COLUMN: The challenges of divorce and custody

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By John Lapp

In the years I have been involved in counseling situations, there are often some problems that arise in the divorced family as it relates to custody issues and step-parenting. None of these issues are beyond addressing and resolving, but they are often very emotional both for the parents as well as the child. (For the rest of the column, it will be assumed that the word child, may also refer to more than one child or multiple children.)
Today’s column is not designed to solve or resolve these issues, but to address how difficult it can become to satisfy all the needs and expectations for the whole family.
Because divorce can put some legal issues ahead of what may seem to be the best interest of family, most of us know that the court will be involved as it relates to the upbringing of the child by awarding or granting either “custodial” and/or “non-custodial” rights and responsibilities to the parents. These relate to the times and the amount of times, each parent will have access to the child and the overall care to be provided as it also relates to schooling, medical needs, and the actual physical visitations.
I have been called as an “expert witness” when I have been the counselor for members of the family. It is a difficult thing for a judge to really know the family well enough to render a decision that fully addresses what is best for all — so the decision is often based on a written or oral agreement presented to the judge that has previously been agreed upon by the parents, often with a court-appointed/approved mediator who has been involved with the family.
Often the case is simple, most likely because of information about the impossibility for one of the parents to realistically have the necessary hours of any given day or week to provide adequate care for the child. So, for the sake of the safety and welfare of the child, it has been agreed before the court appearance that one of the parents has more of the necessary capabilities to provide the ongoing needs of the child. Much of this relates to the age of the child or any other matters relative to any of the child’s special needs.
One of the more complicated custody situations is when there are two or more children with different needs — not just schooling, but activities like dance classes, sports teams, scouts and church matters, which are not so simple to resolve.
This requires a lot of patience with the parents and for the sake of the interests of the child, some changes from the original agreed upon plan. That is a problem which is easier to resolve when the parents try to put their own issues aside as it relates to the problems between them, and attempt to do what is in the best interests of the child.
That can become a sticky issue, and usually requires some outside program of intervention with a counselor or trusted church official. Emotions run deep during a divorce and can surface at any time, especially when it seems like it’s not going the way one party or the other wants it to go.
The custody can get very entangled when an ex has now been dating again, and this can become more and more entangled when the new friend has brought his or her children into the relationship, especially if it is reported to the parent that the child does not like the new friend or one or more of the other children.
As stated in last week’s column, this can also be complicated by the changes in school, neighborhood, sleeping arrangements, new sets of guidelines/rules placed in the home by the adults. A child’s behavior can suddenly change from compliant to noncompliant, not because the child is bad, but because there have been too many changes too soon.
One of the problems that I have seen, is the abject “neglect” by a parent who doesn’t consistently maintain contact with the child after the divorce and custody matters have been in place. A necessary statement is needed here for those guilty parties: When you divorce, you are no longer married to your partner, but you cannot divorce your children. They are yours. You helped bring them into the world and you owe it to them to do what is necessary and beyond so that they never doubt that you are and always will be who they know you to be and that you will always be there for them.
Other important topics will be presented in an upcoming divorce support program, titled “New Directions” which will begin Thursday, Sept. 19, and will be at the Risen Lord Lutheran Church on Taylorsville Road. The program starts at 7 p.m. and should last about one hour. There is no charge to participate.
Although neither of us who will be the presenters are members of the church, the pastor, the Rev. Steve Gettinger (who also has a weekly column in The Spencer Magnet) has graciously opened this building for the use of the program and is actively and enthusiastically involved and interested in the overall scope of this program.
I will conduct each session with the more than adequate assistance of a family friend, Ms. Joyce Nalley, who will add a necessary component to the overall success of the program, as she is a divorced single woman, mother and grandmother.
When in practice in the area of Jacksonville, Fla., a program was in place for many years and I was assisted by two friends who provided their expertise to over 700 attendees during the duration of the program.
It will be a time of presentation, small-group and larger group discussion, and also a time of fellowship and fun for each person in attendance.
The subject of divorce is not fun, but we hope we can provide some assistance to you and your family during these sessions. You will be reading and hearing more about the program in the coming weeks. It is open to two groups of people: 1) anyone who has been divorced, no matter when or how often, and 2) those who are currently, actively involved in a divorce proceeding (not just separated from each other).
For more information, call 502-477-2818.