Sad girl with her fighting parents behind her
Written by Judy Morse

How to speak with your spouse about child custody options

One of the most sensitive aspects of any divorce is the children. Unlike assets, they are living beings with feelings, needs, wants, and their own journey of the divorce. When parents separate, it can cause confusion and fear. Their world feels unstable. Kids have to adjust to a major change, just like the adults do. It’s crucial to be able to talk to your partner about child custody options. It’s also essential to place the children’s needs at the forefront. In Arizona, issues related to children include legal decision-making (how decisions are to be made) and parenting time (the time-sharing schedule).

Talk to Your Children During the Divorce

As a parent, your primary focus should be the kids. Unless they are unable to communicate, it’s important to talk with them about what’s happening and gather their thoughts. Even if you’re not able to give them what they want, you need to hear what the kids have to say, too.

Start with the reassurance that none of what’s happening is their fault, and make sure they know they are loved. If there has been visible animosity between you and your spouse, ensure they understand it is not about them. You may even consider counseling for the kids if you feel they have been affected by the conflict.

Allow your kids to be open with their feelings and discuss the different scenarios. Again, you may not be able to give them exactly what they want, but you can consider their feelings regardless of how the final custody arrangements may unfold. You may need to explain new work, school, and living situations to let them know why you may be making a specific choice. Probably your biggest role is to not bad mouth the other parent, even if it feels justified. Not only does bad mouthing the other parent create an uglier situation, but it doesn’t reflect well on you, either. Find a different and healthier outlet for strong emotions and anger.

Tips for Talking About Child Custody Options During a Divorce – And How to Conduct Yourself

When the time comes to speak with your spouse about child custody options, here are some tips to help you:

  • Put your feelings aside – You may be angry, frustrated, and hurt, but those emotions don’t have a place in a child custody discussion. It may be challenging not to react based on those feelings, but it’s important not to do so. Be civil and put your children’s needs first. Remember, in most situations, it’s positive for both parents to be in their children’s lives. Your job as adults is to figure out how to make that happen.
  • Put any new relationships aside regarding the kids – If during the separation you’ve moved on, it’s best to keep that person’s contact with the kids limited as they adjust. It isn’t about meeting your needs, but theirs. Give them time to process the fact that the family as they know it is over. Introducing a new “parent” figure is best left for the future when they’ve had the opportunity to cope with their feelings.
  • Consider how things have worked so far – If your spouse historically has been the primary caretaker, then it may be best to keep that schedule as much as possible. For example, who drives the kids to lessons, to school, or helps with homework? Try to keep things as normal as possible. There is always time down the road to adjust as everyone gets used to the new situation.
  • Own up to your shortcomings and be willing to fix them – If you haven’t been involved as a parent, it’s time to step up to the plate. Be honest and willing to change weak or destructive behaviors moving forward, especially if you want to stay in your kids’ lives.
  • Conduct yourself respectfully – Be cautious about venting on social media, make sure to follow any court orders, and follow the law.

The Next Steps

The best child custody options are the ones that keep the children feeling safe, loved, and secure. It is up to you and your spouse to make that a priority. If you or someone you care about is considering divorce and is stressed by the conversations to come, contact the professionals at Best Legal Choices for guidance.