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January 8, 2015

Partial Physical Custody and Proactive Contact

Divorce is a challenging event in the life of a family. Children and parents see and experience divorce differently. While parents are coping with the emotional, psychological and financial disruption they may be experiencing, children, no matter their ages and emotional maturity, experience disruption and confusion. As everyone navigates new territory, children look to their parents for guidance and security as they process the often conflicting feelings they experience.

In every divorce involving children, legal and physical custody is established based on the best interests of the children. More often than not, parents retain joint legal custody and have an equal interest and voice in medical, educational and religious decisions. While a growing number of families successfully share physical custody, most parenting plans still involve primary and partial custody in some form.

If a child or children live primarily with one parent it is harder for the non-primary custodial parent to be involved in the daily routines. Many but not exclusively fathers, complain that their children's other parent is not sharing information with them about what is going on in the children's lives. If the parents still are moving through the often emotionally charged negotiations involving property and finances, continuing to rely on one parent to keep the other informed is not only unworkable, it is probably unreasonable. If Mom is the primary custodial parent, Dads who are used to being part of the children's daily home life, may feel they are sitting it out on the bench. Instead of waiting for custodial time to get in the game with your children, partial custodians should take on more of the legwork themselves. To stay engaged and participate actively, we recommend the following proactive steps:

1. Put the custody schedule on Google calendar or some other password protected application, which enables both parents to post events and important dates involving their children. Fill in sports practices and games, birthday parties, religious school activities, medical appointments, conferences and the like. As children reach middle school and high school, they can give you details directly and the most computer literate can add them directly to the calendar.

2. Stay in touch with your children when they are not with you. Email, texting (for older kids with phones), FaceTime or Skype expand the opportunities for contact no matter the distance or time apart. Contact should be regular, even if not every day. A simple hello text to a teenager may be all you can do but it conveys that you are thinking of your child. However, do not use these tools to inhibit your children from enjoying their time with their friends or other parent. You too want to have time without persistent interruptions.

3. Provide your children's schools, medical providers, coaches, troop leaders and friend's parents with your contact information. Chaperone activities when your schedule permits. Going on a field trip or helping to time swim meets when it's not your scheduled time demonstrates your commitment to your children. Be a booster for your children's schools and teams, buy wrapping paper or cookies or popcorn if your kids are selling them and you can afford it.

4. Stay in touch with your children's teachers and the school guidance counselor. For routine matters, email or phone messages can often be exchanged. Ask to be copied on progress reports, report cards and any correspondence from the school. Arrange to be at meetings for any special needs your children have, even if the other parent will be there. You will get information firsthand and have your questions answered.

5. Attend performances, games recitals and other activities in which your children participate. Tell your children you want to attend and let them see you at the event. Take pictures where appropriate. Refrain from bringing a date unless your children know and like the person. To do otherwise will unnecessarily upset their other parent and in turn cause the children distress.

Being a parent is a full-time job, even when you have partial physical custody. Remember that while you are making the effort for them, it is unlikely that your children will thank you for being present because they are too busy just being kids. Enabling them to enjoy their activities and not worry about their parents skirmishing will help them feel secure and still connected even when you are apart. For that they may thank you later.