Joint Custody with your Ex and the Affair Partner

Taking the high road to keep your child out of the middle

Posted Sep 15, 2010

I recently got an email from a woman who wrote, "How do you handle joint custody with an ex who's had his lover living with him from day one? It kills me every time I have to send my daughter to his house!"

Girl with braids
Life is cruel sometimes. As rough as it may be when your marriage ends against your will, it's a hundred times harder if you then have to send your child back and forth to the home your spouse now shares with an affair partner. One woman told me about how traumatizing it was to know that her baby son was being cared for by her husband's girlfriend - a woman whom she hated and had never even met. It grated against every primitive protective instinct that she had inside. Another mother described how she would send off her seven-year-old daughter to her dad's house in a ponytail and get her back in braids, knowing full well that her ex-husband was not the one with the brush in his hand.

Creating a protective cushion around your child so he won't be damaged by the emotional fall-out so prevalent at the end of a marriage requires you to be incredibly mature - practically saintly! We know that it is the conflict that kids witness between parents that is most damaging. But it is also the distress or bitterness of one of the parents that becomes a burden for kids.

Childhood should be a time of security and emotional freedom where a kid can babble on without constantly editing what he's saying. When a child worries about angering or upsetting a parent by talking about events at the other parent's house, he becomes inhibited and constricted.

The situation sucks but you can't fight the fact that your child will be spending time with the affair partner who, to you, may be the personification of evil but not necessarily to your child. You have no choice except to rise above it. The only way you can do that is by compartmentalizing and choosing your battles.

Put down the magnifying glass! Train yourself to stop obsessing and being outraged about everything that happens at the other parent's house.

Be saintly. Resist the impulse to pry information out of your kid when he returns to your home.

Be generous. Let the child have the freedom to love all of the adults in his life.

Be kind to yourself. Keep busy when your kids are away and build your own life.

Use creative expression as a way to heal - write, listen to music, draw, work out.

In a nutshell, it may be one of the hardest things you'll ever do but your child's identity is made up of both his mother and father, so you will have to learn to separate your own personal grief from your child's need to love both parents. It's the best gift you can ever give him.

If you have thoughts or suggestions about how you make this work, please leave a comment!