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Watch us pull a rabbit out of a hat

August 9, 2010

This could be a really bad idea.

We just moved to 50/50 custody. The kids spend 3 nights in a row at my apartment, 3 nights in a row at his apartment, and that other night we alternate every other week.

When I mentioned this to a lawyer friend of mine, who himself is divorced with a 4-year-old, he said, “That’s a really, REALLY bad idea. No judge in the country will award equal physical custody, because if you can’t get along well enough to stay married, how could you get along well enough to share equal time with your kids?”

There’s logic to that question.

I’m not sure human brains have a place for where LOD and I are right now. We are not married anymore. We don’t really like each other the way friends do, and certainly don’t want to spend time with each other for fun. But we don’t hate each other. We’re friendly, and wish each other well. And we know that it’s vital that the kids see each of us as much as possible, and that we be on the same page as much as possible.

Back when we were preparing for the birth of our older son, one of the ideas that came up about labor and delivery was that Western culture doesn’t have an understanding of “mildly uncomfortable.” To us, things either feel good or they hurt. We’re looking for extremes of emotion.

LOD and I got those extremes, for sure. I know, intellectually, that there was a time when we felt really good. And then there was a long time when we felt really bad. And then, throughout the long divorce process (2 years!) it seemed like things went from euphoria to despair and back again on a regular 20-minute cycle for me. I can only guess that it was the same for him.

(Anyone who says divorce is the easy way is an ignorant wanker.)

But now that we’re completely logistically done, apart, no longer emotionally beholden in any way, how do we stay in a constant relationship with someone who we don’t completely trust but need to cooperate with? Everything—EVERYTHING—depends on our ability to get along: our kids’ emotional health now, our kids’ intimate relationships later, our emotional health now and later, all four of our financial situations, all four of our career paths, who gets what for Christmas, what each of the kids eat for lunch tomorrow.

It’s too facile to say “Failure isn’t an option.” But it isn’t. We can’t wipe out and fall into the resentment and one-upsmanship that characterized the last few years of our marriage. We know that *individually* we have super-human strength to save our kids. Together, to save our kids, we have to be able to work this out.

How do we live in this place of constant small discomfort (and occasional large anger and conflict)? We aren’t sure, but we do know that thousands of other parents have done it and are doing it now.

We’re not the only ones doing this. But we’re writing about it here. Which may turn out to be a really stupid idea. But it can’t be any stupider than thinking that we can survive the effects of the poison we’ve picked.

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46 Comments leave one →
  1. AmyinTexas permalink
    August 9, 2010 10:34 am

    Beautifully put. I concur 100% and would say
    more but spilling my guts while “typing” on an iPhone stifles my emotion.

  2. Rudyinparis permalink
    August 9, 2010 10:52 am

    Fantastic and gutsy.

  3. Kate permalink
    August 9, 2010 10:53 am

    I’m not divorced, though I’ve thought about it (as has just about every married person I know), but I’m really looking forward to reading this. You two are both such intelligent, thoughtful parents that I know I’ll learn from your experiences.

  4. August 9, 2010 10:57 am

    Thank you for being brave enough to take this on and put it out there. I will pass this along to everyone I know. You will help untold numbers of parents make better choices.

  5. August 9, 2010 11:03 am

    I’m so glad to see you guys try expressing this online and I hope the blog works out. 🙂

    I can understand why someone in the divorce business would have seen enough failure that he or she might be skeptical but that never means it will fail in a particular instance. I have seen a few weird constellations of custody including a couple who purchased a duplex together – the kids could go wherever they wanted and each parent had separate quarters, and a contract outlining responsibilities for maintenance of the house etc. But they had lived separately for 5 years beforehand.

  6. Sherry permalink
    August 9, 2010 11:06 am

    Oh, wow. I just watched my 5-year-old neighbor look at her Dad in confusion when she was telling me that she lived in Decatur (a nearby town, with her Mom), and he said, “No, you live here.” Ouch.

  7. askmoxie permalink*
    August 9, 2010 11:06 am

    Shandra, I think the big difference is that LOD and I mediated the divorce. If you can’t agree enough to mediate so you end up in front of a judge, then yeah, the chances of being able to agree enough to equally co-parent is small. If you can swallow it enough to mediate, then you at least know that you can get the divorce part done, so you have that one small success to build on.

