When going through a divorce, parents often get caught up in “winning” custody of their children. Experts caution that looking at custody this way suggests possession of your children is the goal. It also suggests a lack of focus on what is best for your children. When creating a parenting plan, you and your former partner need to come together and create a plan that puts your children’s needs first.

Your children need both parents

Even if you are unhappy with your soon-to-be ex, you should not deny him or her time with your children. Research shows children need frequent and substantive contact with both parents. Young children attach to their parents early on, so being separated from one parent could cause sadness or trauma.

You may worry that forcing children to move in between your two homes is stressful. However, spending regular, meaningful time with both parents is more important than stress that may occur from transitioning between homes. Keeping a relationship with both parents provides comfort and helps ease the transition.

Create a schedule that puts the children first

However, you want to ensure these transitions go smoothly. Create a schedule that makes sense for your children, and keeps them from staying away from one parent for too long. If you live closer to their school, maybe it makes sense for you to keep them during most of the week, or vice versa. Perhaps your former spouse always takes your child to swimming lessons on Saturdays, so he or she should keep them on Saturday and Sunday. Figure out a schedule that keeps as much consistency as possible, while also keeping in mind that your children need regular time with both parents.

Figure out how to communicate with your ex

Asking your children to be the go-between for you and your ex is incredibly unfair. As you put together a parenting plan, you must establish how you will communicate going forward. Perhaps you are on good terms, so sending texts is the simplest way to communicate. If your relationship is more fractured, you may want to consider email or even using a custody app. There are a variety of apps on the market that allow you to message each other and manage things like a shared calendar, expenses and family records.

Ask your children what they want to do

You should only ask your children about custody preferences, but only if they are older. Younger children are not capable of understanding or answering these questions. Older children may not want to move between homes during the week because it will disrupt their after-school activities. They may also prefer to live primarily with one parent over another. Although this will be hard to hear, you should consider what they want. Taking their wishes into account will make them less upset and could help ease the transition.

When you create a parenting plan, you must remember that no one is “winning” custody of the children. Children need both of their parents, and you should create a plan that puts what is best for them first.