Ex-etiquette: Seeking equal custody

Operating from the premise that a child deserves time with both parents, if additional time is denied, there is usually a reason.

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Jann Blackstone

Q: All I want is to be part of my daughter's life 50/50, but every time we go to court they just ask her stepmom, who is her attorney, and my ex-spouse, and both say no, so nothing different happens. What's good ex-etiquette?

A: As clarification for my readers who may not be familiar with the terminology, 50/50 refers to equal custody of your child after a break-up. However, there are two components to equal custody.

One, equal time with your child, or physical custody.

Two, the right to legally make a decision for your child, or joint legal custody.


Operating from the premise that a child deserves time with both parents, if additional time is denied, there is usually a reason. The reason could be based on many things โ€” even something as simple as where you live.

For example, prior to the COVID pandemic when most kids physically went to school, if you lived an hour away from your daughter's school, many family law judges, on the advice of child based professionals, felt that it was/is a hardship for a child to have to sit in a car for an hour to and from school, so primary custody might be given to the parent who lives closest to school. Or, it could be a history of alcohol or drug abuse and the people making decisions don't feel you have enough sober time under your belt. Or, a history of domestic violence may also affect your child's time with you. Since I don't know your case specifically, I can only speculate, but my experience tells me there's more to this story.

I've worked with parents who base their desire for equal time with their child on "it is my right as a parent," and they simply don't care if that request is a hardship for the child. In that situation, if the child is old enough, the court may ask her to weigh in, but that puts the child right in the middle of her parents and asks her to take sides. In my opinion, that's the last thing you want to do. It's the parents' job to work together, not ask a child to make the decision because her parents can't do it.

Joint legal custody is not dependent on the time allotment associated with your parenting plan. It's more about the rights of both parents to make legal decisions for the children. If history has demonstrated that you cannot problem solve in your child's best interest, I've seen the powers that be give primary decision making to just one parent, but that happens in only the most contentious cases. So, if that is what you are experiencing, it's more than you are the victim of a biased attorney and an unfair judge. It's that you and your ex's decision-making abilities have been found to be detrimental to your child's well-being and the court stepped in.

Based on that, at the most, the court may feel a custody evaluation is appropriate (they are very time consuming, emotionally draining for everyone, especially the child, and expensive). At the very least, co-parenting counseling may be in order to help you and your ex learn to problem solve and come to a more equitable sharing of your child's time. It's all about putting your child first. Because THAT'S good ex-etiquette.

Jann Blackstone is the author of โ€œEx-etiquette for Parents: Good Behavior After Divorce or Separation,โ€ and the founder of Bonus Families, . ยฉ2020 Jann Blackstone Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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