    It feels kind of pitiful. But at least good pitiful instead of bad pitiful.

  8. Sherry permalink
    August 9, 2010 11:08 am

    Oh, that was NOT a criticism of you, by the way. I think you’re terrific. I was just commenting that I’d recently witnessed bad “sharing” between divorced parents. I think you’re doing great.

  9. August 9, 2010 11:17 am

    I’ve been a fan of your Ask Moxie blog for a long time, and I’m glad to see you’re blogging about this here. As a stepmother, I am looking forward to seeing how you work out the inevitable struggles. I identify with the feeling you express here, where you don’t hate someone but you also don’t really like them, and yet you must work together. That’s a pretty good description of our relationship with the mother of my husband’s son.

    Good luck!

  10. Sara Metzger permalink
    August 9, 2010 11:26 am

    My ex and I have co-parented my 15-yr-old since she was 3. She’s turning out great so far. It’s all about flexibility, fairness, and understanding, without being a pushover. It’s great that you’re going to show people that it CAN be done!

  11. Alice permalink
    August 9, 2010 11:55 am

    I am so glad you are writing about this. I have a very similar custody arrangement and very similar feelings about my ex, with the extra twist of a new partner and her kids. Agree that the ability to mediate is crucial. I look forward to reading your thoughts, and appreciate your willingness to take this risk.

  12. August 9, 2010 12:28 pm

    I wish you and LOD nothing but success in this endeavor! I will be reading along, even though I don’t deal with this issue personally, but I have many, many friends who do.

  13. August 9, 2010 12:31 pm

    I co-parent with my ex-husband 50/50. We did the “week with me and weekends with him” thing and it didn’t work. I felt like I was doing all the work (homework, lessons, making lunches, etc.)and then he got to be “fun daddy” on the weekends. I was exhausted and burnt out and angry, so I suggested something different. Two years ago, I made a sacrifice and moved to my ex-husband’s neighbourhood and we now alternate weeks … one with him and one with me. Anything shorter or longer just didn’t work for us or the kids. This is our 3rd year now and the kids have adjusted well and I love this arrangement. I would highly recomend it!

  14. Irene permalink
    August 9, 2010 12:59 pm

    I think it’s really courageous to even make the attempt. While at first glance, this blog might not look relevant to those who are happily married, or partnered-but-unmarried, or single, or don’t have kids, I think there’s a lot of potential wisdom and throught-provoking stuff about human relationships in general that could come out of this topic.

    It might be useful to state some ground rules not only for the two blog authors, but for commenters, to avoid comment threads from degenerating into “primal scream” negativity. There might be designated threads, like on the Moxie blog, specifically to get all that out, and leave more space in the other threads for constructive, collaborative thinking.

  15. August 9, 2010 12:59 pm

    I’m really excited for you guys! I think this is a fantastic and very brave idea, as well as a great way for a couple of writers/bloggers to go through the process of co-parenting. I’m sure that this blog will help so many other people in your situation. All the best!

  16. August 9, 2010 1:49 pm

    My parents shared custody of us half-week/half-week. Exactly 50/50 custody. Just like you. They separated in 1974.

    It worked out pretty well.

    One thing that you may want to consider is to revisit the length of the split when your kids are older. I wanted to move to week/week, but my parents wouldn’t.

    I’d be happy to be a sounding board for you both about it if you’d like!

    I’m so glad you’re both partnering in parenting and in writing about how it works out.

  17. August 9, 2010 1:50 pm

    “Older” meaning high school.

  18. Marie permalink
    August 9, 2010 2:18 pm

    Wow Moxie & LOD! This is an amazing undertaking. Best wishes to both of you. And thanks for being willing to share your experiences with us.

  19. Cori permalink
    August 9, 2010 2:22 pm

    Best of luck to you both!

  20. August 9, 2010 3:01 pm

    Went through this a generation ago, so I’ve got some perspective on it. We started with split weeks, but, after a year, we started going to family therapy, which is pretty useful once being married is off the table — we could be a lot more honest with nothing left to lose! First thing the kids (4th and 8th grade) asked was that we go to a more sensible split. They had trouble keeping track of where they were going to be and also could never finish projects in their bedrooms because of the frequent interruptions. We went 1st and 15th and it became a lot more manageable all around.

