5 Happily Divorced Dads on Negotiating Joint Custody

Is it hard to negotiate? Yes. But impossible? Definitely not.

Divorce happens. In fact, they happen so often that there’s one every 36 seconds in the U.S. No matter the shape of your relationship or how gleeful you might be to not be in a marriage anymore, separating from your spouse is never easy. It comes with stress, self-doubt, and a lingering frustration with your ex that makes even seeing them at the store, let alone co-parenting, a Herculean task.

But there is such a thing as a friendly post-divorce relationship. In fact, there are many couples who stay amicable with their exes and have co-parenting agreements that are flexible and easy to handle. Those agreements are largely never easy to negotiate, but down the line, as wounds heal, it gets easier. Here, five divorced men talk about how they negotiated a happy — or at least, amicable — co-parenting relationship with their spouses.

Hodges Davis, Father of Five

“Our situation was a little unique, in that I didn’t try to go for sole custody. I really felt, and still feel very strongly, that I really wanted the mom involved. I didn’t try to become the solo authority. But, I got the house, I had the resources. She was dealing with a bunch of other stuff right when we split for the first year or so. The terms really were that we had joint custody, but because I had the house, and I was paying for school, and I had the cars, they ended up spending more time with me. That’s kind of continued, even now, seven years later with our younger kids.

I want them to spend time with their mom, so whenever she wants them to spend the night with them I absolutely say ‘Go!’ She’s always trusted me as a dad to make good decisions and I’ve always trusted her love for the kids. We have had very few conflicts about the kids moving forward. That was one of the things, even when we were married, that we didn’t really argue that much about. It was much more about our relationship than the kids.”

Darryl Frost, Father of One

“His mom was deployed to Afghanistan. I actually had just gotten back from Iraq. I was basically a single dad already while she was in Afghanistan. Most of the time, mom and dad kind of share co-parenting in the same house. But I was uniquely set up to be a single dad because my ex and I were on separate deployments.

The best way I kept my mind in a good setting while negotiating joint custody was really focusing on what was in the best interest of my son. I kind of kept that in the front of my mind even when my friends were giving me bad advice. You always have to keep that lens: What’s in the best interest of your kid for the long term? You have to base every decision on that. What I’ve noticed — and I’m far from being a perfect person — when you’re going through those emotional things, if you’re finding out something that maybe your spouse did, you have to ask yourself the question: Am I going to win this short-term battle just to lose the war? I only have one son, but he was my top priority. I was willing to lose property and money to keep the situation with my son the status quo at the time.”

James McFadden, Father of Two

“Joint custody was pretty easy for us. Well, maybe in the first 3 or 4 months when we were still in the heat of the divorce, it was tough. But after about a year, that stuff was in the past. She’d just call me and say, ‘Come get these kids.’ Or she would ask me what I would be doing that weekend, because she wanted to get away, and I’d say okay, and take the kids. Or I’ll tell her the same. We planned together and worked together. We always had that negotiation, and that communication going on.

We have the standard divorce decree, where one parent gets them every other weekend. We never stuck to those particular guidelines. We just did what we needed to do. I would take the kids if she needed me to take care of them and she would take the kids, if she wanted to spend more time with them. But I could go get them any time. I’d pick them up from school and take them out to eat. Things like that.”

Johnny Olson, Father of One

“We were both very close to our daughter and close to our family. So when it came time to decide on custody, I didn’t want to do the typical every other weekend type of thing. I wanted to do joint custody.

When we first started talking about it, things were a little bit more intense, and coming from a place of hurt and anger. She had been doing all this prep to move out and separate before telling me she wanted to get a divorce. I told her that if she was going to leave me that way, that I would fight her for custody, unless she stuck around for a couple of months and we started building our parenting relationship while we were dissolving our romantic relationship. I think those couple months that we took to recalibrate what our roles were and who we were in the grander scheme of things as it came to our child, really helped out.

When it came time to sign papers and everything else, there was no question, no argument. We didn’t even have a lawyer. I give a lot of credit to that cool-down and readjustment period that we took of cohabitating still, and trying to reassure our daughter that she was our priority, and that we weren’t going to stop being her parents because we were going to stop being husband and wife. We were going to be on the same page with everything when it came down to it.”

Randy Zinn, Father of Two

“Negotiating joint custody was really tough. She was actually two months pregnant with our daughter when she initiated the idea of separating. She thought that the kids would be better off with her. She had fought me on this for a long time. Our situation was kind of unique because she moved to another state while she was pregnant and she did that on purpose so that the state would have exclusive jurisdiction over the baby. She was really trying to take the kids away from me. I think a lot of that was from her anger. I was hoping all along that we would do 50/50 custody, but I won custody of our son for the school year.

Right now, I have my son, who is in kindergarten. I have him Monday through Friday and she’s got him on the weekends. I don’t have my daughter at all, but our agreement is that in about one month I am going to get my daughter one day a week. The month after that, I’m supposed to get her two nights a week for the next three months. Around that time, my ex will be moving back to our state, and once she moves back, we’ll go to 50/50 for both of the kids.”