It's easy to set up a visitation schedule for a baby or a toddler. Young children, especially, when parents divorce early, can accept the switch in households as just part of the routine.
It's when the kids get a little bit older that things can start to get difficult.
One of the things that all divorced parents should anticipate is changes in parental preference as their children age and go through various stages of maturity. The toddler that willingly went with either parent may suddenly turn into a screaming, crying mess when Dad comes to pick him up for visitation. The teenager that was content anywhere there was a computer and an Xbox may suddenly want to spend weekends only at Dad's house because his new girlfriend lives just down the block.
This can put parents in a difficult position. The parent with primary custody has an obligation to make sure that the other parent is getting an appropriate amount of visitation time -- and what's written down in the court documents may not come close to reflecting what the child wants -- or needs -- at a certain stage of development.
How can you handle changes in what your child seems to need and want when it comes to visitation? There are a few basic rules to follow:
-- Don't take the preference for living with the other parent as a personal rejection by your child unless there's some indication that your relationship has soured.
-- Try to handle minor requests for visitation changes in a flexible way. If the kids want to stay at Dad's one more night because the carnival is in town and they always go, you can let them without having to modify your custody agreement.
-- During the teen years, changes may be more extreme as your child starts to want to have input over his or her routine. Talk it over with your ex-spouse and your child to see if there is a way to make sure both parents still have adequate visitation. For example, instead of spending weekends at Mom's during the school year, your teen could spend the entire summer there. That may be easier and less disruptive for your teen.
Make sure any big changes in custody are approved by the court. For assistance with custody issues as your children age, consider asking an attorney for help.