    I’d love to say we did that until they graduated and left, but a local economic collapse forced me to move cross country. We offered a choice and they broke our hearts by making different decisions — one came with me, the other stayed with her. But, when she remarried and moved out of the country a year later, I ended up with both boys. I’m here to tell you, the Atlantic Ocean makes a fine buffer! That said, the first-and-fifteenth worked well for three years — the boys could make plans with their friends and their mother and I could have normal social lives and still be active parents.

    Not sure about that lawyer friend of yours, by the way. Thousands of judges have approved that kind of arrangement. I’ve got grandchildren who are older than my kids were when we did it.

  21. August 9, 2010 4:45 pm

    I’m looking forward to following your journey, Moxie!

    I’ve been doing this (divorce/shared custody journey) for two years now and it’s definitely interesting. I know I’m really lucky in a lot of respects – my ex and I get along well even though we don’t want to spend time together and we share (nearly) equal custody of our son with very little angst. I am a child of divorce myself, so I honestly don’t have anything to compare our situation to – it just seems normal to us because it’s the way things have to be. Discomfort always exists no matter the situation – I think teaching our kids how to deal with discomfort is the key.

  22. August 9, 2010 4:55 pm

    I think this will be a very valuable insight. Good for your guys.

  23. Carla Hinkle permalink
    August 9, 2010 5:18 pm

    I am impressed. What a fantastic idea and it really speaks volumes about your (collective) co-parenting that you’d embark on something like this. I am not divorced but will certainly be reading.

  24. August 9, 2010 6:17 pm

    Good luck to you all! I’ll be interested to follow along. I was a child of divorce so I know how that can feel when the parents are mostly-cordial. I also know how it looks when the parents hate each other from the kids’ vantage point.

  25. August 9, 2010 7:34 pm

    This is fantastic! This is also a tribute to how much both of you love your kids. They will read this one day and be able to better understand what happened. I wish my parents had been able to be cordial and do something this brave together. It would have taken the guessing out of the equation. As a child of divorce I can say that’s where most of the damage was for me, guessing what happened and why it happened. Can’t wait to read what comes next! Good luck!

  26. Nancy White permalink
    August 9, 2010 8:37 pm

    I’m absolutely delighted that you are even attempting this. I wish you both well in this endeavor and hope that it helps in your much larger endeavor to co-parent your sons.

  27. August 9, 2010 9:02 pm

    Moxie and LOD, what a great idea-best wishes on the new adventure! I am another child of divorce. For some reason it was clear to me that my parents did not love each other and they would not get back together, but it was also clear to me that they loved me and they worked hard to respect each other and agree on how to raise me. It sounds as if your sons will have similar memories (believe me, compared with some of my friends memories, my childhood was pretty wonderful).

  28. August 9, 2010 9:41 pm

    It’s a risky blog you’re writing, and there’s nothing like a bunch a rubber-neckers to hold their collective breath while you write. My Ex’s girlfriend once suggested we write a book on how to have a healthy divorce. My response was “Hell no!”

    But I’m glad you have more moxie than I do.

  29. August 10, 2010 9:29 am

    First, really bummed that I didn’t meet you at BlogHer.

    More importantly, as I told LOD, I don’t think this is stupid at all. I think it’s freaking brilliant, and you guys are inspirational and courageous and I’ll be sending this link to all my friends who co-parent with a former spouse or partner.

  30. Lindsey permalink
    August 10, 2010 10:20 am

    My (soon to be) ex husband and I separated in April. Our divorce will be final on August 18th. We too do 50/50 custody. One week at my house one week at his. He and I are also, thankfully, at a place where we don’t necessarily LIKE one another but we coexist in a relatively calm manner. I’m looking forward to sharing this journey with you. I hope this works out as I can see it being a tremendous asset.

  31. August 10, 2010 10:31 am

    Look, I know I’m just one person with one piece of anecdotal evidence, but let me tell you that 50/50 shared custody can work. My parents divorced when I was 7 and my brother was 4. They felt that an arrangement where we spent one week with each parent would be too much for my brother, so we went back and forth every 3 days. We alternated weekends. My parents were totally on the same page, parenting-wise, and they lived in the same town.

