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Can you make custody transitions less stressful?

For some people, getting a divorce wasn't the hard part. The real trouble comes every time they have to transition their child to the other parent's house for visitation.

Well, the good news is that you can make it easier -- on you, on your ex-spouse and (most importantly) on your child. Here are some things to try:

1. Communicate the plan with everyone

Uncertainty can stress-out the adults in a situation, so is it any wonder that kids react badly when there's a lack of planning? Talk with your ex-spouse early and often about things like:

  • Where you will meet to exchange custody
  • Who will be there
  • What time you will meet
  • When you'll do it all in reverse
  • What needs to be discussed before, during and after the exchange

Let your child in on the information as soon as you firm up the details so that your child has time to adjust to the swap. The more routine you can make these events, the better.

2. Give your child some measure of control

No kid likes to feel that everything is out of his or her control. While you can't cede your parental authority to your child, you and your ex-spouse can agree to give your child some ability to shape their environment. For example:

  • Let them choose where to eat dinner (even if it's McDonald's) before the custody exchange.
  • Allow them to pack their own clothes or toys for the time they'll be gone.
  • Allow them to take their favorite cereal or special bowl with them to the other parent's house (and back again).

3. Have a plan for contact and establish a few rituals

Stress to your child that you can be reached by phone, text or Skype while they're away and that there's no reason to worry. Try to establish a parting ritual, whether you read a favorite book before they go, hide a stuffed animal in their things or just indulge in a five-minute call every night before bed. The familiarity of the ritual and the reassurance of your contact will help younger children adapt.

Child custody issues may still come up, no matter how hard you try. If they do, find out more about your legal obligations and options today.

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