Shared Parenting


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by Jennifer Hicks


Shared parenting - the marriage of joint legal and joint physical custody. Just as your marriage dissolves, you're looking at a forever-parenting partnership with the person who's leaving your life. Can it be done?

Shared parenting involves each parent wanting to:

It also means recognizing that you are not always in charge. When your children are with their other parent, it is that parent who will make the day-to-day decisions regarding the children's care and welfare. 

And therein lies the rub. Many divorcing parents don't like the idea of sharing the responsibility, challenges, and joys of shaping their children's lives. And to many, cooperating with a partner they're angry at doesn't exactly create heartfelt joy.

Some Realities of Shared Parenting

It is not yet the norm. In 1998, although 4% of all children lived only with their dads, 23% lived only with their moms.

But if you do try shared parenting, realize that rules will vary from house to house. You and your former spouse are individuals and each of you has your own ideas of what's best. Can you deal with that?

Conflict will occur. It's natural and occurs in families that live together and in those that don't. Will you and your ex-partner be able to manage the conflict and remember the interests of your child? Or would it be helpful - before conflicts arise - to agree to work together with a family mediator

Is there potential for parental alienation syndrome where children are encouraged by one parent to view that same parent as all "good" and the other parent as all "bad"?

Clearly, the list can go on.

What It Boils Down To

Do you and your parenting partner genuinely want what's best for your children? Are you each willing to put in the effort it will take? Can you deal with the possibility that the beginning might be rough?

A study of some divorced parents done by The Ohio State University found that two-thirds of the parents talked weekly about their children for the first year and a half after separation. Two years after that only 40% did - but, the number of arguments had lessened, and three years after the divorce only 6% had the same intensity of conflict as they did before. Does this mean shared parenting brings acceptance?

As one mom who shares parenting said, "You don't have to be friends with your ex to make it work, you just have to be dedicated to the kids. It can give kids a true sense of family instead of feeling fractured or cheated."

Keep in mind though, that research has also shown that early hostility during the divorce process is likely to persist well after the divorce is final. And this can influence the success of shared parenting.

If Shared Parenting Seems Right

Then work with your children's other parent and create a parenting agreement you can both live with. It should be detailed enough to cover all the bases and flexible enough to deal with your children's changing needs.

There is no universally correct solution. There are as many ways to share parenting time and responsibilities as there are families.