Is shared custody right for me?

 

The world is hard on moms. We already know that, but I think that this is especially evident in custody cases.

On the one hand, the world tells us that women are the ones best suited by nature to be caregivers for children. We’re maternal, selfless, nurturing – in short, best suited to pick up 99% of the work around the house, including cooking, cleaning, laundry, shopping, and even the work of remembering the hard things – to re-order the epi pens, when the birthday parties are, what each child’s favorite flavor is, to get a few treats for Valentine’s Day, to have Halloween costumes at the ready, that Monday is ‘wear holiday PJs’ day at school, and so on. It’s the physical labor and the emotional labor, and, on top of it all, most moms are working at a full or part time job, too. It’s exhausting.

We really do believe, on a societal level, that moms are superhuman. We also believe that good moms have custody of their kids.

At the same time – this is where it gets challenging – there’s this growing sentiment that dads deserve equal time, too.

I’m not saying that this is wrong. I get it; dads are important, too! But it is inconsistent that, on the one hand, we act like moms are somehow uniquely positioned to be caregivers – that it’s RIGHT, and TRUE, and NATURAL that we should all be that way – and, on the other hand, like once a relationship falls apart, that dad should have equal parenting time, too.

Even though we do still also believe that (1) moms are better at this stuff, by their very nature and that (2) if a mom doesn’t have full custody, she’s a bad mom.

And then we sit back and wonder why moms just don’t voluntarily, graciously, and happily relinquish parenting time to their ex partners.

It’s all really complicated. As a mother myself, I feel like I can completely understand this dichotomy. We’re simultaneously mother madonnas, designed by virtue of our sex to do this whole mothering thing perfectly, and overbearing mama bears who just can’t let go of their children and let their fathers have a fair shake at parenthood.

It’s confusing. It’s contradictory. And it’s impossible to find a balance.

If you tell a mom that all good moms have custody – which society does – then I think it’s hard to expect those same moms to be able to relinquish custody. They feel they have to at least fight against shared custody just because they’re good moms.

I’m not here to pass judgment on the world as it is, or to suggest that society change. That would be wasted effort on my part, because no single blog article on some random law firm’s website is going to make society change on a larger level. I only write to illustrate that these separate, contradictory, and confusing messages exist – and to point out that if you are struggling with the idea of shared custody, it’s not your fault.

You’re not a helicopter mom. You’re not just unwilling to let go. This isn’t because you’re trying to alienate your children from their father.

If you’re struggling to find something that works for you, you’re not alone. And if the idea of shared custody sends waves of fear through your body, you’re definitely not the only one.

For better or for worse, shared custody is the way the world is trending these days. In Virginia, there’s no requirement that the judge award shared custody; in fact, the way the law reads is that the judge must consider all forms (shared, split, primary physical) equally. The reality is that we see shared custody a lot more often than we used to.

Is it good or is it bad? It’s really not for me to say.

I’ve read articles that suggest that shared custody gives moms – especially professional moms – a whole new kind of freedom. It means that they can work, date, and earn much more closely to on par with their ex-husbands than they could if they were tethered to the schedule of constant caregiving. Maybe – just maybe – it allows us to strike a better balance, to prioritize our own well being, to support a stronger career.

You may have a choice. You and your child’s father may be able to craft an agreement that works for both of you and your children. But you also may not have a choice. More of the cases we see going to court these days result in shared custody, at least in the short term.

Remember that custody, visitation, and child support are always going to be modifiable based on a material change in circumstances. It’s not really about what’s best for you, of course; the court is focused on the children’s well being. But, if they aren’t doing well under the current agreement or order, the court will revisit it.

What’s best for babies isn’t the same as what’s best for school aged kids which isn’t what’s best for teenagers – this we know. The ‘best interests of the child’ isn’t fixed; its constantly changing. Life is constantly changing, too. He may find a new girlfriend or remarry, the kids may change schools, and new babies may be added along the way. About a million things can change from birth to adulthood, and a custody order has to be adaptable.

To some extent, you’ll have to be adaptable too. I know it’s hard, and there’s all these things working against you. You’re not a bad mom because you wind up with a shared custody order, even if you’re feeling that way. Your feelings are valid, but you’re also going to have to give yourself grace as you navigate a new normal.

As hard as it is, you can definitely do it. You may find that you have to do it. And you know what? I give you permission to find the bright side, and also to school anybody else who gives you any grief about it.

Custody and visitation cases are changing and ongoing, so you’re in it for the long haul. Hang in there – you’ll find something that works for you, no matter what the parenting schedule is. You’ll find a way to be the mom you wanted to be, to relish motherhood, and to support your children as they grow and change. Some of this may be outside of your control, but, for the parts that are, you can concentrate on supporting your children.

For more information or to schedule a consultation, give our office a call at 757-425-5200.

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