How do I improve our joint custody arrangement?

After nearly a decade of working with divorced and separated parents we have come up with tips based on experience to help you make joint custody arrangements work better.

Here are some tips that can really help:

1. Putting the kids first. This may sound a bit cliche, but it is probably the most important factor in making joint custody work. The whole point for joint or shared custody is to minimize the impact of the divorce on your children and to allow them to maintain strong relationships with both parents. Being able to separate in your mind what is actually best for you and what is actually best for you child is not an easy task. Sometimes doing what is best for you child will require you to show control, compromise and even give in to your ideals. This also means sharing all the responsibilities and not just leaving the disciplinary and other obligations to the other parent. Lastly, remember that as your child grows their needs will change.

2. Learn to communicate with the other parent. It is going to be very difficult to put your children first if you cannot have meaningful discussions with the other parent. You may not want to be best friends with your ex, but you need to be able to share information. It is vital to your child that both parents know about important activities, things that are happening at school and anything else that you would want to know as a parent. If parents feel like they are being left out, the relationship with the child will suffer. Many parents turn to tools like the OurFamilyWizard website to help ensure that all members of the family know what is going on.

3. Respect the other parent. If you notice, there is a progression going on here. If you have no respect for the other parent, you won't be able to communicate, if you can't communicate you can't put your child's need first. This may be the most difficult for some, but without respect you cannot begin to have a real relationship. Yep, we said it, relationship, you have one with your ex through your child whether you like it or not. It is up to the two of you as to whether your relationship is a good or bad one. Children learn from their parents, if you treat others, especially the co-parent with no respect, your children will grow up thinking this is how people should be treated. Learn to take the high road and be a good example to your kids.

4. Be involved in your kid's life. To your children it really doesn't matter what you say, actions speak louder than words. If you are interested in them, they will be interested in you. This means that you need to make a priority out of showing up to their sporting events, music recitals, school plays and anything else that is important to your kids. Excuses and gifts are no substitute for time spent.

5. Stay out of serious relationships, at least for a while. Friday and Saturday nights can get lonely, but you kids will feel even more lonely if you attention is being poured into a new love interest. This gets back to the first point, putting your kids first. If your kids feel like your attention is being taken or divided by a new love interest, they will feel like their world is continuing to fall apart even further. Until you have figured out your co-parenting relationship with your ex and your relationship with your child, you should not be introducing something to make it more complicated. A shared parenting schedule is a great tool to meet knew people and go on dates, especially if you have every other weekend with no kids. However, keep the dating social and keep your kids the priority. Don't ever pass up a soccer game for a hot date.

6. Plan ahead. Make arrangements with your co-parent as well in advance as you can for holidays and vacations. Don't wait for the last minute and spring it on them. The more time they have to process a decision and come to a joint resolution the better. There is nothing worse than waiting until the last minute for these types of things. Also, if you have plans to take the children out of state, make sure this is part of the conversation and make sure you have the proper documentation of the agreed upon plans.