfully. Then I know that the rules mean
something, and that I can depend on you all to be in charge and keep me safe. And
finally, I need
you each to...
__ 13) readthese memos from and about me, and talk
about them together, OK?"
Please remember - I can't do any of these things myself. I really
depend on each one of you grown-ups to help me. Will you stop fighting over
the wrong things, and help me fill my needs
+ + +
Imagine what you'd feel if each minor child in your care looked into your eyes and
said something like this to each of your family adults. Recall your own childhood years.
Do you feel any of these needs are trivial and/or unrealistic?
For the full range of what typical
minor kids' of parental separation and divorce need, see this and
Premise - An effective child-custody arrangement consistently fills the key
primary needs of each
person living in a child's two homes. So...
What Do Typical Divorcing Parents
Premise: each family adult is trying to fill some universal needs as
they negotiate child custody and related arrangements. See if you agree with these:
Each of us
parents and grandparents needs to...
__ 1) understand and accept our responsibility to guard minor kids
against inheriting the toxic [wounds + unawareness] cycle. That means we
each need to want to assess for and
reduce our psychological wounds
over time and study this
course. And we each need to...
__ 2) feel included + listened to + respected by
every other person (including relatives and professionals)
involved in our custody negotiations. That implies
that we each need
to feel like we're part of a nurturing team vs. a group
of antagonists. And each of us adults needs to...
effectively, instead of arguing, blaming, debating, competing,
discounting, explaining, justifying, denying, and/or avoiding. Then we need
to model these
for our young people and encourage them to use them. And we need to...
__ 4) help
each other learn how to analyze
and resolve typical
relationship problems, including these three common
stressors. And we adults
__ 5) learn to separate
parenting conflicts and frustrations from ex-mate
and to work steadily to resolve both; and to...
__ 6) beclear on our individual and group priorities
integrity and wholistic health first, primary relationships second, family
nurturance level third, and then everything else - except in emergencies. And we each need to...
__ 7) feel
that each parent and family supporter has a clear, accurate view of the
needs of each child
affected by our custody decisions. And we parents each need
__ 8) feel
clear on the
responsibilities we each
have in forging our
custody agreement - i.e. we each need to
accept who's going to do what for each child; And we also each need
__ 9) thoughtfully guesstimate the emotional and financial impacts this
custody decision will have on each of our lives and our family system; And each of us
parents needs to...
__ 10) want to evolve a healthy family-grieving
policy, and help each other use it to
losses (broken bonds) that
divorce and our custody decision
causes us. And we also each need to...
__ 11) feel
that each minor child in both homes affected by this custody
decision will be safe and well-nurtured enough after the decision is
implemented. And each of us parents needs to...
__ 12) discuss and
compromise on normal and special child-visitation
guidelines, and evolve an effective written parenting
agreement to minimize misunderstandings and conflicts; And we each
__ 13) enough time to sort
out and evaluate all these complex factors before
making a final custody decision.
And each of our adults needs to...
reappraise our custody agreement if either of us parents considers choosing a new mate
and forming or joining stepfamily; and we need to...
__ 15) learn how to
select informedpsychological and
legal help if we have trouble agreeing on a physical and legal custody arrangement. And
we each need to...
__ 16) haveconfidence in our collective ability to
resolve the major
values, loyalty, family
membership, financial and logistic
will occur during and
after our custody-decision process. And we also need to...
to each affected relative and child (on an age-appropriate level) what our
custody decision is, why we've made it, and how it will affect each of
them. We need to consider each child's needs equally in making our decisions.
And finally, we parents and supporters each need
__ 18) keep
balanced enough as we
implement, and adjust this impactful custody decision.
Add any other custody-related parental needs that fit your situation...
Note that adults' custody-related needs combine with many other
dynamic personal, role, and relationship needs and responsibilities. If this looks like a steep challenge for most
parents - it
Notice what you're thinking and
feeling now. How many average divorcing-family adults do you think could name
each of these needs? How many families could cooperate together to fill most
of these needs and their kids' needs (above) well enough? In my
36-years professional experience, the answer is "almost
The reason is, typical divorcing-family adults are significantly
and unaware, and are hindered by these interactive
Few know this or what to do about it - e.g. to study and apply this free online
When parents separate, negotiating harmonious, effective child-custody
agreements is complex, emotional and often adversarial. An effective custody agreement occurs when each
family adult's and child's short and long-term needs are recognized,
respected equally, and filled consistently.
This article offers a checklist of what typical minor kids of divorce and their family adults
need for a satisfying custody agreement. It aims to promote
thought and discuss among your family adults and their lay and professional
supporters on this important topic.
If your family is having
trouble agreeing on child-custody and/or other divorce-related parenting
issues, see this and
this, and compare the ideas in this video with
your current behaviors: