Working together with a person that you just spent months getting a divorce from may seem incredibly counterintuitive, but if you and your ex-spouse have children together that is exactly what you are being asked to do. Not only has the family court judge ordered you to do so but your children are also depending on both of you to act like grownups and to do what is best for them. This may be difficult to even think about, but it is the truth. Do not tempt yourself into thinking that you can do it all yourself. At some point, to some degree you will have to work with your ex-spouse on making life post-divorce lives of your children function well.
This discussion starts with being able to make the visitation sessions- the drop off/pick up and reversal of that order- work well. You are either the parent who has the right to determine the kids’ primary residence or are the parent who has the right to visitation with your children. No matter which parent you are there are responsibilities that you have in relation to your kids. If you can turn a difficult set of circumstances into one that is positive for your kids then you will have done your job as a parent. Namely- to put your interests/wants aside and to do what is best for your kids.
Nobody is asking you to be an over the top cheerleader for your ex-spouse. You do not need to constantly sacrifice your time and your relationship with your kids in deference to your ex-spouse, either. However, you can show your kids that it is possible to work together with someone that you have differences with. I think that we can all attest to the idea that working together with people you don’t necessarily agree with (or like) is a skill that many adults in our world could stand to re-learn or learn for the first time.
What you can do that both takes very little effort and is incredibly helpful is to master and focus on a few tips that help with the transition of getting your kids into and out of visitation sessions. I am gong to write from a perspective of you as the parent who has primary custody of the kids or who has visitation rights. It doesn’t matter how things ended up for you in the divorce or if you are particularly happy with the results. All that matters is that you need to have a willingness to participate in the rearing of your kids.
Do not be rigid (unless you have to be)
Time is important to all of us. Think back to your divorce. You and your ex-spouse probably argued about all of the following topics at least one: child support, health insurance, retirement benefits, personal property, real estate, your family home, college savings and household bills. All of these topics are worthy of being argued about to an extent. However, the one topic that surrounds every other subject in a divorce, whether we know it or not, is time.
Time is finite. There is no going back in time. There is no way to add time to the day. Once an experience has passed us by it is gone forever. Some experiences in life (like your divorce) you are probably glad to be done and over with. On the other hand, there are positive experiences that we all wish could be extended or multiplied again and again. Whether you understood it or not, you were fighting over time in every issue of your divorce. Retirement savings means that you have to work less (time) and have more opportunity to do the things that you want later in life (time). Child support means that you don’t have to work that second job (time) and have more to spend with your kids (time).
Do not underestimate the importance of time. If you are someone who never really thought much about what your time is worth then a divorce will cause you to come face to face with that subject. You will start to value your time with your kids more than ever before. You may have been a person who did your best to enjoy the moments that you shared with your kids even before your divorce. Now that the divorce is done and over with you will become even more acutely aware that the moments you get to share with your kids cannot last forever.
As such, you will be more protective of your time with the kids than before. However, you should do your best to strike a balance between your desire to hoard time with the kids and a desire to make sure that visitation sessions run smoothly. Sometimes this means sacrificing time and inconveniencing yourself in order to make sure that your child is experiencing the positive aspects of visitation.
If your ex-spouse calls you to say that a family dinner took longer than anticipated and that your kids will be home thirty minutes late, there are two reactions that you could choose to have. One would be to yell and scream at your ex-spouse and to threaten him with a lawsuit if the kids are even a minute late in getting home. This would be a reaction that, depending on your circumstances, I’m sure would feel justified.
The other reaction would be to roll your eyes, take a second to conduct yourself and to tell your ex-spouse that you appreciate the update and would see the kids soon. How can you go from one end of the spectrum to the other? What if you are an impatient person who is already upset at your ex-spouse as a result of how the divorce happened? That is where being a grown up comes into play.
If your ex-spouse is already having problems with returning the kids on time then you may not be able to be as flexible with time as if he or she were always punctual. However, if your ex-spouse is always on time with the kids and have no issues as far as keeping the kids out late then I would recommend allowing the occasional late night or later than usual drop off to occur. Let’s take a look at why I think that this ok to occur on occasion.
