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My Ex-Husband and I Let Our Kids Choose Their Own Custody Schedule

When my ex-husband and I first decided to separate, both of us wanted as much time as possible with our three kids—without making them feel like we were fighting over them. It was also important to us that the kids got to stay in their childhood home, so we’ve worked hard to make that happen and my ex got his own place very close to us. As we discussed custody schedules, we realized our tween and teenage kids might want to have a say in where they spent their time.

But before we talked about it with them, we promised each other a few things first to set the right tone.

Our Co-Parenting Agreements

  1. We would communicate with each other in private if there was a disagreement and never speak negatively in front of the kids.
  2. We would never make our children feel like possessions or use them to hurt each other. That included not making them feel guilty or questioning their intentions when they wanted to spend more time at one house versus the other.
  3. We would work out how we wanted special occasions and holidays to look before they happened. We both agreed not to travel during the holidays so our kids wouldn’t feel like they had to choose one parent over the other. For example, my ex-husband’s family lives four hours away, so he agreed to visit them the day after Thanksgiving and bring the kids if they wanted to go.
  4. We would make sure they knew what our plans were, and give them guidance in making their choices, while also letting them know they were entitled to have all the feelings they wanted about how our divorce affected them.
  5. We’d try to be flexible with each other about schedule changes. We do have a loose schedule for them to follow, but if my ex make plans to go away for the weekend and would like to have the kids on a night they usually stay with me, we leave it up to them to decide.

My kids still love waking up in their childhood home on Christmas, so my ex-husband takes them all day on Christmas Eve and he knows he’s invited to come over on Christmas Day if he’d like. If he’s going to visit family or go on a trip and wants to take the kids, we ask them first if they’d like to go.

Our custody schedule hasn’t always been easy—spending even half a holiday without my kids is difficult and feels unnatural to me. But it has worked out for all of us. 

At 14, 16, and almost 18, they all have busy social lives and jobs. Sometimes they want to stay home and they know they are never going to get a guilt trip from either of their parents if they do. Their father, for instance, is taking our two youngest kids away for a summer vacation while our oldest stays home so he can spend time with his friends and girlfriend.

Besides special occasions and holidays, there have been times when my ex-husband has wanted to spend extra time with our kids, or our kids have wanted to spend more time with him. Since I work from home and get to see them every day, while he only sees them after work, I don’t have a problem saying yes. I very much want my kids to have a strong bond with their father and I recognize that wanting to spend time with him in no way means they love me any less. 

Developing a custody schedule that works for all of us has been a process that’s gotten more relaxed over the four years since we divorced. But realizing our kids didn’t choose this situation was our incentive to make this as easy as possible for them. Because we’ve let them have a say in our custody arrangement, and have no problem when they want to change things up, there is no tension when they go back and forth between households. And that makes life easier for all of us.

Katie Bingham-Smith had three kids in three years and crafts herself silly in order to stay sane. She loves to write, wear faux leather pants, eat at burger joints, and make beautiful things. You can see more on her Facebook and Instagram.

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