Jane E. Perrin, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist who has practiced clinical psychology in Greensboro, NC since 1985. She is a graduate of Smith College (BA), University of NC-Chapel Hill (MA and Ph.D., Developmental Psychology) and University of NC-Greensboro (Ph.D. Clinical Retraining). She is the owner of Psychological Services of the Triad and a partner in Child Custody Center, LLP. Dr. Perrin can be reached directly at email@example.com.
AZ asks: What is a child custody evaluation and who recommends and hires you?
Mark Lewis, Ph.D. and I, partners in Child Custody Center, LLP, conduct Court-ordered child custody evaluations. After gathering extensive information about each parent, their new spouses or partners, the children and stepchildren, we write a report in which we issue recommendations for the Court. Our recommendations address specific issues asked by the Court and may include other areas that we think are important for the children’s welfare. We base our recommendations on what we consider to be in the children’s best interests. After the lawyers receive our report, the parents often accept our recommendations and the lawyers produce a custody agreement without the necessity of another Court hearing.
The parents are responsible for paying for the custody evaluation. The Court order typically states whether one parent will bear the cost or if the parents will share the cost of the evaluation.
We also consult about parenting issues with parents who are going through divorce or who are contemplating ending their marriage or partnership. Often, parents seek our advice about general principles that they need to consider. When we offer consultation services, we are disqualified from conducting child custody evaluations for the same parents and their children.
AZ asks: What is the best way to divide up custody equally for your kids?
There is no “best way” evenly to split custody, because each family situation is different. Not all children are best served by spending equal amounts of time with each parent. The parents’ caregiving skills, the children’s relationships with their parents and their stepfamilies, the parents’ previous involvement in their children’s lives, the ages of the children, the parents’ ability to cooperate with each other, the special needs of each child and the parents’ openness to improving weaknesses in their caregiving skills are among the areas that we think about in making custodial recommendations.
If, after considering these and other factors, we conclude that the children would benefit most from spending equal time with their mother and father, we have recommended a variety of custodial schedules. The parents’ work schedules and proximity to the children’s schools are among the issues we consider in making schedule recommendations. In some cases, week on, week off arrangements appear to be beneficial. In other cases, we have suggested that the children spend Monday through Thursday with one parent and Friday through Sunday with the other; and the following week, Monday through Wednesday with one parent and Thursday through Sunday with the other. Another arrangement we have proposed is five days with one parent, two with the other, followed by two with the first parent and five with the other.
AZ asks: How do you recommend dividing the week between parents-weekends compared to certain days in the week?
Again, there is no schedule that is optimal for all children. While custody exchanges during the school week may be disruptive, children who spend every weekend with one parent may miss out on valuable opportunities for recreation and “down” time with their other parent. It is extremely important for children to have strong, healthy relationships with both of their parents, but children are stressed by having to alternate between households. Parents need to use all of their creative and empathic abilities to figure out how to:
a. maximize their children’s relationships with both parents and
b. minimize their children’s stress from living in two homes.
AZ asks: What signs do you look for in the kids to know you need to get professional help for them to deal with the divorce?
Children are usually distressed when their parents separate and they may express their feelings by changes in their sleep routine, eating, school performance and behavior at home. School counselors and church- and school-sponsored support groups for children of divorce provide valuable services for children who are having difficulties related to their family situation. Because parents who are experiencing marital separation are themselves stressed, they may have particular difficulty dealing with their child’s issues. If parents feel inadequate to tend to their child’s needs during this difficult period, I would encourage them to seek help from a licensed mental health professional who specializes in treating children of divorce.
AZ asks: How much information should you give to your kids to explain the divorce?
Optimally, both parents are present to tell the children about their decision to separate. The parents would ideally let the children know of their decision in a mutually respectful, kind, non-blaming manner. Emphasis would be placed on the parents’ love of their children. The parents would reassure their children that the children were not responsible for the marital dissolution. The children would be told how their lives would change and how things would stay the same.
However, the circumstances are often not optimal. Unfortunately, in some situations both parents’ presence is impossible or not feasible. Some parents’ relationships have deteriorated to such an extent that they are unable to interact civilly with each other.
I advise parents not to lie to their children, which is not the same as telling them the whole truth. Children do not benefit from hearing about their parents’ unattractive behaviors, for instance. Children do benefit from hearing respectful, positive truthful remarks about their parents.
AZ asks: What do you do if you are uncomfortable with your kids staying with your ex?
It is not unusual for parents who have had difficult marital experiences to feel uneasy about their ex-spouse having custodial time with their children. Although sometimes their fears are justified, sometimes they are exaggerated. An objective professional opinion may be valuable. A family law attorney may be able to give advice in these situations. Possibly, the parent who is causing concern does not want custody of the children or could be convinced that a Court would be unlikely to grant him or her custodial time. If parents are unable to reach decisions about custody, the Court may order a child custody evaluation. My practice, as well as similar practices across the state, may be of service in figuring out the custodial arrangement that is in the children’s best interests.
Jane Perrin is not affiliated with LPL Financial.