    Later in the going, my mom married my stepdad, who had a son who did the exact same schedule with his mom and dad. And we had some friends on that schedule. Every single one of us grew up to be normal and well-adjusted, and most of us are happily married.

    Honestly, I think the biggest problem is just logistical issues. Stuff like having to pack (we had clothes at both houses, but I always hated my dad’s house clothes), or accidentally leaving your math book at the other house.

  32. Lisa permalink
    August 10, 2010 2:36 pm

    In response to Mike Peterson, Moxie’s attorney friend was correct — most judges WON’T allow it. I work in the legal community, and it’s rare. The only divorced couples I know who do have 50/50 parenting have agreed to do it on their own, like Moxie and LOD. Left to a judge? You’d be hard-pressed to find one 50/50 custody agreement in our entire district.

    I asked one of them once why that was the case, as I have friends who agreed to such a split and it’s working well for them, and he said it left too many issues open to two people who, like Moxie’s friend said, can’t get along well enough to even stay married. Who makes the medical decisions? What about child support? What if there is an issue where the parents absolutely cannot agree? He said it sounds good on paper, but very difficult to sustain in real life.

  33. August 11, 2010 7:28 am

    I’d have to dig through a barrel of old-and-thankfully-irrelevant papers, but a judge certainly okayed our joint custody. We probably didn’t write the details of where the kids slept each night into any documents but our financial arrangements implied it. We had to do at least one modification when I moved East and another when I ended up with both sons, but that had more to do with $$$ than housing. Obviously, I was going to be doing all the grocery and clothing shopping once they lived with me full-time.

    I think we had some “major holiday” split language written into the original agreement and it certainly came up in the modification, again because it was relevant to the changed situation.

    I guess that’s my reason to question a judge’s approval — if both parties agree, who is the judge to say you can’t do it? (If they don’t agree, then it won’t work and someone in authority should perhaps point that out!)

  34. Lesher permalink
    August 11, 2010 10:12 am

    I had a friend point me to your new blog. I’m going through a divorce (18 months in and he’s dragging it out) and tried the 50/50 custody route with my ex. Unfortunately we are heading back to court in a few months because what I learned real quick is you need more than just willingness to co-parent. You need the other parent to be reasonable and level headed as well, and not just when things are going his way…But I digress.

    I’m definitely looking forward to reading along though. Regardless of how the custody/divorce is structured, it’s always helpful to read about others going through similar issues.

    I am curious to know how long it took for you both to get to this point. Have you both been so willing to work together? What was the custody arrangement early on in the divorce process? Have you progressed to this point or have you always had a civil co-parenting stance? Just a few things I’m hoping to see if you talk about as you go!

  35. askmoxie permalink*
    August 11, 2010 10:31 am

    Mike–a judge will *approve* a split custody agreement that the parents bring and agree on. A judge will not (at least in NY State) take two feuding parents who can’t agree and coming fighting into court and *rule* for them split custody.

    Lesher, it used to suck. Lots. We’ll talk about it here, for sure.

  36. August 12, 2010 9:04 am

    Brilliant idea – although it must be terrifying for you both.

  37. Mia permalink
    August 12, 2010 3:04 pm

    Wow. I am really looking forward to this.
    Hopefully you will talk us through things like compromise, empathy, annoyances and mostly how you communicate! It will be nice to be on a similar “journey” with you… misery loves company right? (kidding. I hope.)

    thank you!

  38. From This Day Forward permalink
    August 12, 2010 8:00 pm

    we have a 50/50 custody agreement and had the exact same arrangement you guys have now … until middle school – then it got too hard for my stepson. we do the week on/week off thing now. my husband’s ex doesn’t live in our neighborhood, so she has to drop him off at our house before school and pick him up from here on her way home. essentially we see him every day, which is nice!

  39. Niki permalink
    August 13, 2010 11:49 am

    Around here (I think it is the state of CA, but it might just be the local counties), 50/50 is the norm and the ideal — family court pushes for it. I personally think it gets harder by late elementary school, and gets really hairy at middle school, at least if the split is a mid-week one. The two main issues I’ve observed are strains on developing local friendships and increased organizational pressures (from having multiple classes and more long-term projects). If parents live in the same neighborhood then hanging out with friends is less of an issue, but it’s still a good idea to consider a week on/week off or 1st/15th schedule.

