The path through divorce proceedings is a winding and complex one. Disagreements over property, retirement funds and sentimental items can lead many people to do or say things they wouldn’t have in less stressful situations. When child custody enters into the mix, arguments can escalate in intensity. For those who equate these proceedings with a tug-of-war competition, sole custody of children may be seen as the victor’s trophy.
The perception of a custody dispute as a contest can create a rift that may be difficult to mend after the proceedings have ended. While it may be difficult to avoid becoming antagonized by your former spouse during contentious struggles, it is of the utmost importance to maintain civility for the sake of your children. As most parents are aware, children are sensitive to the emotions of their parents. Whether they internalize their emotions or act out, your children will be influenced by the divorce. The degree of this impact depends largely how you and your former spouse act.
If you know that your spouse will behave in a way meant to provoke anger, it will be up to you to retain your cool when discussions become heated. You can develop safeguards that will prevent you from getting drawn into an unnecessary battle. These tips can create the foundation of a strategy to help you remain sane when you may be encouraged to behave otherwise:
1. Document interactions
While you are in the heat of conflict, it may be difficult for you to remain level-headed. Upon reflection, you may notice that your former spouse uses specific triggers to elevate your stress. If you can take the time to record these interactions, you may notice patterns developing. Rather than engaging defensively throughout a discussion, you can create a strategy to avoid conflict and resolve an issue sensibly. If your spouse sees that you are in control of your emotions, their employment of those triggers may decline.
2. Establish boundaries
Another way to regain control during a contentious time is to establish boundaries. Designate times for discussions to limit late-night phone confrontations. If you believe that your former spouse will not respect the boundaries you set, silence your phone after the designated time period. Find neutral ground for in-person discussions. Relationship experts recommend convening in public spaces to encourage appropriate behavior.
3. Write a parenting plan
Parenting plans can be extremely helpful in a custody dispute. These documents establish guidelines for custody and can be brought to the family court judge for review. A detailed parenting plan can prevent future conflicts by listing custody expectations and responsibilities. Should your former spouse agree to the parenting plan and fail to follow the plan, you may have recourse to hold them responsible for the lapse.
4. Seek out help from others
While engaging in a custody dispute may leave you feeling depleted and isolated, remember that you are not alone. Schedule time to contact family members and friends. Phone calls with your loved ones may provide moments of respite from conflict. Additionally, area churches often host support groups for individuals experiencing loss, stress or depression. It’s possible that disagreements with your former spouse have you feeling all three emotions in varying levels. In many cases, childcare will be provided to those attending therapy sessions.
While it may seem that the conflicts over custody will never end, remind yourself that this is only temporary. Remaining cool and collected will help your children feel more at ease during this time, which should be the end goal.