First, if the late drop off is occurring because of a family dinner that ran long then that is a perfectly legitimate activity. After all, it is a good thing for your child to have a relationship with their other parent. It is also a good thing that they were sharing a meal together. Yes, a late dinner did not take into consideration your wants and desires but it the purpose of their being late was not to upset you. It can hurt from the perspective of your pride for your needs to not be someone’s primary consideration, but the reality is that your ex-spouse should not be focused on you.
Another factor is that if you are flexible with your time (on occasion and when reasonable) it is more likely that your ex-spouse will also be flexible with their time in the future. Can you ever envision a situation where you are running late to drop off the kids or to take the kids at your house at the end of a weekend? I’m sure you can. If you are willing to work with your ex-spouse in situations like that, he or she is likely to be willing to do the same with you. Don’t make this sort of thing a habit. Don’t assume that your ex-spouse will be understanding of you constantly being late with the kids. However, do extend civility towards your ex-spouse when doing so is necessary.
Act respectfully towards your ex-spouse
Although you won’t feel this way any longer, your kids view you and your ex-spouse not as people who used to be married to one another but as mom and dad. It is already pretty confusing to have you all living separately. Add onto that a situation where you two treat the other disrespectfully? This could cause your child to love all sense of reality and can harm their maturation process.
This means that you need to act with respect towards your ex-spouse. Again, I am not asking you be the over the top in your affection for this person. That, too, may be very confusing for your child. What I am asking you to do is to put your own emotions about this person on the backburner and instead focus on what you can do to help this person raise your child. We all understand that you and your ex-spouse are no longer married for a reason. We also understand that seeing one another can be difficult on an emotional level. However, none of this justifies bad behavior that is disrespectful to your ex-spouse.
Your final decree of divorce likely bars you from speaking poorly of your ex-spouse or their family in front of your children. This could be something like badmouthing your ex-spouse when your mother is over at the house visiting with you and the kids. Mind your tongue in front your kids. It doesn’t take much effort to do so. Just like I mentioned before when talking about another subject, it takes more effort and burns more calories to be nasty towards an ex-spouse.
The failure to do so could mean that your ex-spouse takes you back to court via an enforcement lawsuit. An enforcement lawsuit seeks to enforce the terms of your final decree of divorce. If you violate some aspect of the order, such as that part which mandates that you not speak ill of your ex-spouse or their family in front of your kid, then he or she can go to court to hold you accountable for doing so. You run the risk of having to pay attorney’s fees, fines for each violation and other costs associated with the lawsuit.
Safety and stability are keys for your children
Have you ever considered that your children may feel like their world has been turned upside down as a result of the divorce. You may have done everything that you can conceive of in relation to your divorce as far as helping the kids to feel comfortable. However, their new normal is far from normal for them right now. Even the simplest of interactions can seem difficult or foreign to them. As a result, you may need to work with your ex-spouse on making sure the kids feel safe and secure in their new environments.
One area that I think can be worked on a great deal in this regard is making sure that you and your ex-spouse are disciplining the kids consistently. Kids take a great deal of safety out of rules and discipline. They feel like their world is being kept in line when you discipline them. Do not operate under the incorrect belief that your kids need to be placated during the timer period immediately after your divorce. On the contrary, I think if you work to discipline your children in a reasonable and consistent manner then you will be serving them well.
We will continue to discuss tips and tricks to helping you and your family make it through the initial months of your post-divorce life in tomorrow’s blog post. We thank you for joining us and hope that the information that we shared with you today has been helpful and informative.
Questions about the material found in today’s blog post? Contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan
If you have any questions about the material found in today’s blog post please do not hesitate to contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan. Our licensed family law attorneys offer free of charge consultations six days a week. These consultations are a great opportunity to learn more about our office and to have your questions answered directly.