A startling number of my friends are going through separations or divorce currently, and I’m surprised at the variations on child custody that seem to be cropping up. I realize that like many things, there’s no “right” answer, but I thought it would be an interesting discussion to talk about different arrangements and the benefits and disadvantages of each.
First off, I should say that I believe that the parents sticking together is always best for the children if the parents are at least reasonably happy together. Not necessarily blissful — I’m not convinced life offers us perpetual bliss, even with the perfect match — but at least able to say that the good times outweigh the bad, and that the bad times aren’t off the chart bad. Further, I’m talking about joint custody arrangements, not the situation where one parent just walks away, or the courts decide one parent is not sufficiently responsible to have the children at all.
If we assume that the relationship isn’t working and that there are one or more children in the picture, then the question becomes one that reflects a poignant old Cat Stevens song: Where do the children play?
Here are the possibilities I can think of:
- Somehow split the house or build an outbuilding so that both parents stay “on premises”, with the kids meandering from space to space as they feel,
- The parents get a second place together and while one parent is at “home” with the children, the other is at the second place without kids,
- One parent moves out properly and has a new place. The children stay with them some percentage of the time, though not all.
- The house is sold (often for financial reasons) and both parents get new places, and the kids bounce from one place to the other.
Maybe there are more, but those are what I can envision.
Each has disadvantages, but what most interests me are couples who are rotating in and out of the family house so that the children are always in the same place: their comment is that by making sure the children are always in familiar surroundings, the blow of the parents splitting up is buffered and it’s easier on the children when compared to the kids having two different bedrooms in two different houses. Maybe, but I think that the price that the parents themselves pay, of never really having their own home (both places become temporary digs, basically), and the financial cost of having two — or even three! — places, is kinda crazy and is a difficult arrangement to sustain.
Of course, the traditional model is that one parent moves out, gets their own place, then the kids migrate back and forth like modern-day nomads. Monday-Thursday at Mom’s, then Friday through Sunday at Dad’s, etc etc. If it’s not a 50/50 custody, then perhaps it’s Mon-Fri with Mom, Sat-Sun with Dad.
While I think it could be hard on kids to have two places, it also strikes me that it could be pretty fun for them to have a second place to set up. New furniture, new books, new toys, and a new neighborhood with new kids on the block and around the corner. Heck, new bike paths, parks, and even a refuge from when one parent is having a hard time and the kids just need a safe harbor…
Another arrangement that I’ve also heard about that seems tough to pull off in the long run is to split the kids: one or more kids live with one parent, while the others stay with the other parent. My scientific training makes me want to call this “divide and conquer” 🙂
More seriously, the problem I see with this arrangement is that the child who is with, say, Mom can’t help but feel like they’re not important — or are at least less loved — by Dad, or vice versa. Maybe they could be ships passing in the night, one kid stays with Dad during the week but gets Mom for the weekends, while the other swaps every week, but then the children themselves don’t get to live together and forge a strong sibling relationship.
So many options, and really, none of them really seem that great. I guess if the choice is to have unhappy parents stuck in a crummy relationship and a tense, unhappy household or to figure out which of these arrangements is best for your family in the short and long run, well, it’s probably a “lesser of two evils” sort of thing.
But, dear reader, what’s your take? Are you separated, split, divorced, and if so, how did you work out custody and, in the long run, how has it worked out for you and your children? If your parents split up, how did they work it out, and how do you feel about how it worked out for you and your own childhood?