This is Part 2 of The Shared Parenting Series. For Part 1, Click here.
How do you make shared parenting work when you really don’t like your ex (or your ex really doesn’t like you)? The answer? Parallel parenting.
Parallel parenting is almost like the best of both worlds when parenting in an extremely hateful environment. Conflict is reduced naturally, and both parents can have their fundamental rights preserved. Of course, parallel parenting is rarely, if ever, spelled out in court orders. I advise parents not to look at the orders in determining if they “should” parallel parent. I advise them to just do it. It’s more of a philosophy than it is a real set of rules. It’s about boundary setting and the reallocation one’s mental resources away from the lifestyle of the other household.
Some people believe that shared parenting should be taken off the table because of inconsistencies in parenting philosophies. Yet, rather than promoting the loss of the one parent for purposes of “reducing conflict”, there are viable ways we can shimmy around these common issues. The best part is, this can all be done for free. How is this free? Because it’s FAR easier to integrate these strategies than it is to reopen the docket with the court and try to make modifications. The tips below are far quicker and cost effective. They will also save a well-meaning parent a lot of time, mental anguish and frustration.
Disclaimer: Some people are raising children with a parent who is a real danger to their child. If this describes your situation, you have my sympathies. It’s no surprise that the court failed your children. The following advice won’t solve your big problems, but hopefully some of your smaller issues can be reduced, so you can focus more on the big issues with a qualified attorney.
Below are common complaints that parents have with regard to sharing custody of their children with an ex that they despise. Also listed are some techniques you can adopt today that may help reframe your point of view, so that you can be a little less angry or stressed out about the situation you are pretty much stuck in forever. And it really is forever – because think about it, you will be sharing grandchildren with this person! And if that wasn’t enough to ruin your day, expect that when you smile proudly in your child’s wedding photos… your ex will be alongside you, displaying that grin that you hate, as the cello plays. Pass the champagne!
Common complaint #1 – “My ex is a deadbeat and a tightwad! He/she never pays for anything, never provides anything for our child(ren)!”
This comes up all the time, and many moms and dads have this argument as one of the stronger points when they ask judges to award the majority of custody rights to them. Many parents seem to believe that they should have full custody if the other parent refuses to pay for child-related expenses. Some examples include: cars, car insurance, extra-curricular activities, haircuts, new winter coats, musical instruments, etc.
On the surface, this logic makes sense. If one parent is more able/willing to provide these extras, why shouldn’t they get full custody?
This can be challenging for both parents. One parent feels like they are paying for most of the child expenses (and they probably are), and this becomes even more of a thorn in their side when they are paying child support on top of it. On the flip side, some parents feel bombarded, overwhelmed, and bullied by the parent who tries to “force” them to pay for expenses beyond the basic needs that a child has. So who is right?
The answer: Both of you think you are right. If you are acting in good faith, you might feel you are even more right. If there’s bad faith at play, then paying for extras is the least of your concerns anyway. Parents who act in bad faith and also refuse to pay for child expenses never seem to hesitate to pay for lawyers, but unfortunately there’s nothing you can do about that, for as long as the unconstitutional state statues are still stuck in our collective consciousness. So let’s focus on what you DO have control over.
Because you have the right to parent your child as you see fit, and as long as your child’s basic needs are met (shelter, food, education, medical care, and clothing), there’s nothing more required from either parent. It really is that simple. Anything beyond the basics is technically optional. Court-ordered payments of anything beyond the above expenses is unconstitutional. Do Family Court judges force married parents to pay for summer camp – or even enroll their child in summer camp in the first place? No. Therefore, court-ordered payments such as these are a seizure of property. Are you surprised to learn this?
Before I get flamed for these statements, I’ll say that I’m just as frustrated as you are with some of these concepts. However, my personal feelings are secondary to what is proper and fair for all parent-citizens, both married and unmarried.
Yes, for my son that I have “secondary” custody of, I do pay child support. I also pay for extras that I am not reimbursed for. LOTS of extras. My extras include high quality vitamins because my son has special needs. However, my son wears hand-me-downs in my home, and gets newer clothing from his other parent. Which parent is “better?”
The point is, it doesn’t matter, because we are each providing for our child during our parenting time as we see fit. It’s my choice to oversee his health as closely as I do, so I have to absorb the costs and consequences of that choice. As much as I hate it, it’s my ex’s choice to not contribute to the cost of the vitamins, and it’s his choice to be more blasé about my son’s special needs. My core problem isn’t with my ex. My core problem is that the court prevents my son from being in my care often enough to take the vitamins regularly, but that’s a complaint for another post. My reason for mentioning this is because parents are really quick to attack the other parent for whatever reason, while not understanding that the equal protection of fundamental rights would naturally eradicate most of these smaller problems.
Back to the topic at hand: most parents will pay (or not pay) for items that reflect their values. There is no right or wrong way to do things, as long as they are legal, and as long as the child’s need for safety, food, health, and educational needs are met.
