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5 critical child custody tips

You and your spouse are getting divorced, and you have two kids. The oldest is 10 and the youngest is just four.

You both agreed, from the very first moment you mentioned divorce, that you needed to prioritize their needs. The kids must come first. Your goals all have to revolve around them.

You're just not sure exactly how to do it. You've never been through this before. You don't want to make any mistakes, but you can't fall back on experience.

To begin, check out these five tips to help you and your soon-to-be-ex move forward:

1. Remember that age matters.

Your children are not the same. They need different levels of support and guidance. They have different obligations. Don't create a cookie-cutter plan that acts like they're no different. Consider what they really need at their ages and make a plan that provides it. Be flexible with the plan so it can adapt to them as they grow up.

2. Don't be unrealistic.

Yes, it's good that the kids come first. No, that doesn't mean you can spend every second with them. Don't forget about your own commitments and your own schedule. Parents often get caught up in the idealism of trying to do everything, but you can't. Be honest and realistic and create a schedule that actually works.

3. Consider the kids' schedules.

Scheduling doesn't just mean looking at your own work schedule and other obligations. Consider the kids' schedules for school and after-school activities. What clubs are they involved in? Do they play sports? Your plan has to address all of this. If you want their lives to stay the same, create a plan that allows it. With older children, it's also important to consider their peer groups and desire to spend time with friends.

4. Plan your own communication.

Communication is the key to joint custody. What works best for you? Do you want your ex to call about everything? Would you rather get a text message? How much advance notice do you need? Is email actually the way to go, or do you want to create an online calendar with joint access so that you can both stay involved all the time?

5. Talk to your kids.

Parents get to make decisions for their children, but that doesn't mean it's wise to ignore the kids. Ask them what they want. Talk to them throughout the planning process. Explain how it's going to work. Give them a voice and let them know you're listening.

These tips can help you set up the ideal parenting plan. It may still feel hard. It may get complicated. But understanding your legal rights and knowing what goals you and your spouse have starts everything off on the right foot.

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