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Custody Options For Your Kids

The custody arrangement of children is one of the hardest parts of ending a marriage. In many cases, parents are faced with the delicate task of providing stability for the children who are bouncing back and forth between two different homes.

Dr. William A.H. Sammons, co-author of "Don't Divorce Your Children," has a few ideas for divorced parents trying to keep their families together while living apart.

Both legal custody and physical custody are granted to one parent or jointly to both parents Sammons explains. "The legal custody means that you have the right to make major decisions about medical care, education, moral and religious upbringing. Physical custody is a little bit different. Really talks about where the children are going to reside, who has responsibility for taking care of them."

Depending on their ages, children can be devastated by the idea of mommy and daddy getting a divorce. But according to Sammons, it is the parenting plan, and not custody assignment, which has the most impact on the future of the children in almost all families.

He says in order to ease the child's transition during the divorce process, parents can follow certain guidelines.

"What really impacts the children, however, is the schedule of time that they spend with each parent and the nuts and bolts of how that schedule is implemented," he says. "This is called a parenting plan, and in the emotional life of the child, a detailed, well-thought-out parenting plan is critical. That type of plan can be created, regardless of who has legal or physical custody."

On The Early Show, he discusses guidelines to create a successful parenting plan.

Steps for parents to follow:

  • Define Time With Child/Children - Defines the time that children spend with each parent.

    Says Sammons, "Both parents need to have time in emotionally fulfilling blocks and need something to let them make a connection with their kids and that means avoiding short visits. Visits of two or three hours end up being very frustrating and people don't make a connection. The other thing that's really important to think ahead about is that children really deserve individual time with each parent and a good parenting couple will have a schedule, which will allow the opportunity for that."

  • Define Handover Details - Sets out the time and place involved in each transition or handover from the care of one parent to the other.

    Says Sammons, "In divorce, there is a lot of change, but kids can cope with that and so can parents if there is a sense of predictability and that is important around the times when the kids change from one parent to the care of another parent. A parenting plan will often lay out where it's going to happen, who is going to be involved and what the time is. Oftentimes, people assume that doing it parent-to-parent actually helps children. On the other hand, it exposes them oftentimes to frequent arguments, disagreements, which is very traumatic."

  • Set Up A Communication To Stay In Touch - Sets the guidelines about parents staying in contact with their children by telephone or other means such as fax and e-mail.
  • Set-Up Holiday And Vacation Plan - Defines how holidays and vacations will be set each year.

    Sammons explains, "It's natural to assume that you can call whenever you want to call and that frequently ends up being very disruptive and intrusive, so setting out times when you're going to call and the kids are more likely to talk on the telephone."

    He notes, "If possible, avoid splitting the actual day. If it's a block of time, it works much better for children. They get a real sense of getting into the holiday. If you divide up a day, especially looking at Christmas time, it really breaks it up and makes it a very emotionally difficult time for our children."