As kids get older and their expenses increase, the “tightwad” label gets thrown around more. But parents have the right to determine if their child should have a car at 16. Parents have the right to declare that a child pay their own car insurance. They also have the right on whether or not to pay for a haircut, prom dresses, or college.
My philosophy is if there is a value system that you want to implement into your child, or an activity that you want your child to participate in, the responsibility should be on the parent who desires that value system to be in place. If the other parent is truly a “tightwad” and doesn’t want to provide anything beyond the basics, that is their parental right. And frankly, it’s a discussion to be had between the parent and child, not the ex-spouse. It’s okay to remove yourself from this. Your child can learn some critical skills by working these financial matters out with the other parent.
In short, not every expense has to be split between parents. The big ticket items such as medical procedures are an exception, but those are frequently already covered in court orders. Seeking reimbursement for some parents from the other parent is another opportunity to be mistreated by that parent and will only frustrate and deplete you. It also makes you vulnerable to more court abuse, should you find yourself spending a day in court to ask for reimbursement.
Common complaint #2 – “I should have full custody because my ex exposes our children to people who are a bad influence.”
Many parents (including myself) can relate to this. I can relate to this far greater than I am comfortable with! I have lost sleep over my son being with the individuals that surround him when I’m not there (which is 26 days per month). It is troubling when you know your ex brings your child around someone that you never would – someone with a defective moral compass or unruly habits.
Unfortunately, if that person is not a danger to your child, has no outstanding warrants or restraining orders, and is not committing a crime, there’s nothing you can do. You could go to court and complain, but the judge may backhand you with some un-livable orders that hurt your parenting relationship and are corrosive to your rights. There are parents in Connecticut who have been forced to quit jobs, end relationships, and cut off family members due to the whims of a judge who decided to believe the falsehoods that were told by the other parent.
Asking the judge to forbid a parent from exposing the child to a certain person, without the conditions described above is playing Russian Roulette. Even if a judge agrees to this, they tend to just reduce parenting time as a remedy. And if you think about it, how is a parent going to not expose their child to someone just by having reduced parenting time? It only takes five minutes to contaminate a child’s social circle with a person who is not desirable. Reducing parenting time isn’t the answer. Supervised visits can work in the short term, but do you really want that for your child if there’s no immediate danger? An arrangement like that simply trades old problems for new ones.
Even if a judge narrowly orders that a certain individual is never to be around your child, there’s no guarantee that the other parent will abide by court orders anyway, and then you are stuck having to play “detective.” This is frustrating, time consuming, and expensive to enforce. A judge can find you petty for going back to enforce orders that they themselves wrote up. We have all been there.
The best course of action is to trust that your contribution to your child’s life outweighs the negative influence of others people’s contributions.
It’s far more effective to protect your parental rights and secure an equal role in your child’s life, so that your moral compass and value system can balance out whatever else your child is exposed to.
My son has brought issues to my attention. He has complained about people in his life when with his other parent. After assessing to make sure there are no safety issues, I always tell him the same thing: “There are many types of people in this world, and it’s up to you to decide if that’s what you want in your life or not.”
My son is learning how the world works, good and bad. Sometimes the best way to learn about this is to be exposed to people that are not ideal to be around. Do I like it? Not at all. But in a parallel parenting situation, I have no choice. I can’t go to court with nothing more than allegations and my own belief system as ammunition. We all know how ineffective that is! So what to do?
You think of your own childhood, and how you were never 100% sheltered from negative influences, such as neighbors, classmates, family members, etc. You probably learned something from it. In the very least, you learned what kind of person you don’t want to become. You have to trust that your influence will guide your child to do the same. A child with a healthy sense of self will naturally draw boundaries around people he or she isn’t thrilled to be around. Your goal as a parent should be to help your child get to that place. School classmates is a great start.
Parallel parenting is something that is not talked about enough, and for good reason. It’s because parallel parenting is an effective conflict reducer, which the divorce industry hates. How many of you have been punished for not “coparenting” nicely? Parallel parenting is a great way to protect your rights and keep conflict low. Best kept secret! And if it was more accepted then the conflict of the parents would be less likely to be used as the reason to strip one parent and their child from having equal time together.
The high conflict issues are thrown around in the divorce industry by manipulative attorneys in order to get a leg up on custody or make their client “win” the approval of the judge. The best course of action in this “high conflict” atmosphere is to disengage from these matters entirely and focus on protecting your own rights.
I have written a book to help you work through the emotional issues and stay healthy. You can check out my book here, “Broken System, Broken Heart: The Soup to Nuts Guide to Protecting Your Health in the Aftermath of a Custody Battle.”
[DISCLAIMER: The opinions expressed in guest posts, are the personal opinions of the author. They may or may not reflect the opinions of Fix Family Courts (FFC) or its individual members. Note that submissions are edited for clarity if needed.]