Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today


Three Rules for Negotiating Child Custody

Three things parents fighting over custody should know.

Often times when I am hired to mediate during a child custody dispute alongside lawyers, I meet with parents who will do their best to convince everyone that they are saints while the other parent is the spawn of satan. Mostly, this message is implied and on rare occasions overtly stated. Such an attitude often gets in the way of making a healthy decision regarding what's best for the child or children involved, because it makes everyone involved uncomfortable and it slows down the process with disruptions.

Here are three things I do my best with tact to relay to parents during custody mediation.

1. No One Cares.

In the absence of physical and sexual assault committed against the child or children, no one cares how evil you believe your ex to be. Often times an aggrieved parent will point out all the flaws of the other parent in an attempt to garner collective contempt against that other parent by all parties involved, to include sympathy for their perceived pain and suffering.

It doesn't work, because people are usually more aware of our personal flaws than we are. So when you sit before a professional to tell your side of the story, they are taking in the good and the flaws about you and these observations are made from an objective perspective.

So it becomes an irrational request for others to judge your ex with prejudice while still maintaining an objective attitude towards you.

2. The Children's Needs Come First.

Another thing I often tell a parent fighting over custody is to think about his or her parents. I will usually start off with this question: "As a child, would you have appreciated being estranged from your father or your mother?" For parents who never experienced such an ordeal, this question takes them by surprise and some silence elapses as they appear to be doing some serious thinking.

For parents who did experience such an ordeal, it often evokes feelings of sadness and sometimes tears. You may have a legitimate reason for not wanting to have anything to do with your ex, but does that make your ex unfit to be in the lives of his or her children?

Children who have had no contact with a parent often experience an emotional wound that never really goes away, with the only remedy being to accept their loss until they have an opportunity to reconnect with the other parent.

3. Be Careful of the Rules You Propose.

The rules you propose could return to haunt you upon implementation. If a parent has leverage during negotiations and they propose rules they believe would make the other parent's life difficult, those rules will also make your life difficult. For example, parents with a more liberal leaning towards parenting who insist on rules that give the child plenty of leeway with the more conservative parents, often find themselves in a difficult situation when the child habitually engages in trouble making and constantly reminds the parent about the agreed upon rules.

Rules that limit the amount of communication between both parents will almost always come back to haunt both parents, as children from an early age learn to manipulate the lack of communication between both parents to their advantage.

I will often tell parents that if the only time they unite for the sake the child is when the child is in trouble, they have put themselves in a vulnerable position of being reactive, instead of anticipating and making plans.

People understand that two people coming out of a relationship usually have raw feelings, but placing yourself in the position of the child and making decisions for the child with best intentions is usually the best approach.

More from Ugo Uche
More from Psychology Today