One of the most difficult aspects of handling family law cases is also being an empathetic listener to clients. (Although attorneys should never be substitute therapists for many reasons, not the least of which includes professional training and cost per hour!)
I tend to find myself repeating the same recommendations to my clients who are having a difficult time, especially when it relates to custody matters. Here are 10 things you can do to help your clients or friends going through a difficult situation:
1. Practice empathy
Co-parenting your kids with your ex is no easy feat. Practicing empathy, trying to put yourself in both your kids’ and the other parent’s shoes, will help you successfully navigate this situation. When your kids miss the other parent, allow them to voice their feelings. When dealing with the other parent, take into account that the other parent loves the little ones, too, and act accordingly. Simply put, treat the other parent the way you would like to be treated.
2. Be open and flexible with schedules
Kids suffer when their parents argue about visitation schedules in front of them. Even if you have a court-ordered parenting calendar, if the other parent wants to take the kids to a ball game or watch a soccer match on TV on one of your days, put the kids first. Ask yourself: Will they enjoy it? If the answer is yes, then let them go! One day, when they grow up, they will thank you for allowing them this freedom.
3. Pick your battles
It’s important to have ground rules and values in both households for the kids. But it also stands to reason that each parent will deal with certain situations differently. Don’t expect the other parent to do everything exactly the same way you do it. Even if you were still married, you’d have different parenting styles — and that’s OK. Kids thrive on those differences.
4. Communicate directly with the other parent
You’ve probably heard this one before, but do your best not to use the kids as go-betweens. Not only will they get the message wrong, they will also witness any negative feelings either parent expresses when delivering or receiving it. If your kids give you a message from their other parent, don’t blow up in front of them. Wait until you’re alone to give the other parent a call and address the issue as calmly as possible.
5. Don’t forget your ex is also your co-parent
You’re separated for a reason. If your ex didn’t change their ways when you were a couple, they are most likely not going to do it now. Do what you can with what you’ve got and make the best of your relationship as co-parents. Allow them to rebuild their life however they see fit, as long as it’s not harmful to the kids. Counseling is a good investment to improve communication. The kids will be the winners.
6. Make exchanges short and sweet
No matter where or when you exchange the kids, keep these moments short and sweet. Do your best not to cry or hang on to the little ones when they go off with the other parent. Especially don’t drag it on giving your ex endless instructions. Say your goodbyes with a smile, so the children won’t feel guilty about leaving you by yourself.
7. Respect their time with the other parent
If your kids only see the other parent during the weekends, don’t put a damper on their time together by calling them too often. Especially when you know they may be having dinner or if it’s past their bedtime. If you miss them, call a friend to commiserate. Think of how you would feel if your ex insisted on calling your home at odd hours and made the kids feel bad about missing them.
8. Share photos, grades, accomplishments
When your kids get their grades or are having a special event and the other parent is missing, take a picture and email or text it to them. Tell them that you are doing it, so they know you are including the other parent in the parts of daily life that they may not be privy to. Ask them to do the same for you, but don’t nag them if they don’t. Remember, it’s all about the kids in the end.
9. Encourage your kids to communicate with the other parent
Make sure they call, email or write to the other parent on a regular basis. Remind them of the other parents’ birthday and other special occasions. Help them make or choose a gift and mail it or give it to them in person. Kids are happiest when they feel free to express their feelings of love towards both parents even when they are no longer a family unit living under the same roof.
10. Enjoy your time off
One of the perks of being a single parent is that you will inevitably have time just for you. Take advantage of the days your kids are with the other parent to socialize, take a class, get a massage, go to the movies, read books or sleep in. Recharge your batteries so that when the kids come back they will find you at your best!
Finally, Smartphones can make co-parenting easier: Here are some apps to consider downloading.
What tips do you suggest to your clients in custody cases?