Why 50/50 Custody Didn’t Work For Our Family
When my ex-husband and I split up in 2013, we wanted the best for Miss A (who was 5 years old at the time). Our split was, fortunately, an amicable one, so we were able to negotiate together to help make the situation as easy as possible for all of us. Ultimately, Miss A’s father wound up living in a different state for a year and a half before joining us in our hometown just over a year ago. During that year, he visited her very regularly — he was in town almost once a month, was here for her birthday, even flew in for a daddy/daughter dance, and chatted with her on Skype once a week, so he was still very involved in her life despite the circumstances.
When he moved back, we decided to split custody 50/50. It seemed fair, right? Miss A (who at the time was nearly 8) needed a relationship with both parents, both of us were competent and loving and cared very much about her. We both worked hard to make stable, comfortable homes for her, we lived in close proximity to one another, and shared a “one week on/one week off” arrangement. All seemed to be going well — until it wasn’t.
Time proved that Miss A was terribly, terribly unhappy with our time sharing agreement.
This unhappiness carried over into many aspects of her life. Her teacher noticed she was distracted. She talked often about how she didn’t like having to go between homes. She was referred to an in-school counseling group with other children who were experiencing the same thing. When that ended, and she was still struggling with the split custody, I wound up taking her back to the counselor we had gone to when she was first adjusting to the separation. Her counselor said that many children just do not cope well with having to move between houses every single week — and it was becoming very apparent that Miss A was one of them.
Her father and I deliberated over this intensely. Obviously, a child doesn’t get to call the shots when it comes to her living arrangements, but both of her parents (and her soon to be stepfather, as well) were very concerned about how her distress was rippling through many aspects of her life. Every week she was having emotional breakdowns when it got close to time to go back to dad’s house. Every week she would get back to my house and act out. Her counselor said she was holding her pent up frustration and letting it all out when she got back to the parent who had been the constant in her life, which was me. It was hard to watch. It broke my heart. It broke her dad’s, too.
When all was said and done, her father very reluctantly suggested that maybe we change things up, and she spend most of her time at my home. We talked about it — a lot — both of us wavering back and forth on the decision. We were both concerned that splitting custody in a lopsided way would make her feel abandoned. We spoke with her counselor about it, and finally got a bit of the reassurance we were seeking. Having her stay with one parent the majority of the time would give her a sense of having one true home — and that one of the most important things was that she would be able to look back on the narrative of her life and say “Both of my parents loved me, and I know this because ____.”
Her stepfather and I now have her about 70% of the overnights, and her father and his girlfriend have her about 30% of overnights, plus afternoons most weekdays. Now, at nearly age 9, Miss A is comfortable and relaxed at both homes and because she has that level of comfort, she has healther, easier relationships with all of us.