Texas Family Law and Shared Custody
A divorce can be a relief for the parents who have finally ended their struggle to relate and communicate smoothly. However once you've become parents, the desire to 'give up' on the marriage cannot override the obligation that remains towards the child/children that have resulted from that relationship.
The Texas court favors custody decisions that are in the "best interests of the child" and as such can spell out the rights and obligations of parents where shared custody, technically referred to as 'joint conservatorship', has been granted (Chapter 151 of the Family Law Code).
'Joint managing conservators' means that both conservators (ie. parents) share in the major decision making rights, privileges, duties and powers held by the parent pertaining to the child. The court-imposed obligations of this role are the responsibilities of each parent independently; by the joint agreement of both parents; and also exclusively by one parent.
This includes things such as the right for one parent to receive information on the child regarding their health, education and general welfare. Situations such as medical decisions need to be shared with the other parent. They both need access to medical, dental and psychological records to be able to do this. They both have the right to appear on the child's records as a person to be notified in case of an emergency and they both must be informed of school activities.
In situations where anger and resentment between divorced parents has not been fully resolved, passive aggressive behavior such as withholding of information and small actions of defiance to claim control can interfere with the joint custody arrangement and make things worse than they need to be for the child involved.
Making the whole process work for the benefit of the child has to be the ultimate goal for both parents in this situation. This means foregoing the desire to punish an ex! It will be a challenge however it will be well worth it. Some examples of ways to improve the process of joint conservatorship;
WORK OUT A STANDARDIZED SYSTEM OF HOUSE RULES
Often the initial response of one parent is to change rules you always hated while you were together or that remind you of the frustration you had with your ex. However, the inconsistency can be disruptive to the child and even push them to learn that behaviors need to be adjusted between visits.
As a result they can become very astute at pleasing or even manipulating situations between the homes for their own gain in situations where parents are still emotionally vulnerable. This is not because children are essentially naughty but because survival is such a strong instinct.
A child needs consistency of rules and schedules between homes for both piece of mind and for their healthy emotional and physical development. This may require regular phone calls or meetings between parents to discuss the present needs of the child or the working out of a timetable of commitments together so there are clear expectations and little room for emotional game playing.
Make sure as much as possible that both homes are in agreement on rules such as bedtimes, tv viewing, internet use and going out with friends. As your child grows these rules will need to be reviewed together and changes implemented co-operatively.
REMOVE RESPONSIBILITY OF GUILT FROM YOUR CHILD
Where one parent has possession of the child or a child who moves between two homes each week now wishes to live in one home, there is often an impossible guilt that they feel over choosing one parent above the other. A parent needs to free them from that guilt by not letting them share in their understandable disappointment.
Research suggests that a child is more settled in one home. Joint custody is often seen by the parents as satisfying their 'rights', often losing site of the child's needs. Be expected for these needs to change, the result being that sometimes rights should be compromised in the interests of the child.
Parents also need to be aware of the pressure they can put on themselves and the child to "have a good time" during visits. Parenting is about living and working together, facing issues together and setting boundaries where they are needed. If both parent and child are under pressure to please, the child can grow up with a false reality of life and relationships and be deprived of some important life lessons gained through discipline and conflict resolution.
The other side of the coin is that a child may choose to leave a home because they don't like the rules anymore. This should not be accepted just because it is your desire to have full custody over the other parent.
NEVER SPEAK NEGATIVELY ABOUT YOUR EX IN FRONT OF THE CHILD
Your ex, first and foremost must be remembered now as your child's parent. This is somebody with whom they will still have high regard. Making derogatory comments about your ex or arguing with your ex in front of the children can cause a conflict of loyalties that they are not in a position to handle emotionally.
Likewise, try not to act negatively when a child innocently tells you something about your ex that you did not want to hear. Swalllow it! Your child will not be expecting a negative reaction initially. Otherwise, the child will learn quickly to start withholding information between parents and overall this will interfere with both parents ability to parent affectively.
Remember the goal is not to show the child how much one parent has wronged the other but to demonstrate the handling of difficult relationship situations with dignity, so that your child can respect you and learn important life skills.
Be flexible when things don't work out according to plan or when your 'child time' is affected by a change of plans with the other parent. Perhaps even arrange guidelines for changes of plans such as a time frame by which the other parent must be informed of any alteration to the decided schedule.
Remember that a child does not need to think that their parents still 'love eachother' passionately or need to see them behaving as best friends to get through a divorce. They just need to know that they can respect eachother for the role they have in their child's life. Children will know, no matter what parents do, if they no longer get along with eachother. A parent's job is not to hide that truth but to make their child proud of the way they have dealt with the situation and to educate them in dealing with conflict by being mature about It.
DEVELOP A SUPPORT NETWORK FOR YOURSELF
Where parents become sole parents for their child, it is a good idea to make a connection with groups in your community. To a court this shows the ability to maintain a consistent and healthy network for your child. This could be through school, sporting clubs or a church communities.
Not only will this minimize the sense of dislocation that is associated with divorce, when a parent develops a support network for themselves, they relieve the child of the responsibility of being there to help them get through the stress that accompanies a divorce.
It is too much for a child when their role is switched between friend/counsellor and child. It can also help in practical ways such a for babysitting arrangements which can become more essential in a single parent home.
To summarize, do not expect the process of adjustment to parenting as a divorced parent to be smooth. It will take lots of compromises and maturity on your behalf. Work at it and it will work for both you and your child.