    Thank you for having the guts to try this blog. You are my heroes.

  40. Sarah permalink
    August 13, 2010 12:14 pm

    All I can say is thank you for writing this blog…i love your point about emotional extremes,,,so true and thank you for those writing as children who have been through this and have turned out normal…I always say that kids don’t come with a manual (wouldn’t it be great if they did!) so we all just try and do what we think is best but you can’t help but second guess yourself. This site makes me forge on with confidence…that is priceless.

  41. Robin permalink
    August 13, 2010 3:52 pm

    I am looking foward to sharing in your journey. My boys father and I have been co-parenting since October 2008. It isn’t always easy, but to see how well adjusted, happy and secure our now 9 and 7 year old boys are becoming makes it all worth it! Good luck and stay positive.

  42. August 13, 2010 10:16 pm

    I may not count as totally normal, but I am definitely in favor of 50/50 shared custody. My parents divorced when I was 4 and, according to them, I was the first joint custody case in the state of Arizona. Maybe they just meant the first 50/50 split? Anyway. It was good. They did a good job and I have always been grateful. I think this blog is absolutely awesome. Thank you to both you and LOD for putting this out there.

  43. Tim permalink
    August 15, 2010 3:22 pm

    My ex and I have the best arrangement possible. We were married 18 years, but had children late. So – it’s co-parenting with a 6 and 8 year old.

    We started the new arrangement a year ago and it works exceptionally well, however, it is not for everybody.

    The idea came about from an arrangement read about in law school and the fact that our kids hated the back and forth between us. Also – every single person I know who grew up with divorced parents hated having two places and the back and forth between.

    Another consideration – my ex and I love a city living existence.

    How to have a fun, interesting life uptown, when the cost is extremely high for a two or three bedroom apt. in the city? Also the expense of a large residence in two places that was only used half time seems so dumb.

    I proposed the kids always stay in our old townhouse (the ex bought me out in the divorce) and I rented a studio apartment in the city. We go back and forth while the kids always have their house. We have a 2 or 3 day schedule that allows an alternating fun weekend each.

    Really – it works fantastically, but only a couple bent on behaving like adults and being super cooperative can make it work. We have that and likely there are other similar divorced couples out there too. The kids are happy and consider the townhouse their place and we are just visitors. Expenses are shared 50-50 just like our time with the kids. When we don’t have the kids the commute is short and the lifestyle exceptionally fun. When we have the kids it’s a suburbs and fun time too.

    NOTE – one thing that makes this work is no money ever changes hands for us. There is no child support payment and both of us are working professionals (lawyers). When I read about a similar arrangement in law school it was with three different places – one for each parent and then the children’s home. There was no way we could afford that, but again – two people bent on cooperation and the children’s best interests can do it with two and even save a bit of money.

    Yes – a judge will approve a 50-50 split if such an arrangement has been agreed to before hand.

  44. September 6, 2010 6:13 am

    Bravo! I am really enjoying your blog. I have also recently experienced a truly friendly divorce — in that we not only don’t hate each other, but we actually finally enjoy each other’s company again and are friends in every sense. We don’t have children, although I am now expecting my first, and my ex is very supportive of and happy for me. I’ve been blogging about my own ride at http://mybumpandgrind.blogspot.com/. It’s great to read more examples of couples mature enough and with enough love for each other to see divorce as an evolution in the relationship rather than an end or a failure, particularly where children are involved. Good luck to you both.

  45. Gina S permalink
    November 11, 2010 12:33 pm

    Just stumbled on your blog via Parent Hacks. I am currently in a similar situation as you. Divorced when my son was about 3 and we did the mid-week schedule for years until he turned 10 and now we are doing one week on and one week off which makes a school week and vacations much easier. It’s not always easy as any split custody isn’t, but we really are trying to do the “right” thing here and both feel it’s important for our boy to spend time with both of us and not just have a “weekend” parent. We live in the same city, are both re-married with 2 addition children each, and go as one big “family” to all his sports, school, and band events. There are many things we disagree on but are trying very hard to make the situation as smooth as possible for our son. I’ve only read your first post so far, but am looking forward to reading more of your blog. It’s always good to know we are not alone.

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