For most people, disengaging from one another is an important step in completing their divorce. Many people balk at the idea of disengaging, feeling that it is unnecessary. However, in the long run, relatively few people find they were correct. For most people it is a must! Speak to an experienced South Jordan Utah divorce lawyer before you take any step. You must make sure that you are not violating the divorce order when you take certain steps.
The following steps will help you in the disengaging process:
• If you are a departing spouse, take everything with you and change your mailing address; do not keep keys to the family home.
• Limit all contact and discussions with each other to necessary matters only, such as children, dividing belongings, and resolving financial matters.
• Formalize how you will communicate from now on; set prearranged meetings or phone calls.
• If your former partner persistently tries to make unnecessary contact, get an answering machine and screen calls.
• Send support payments through the mail.
• Do not rely on your ex-spouse for any of the functions (other than parenting) that he or she took responsibility for in the marriage (cooking, laundry, car or house repairs, bill paying, financial planning, and so forth). Falling into these familiar patterns will keep you in a state of limbo—no longer a part of your old world but unable to enter a new one.
• If you have children, establish a set schedule for them to see the departing parent. This eliminates the need for ongoing contact to arrange for exchanging the children, and it allows each of you to make plans independently. It is also good for your children.
• Respect one another’s privacy; do not ask about or offer personal information.
Please don’t misunderstand. Disengagement does not mean you must permanently terminate your relationship with your spouse. A good relationship with your former partner can be a real asset in the future, particularly if you have children. However, to have a good relationship in the future, the spousal relationship needs to be redefined and restructured. You need to stop interacting in your old ways and find mutually acceptable new ways of relating. Because of the emotionally charged atmosphere of separation, a period of noninvolvement is usually necessary before a new and different relationship can develop successfully.
Whether or not you have children, the process of restructuring is the same. The only difference is that divorced couples without children have the option of permanently severing the relationship rather than restructuring it.
Dislodging Your Spouse From Your Mind
Disengaging from your spouse physically will be far easier than dislodging him or her from your mind. You know that intense sorrow, bitter anger, and obsessive thoughts about your former spouse are likely to be familiar companions for a while. However, sometimes a former mate influences one’s behavior long after divorces are final. Some people continue to buy clothes their former partners would have liked. Some continue to act in ways an ex-spouse would have expected. Some continue to frequent places because of their association with happier times in the marriage. Many cannot “move on” because of their hopes of reconciliation. Many others are so consumed with anger at their ex-spouses that it dominates their post divorce lives. For your own future happiness, you must dislodge your former partner from your mind. For any reason if you need to speak to your former spouse immediately after the divorce, consult with an experienced South Jordan Utah divorce lawyer.
As tempting as it will be, don’t seek out or listen to information about your ex or his or her activities. It is only likely to upset you anyway. It can also get you into legal troubles. You may need to tell well-meaning friends that you don’t want to hear any information or news about what he or she is doing. If you have an uncontrollable urge to call your former partner, don’t. Distract yourself instead, either with some activity or by going somewhere. When you think of something you must discuss, write it down and save it for your scheduled discussions. Writing it down will get it off your mind so you can go on to something else. Keep all your notes together in a note pad so you can take care of all the loose ends during your next meeting.
When there are children involved, you may have to talk to your ex-spouse every now and then. However you must be careful in your interaction with your ex-spouse. Remember, either spouse can on various grounds seek changes in the custody order. The good news is that the kind of communication needed between divorcing spouses and divorced co-parents is very different from the kind needed between spouses. While a marriage calls for intimate communication, divorce and co-parenting call for business like communication that is restricted to concrete and practical issues in the here and now.
The bad news is that divorce engenders anger, mistrust, and new conflicts of interest that can easily impede constructive communication.
Instead of complaining or accusing, turn your complaint into a request. It is a lot easier to respond to a concrete request than to a vague complaint. And because a request is less negative, it is less likely to put the other person on the defensive. Keep in mind that you are making a request to deal with a problem that you see. There may be other solutions as well, so be open to a different solution that the other person may suggest.
Attack The Problem, Not The Person
When you raise a problem with your former spouse, do the two of you usually get into an argument rather than tackling the problem? If so, perhaps the way you’re stating the problem is getting things off on the wrong foot. Divorced spouses are particularly prone to present problems in ways that blame or criticize the other person. And in so doing, the chance to resolve the problem evaporates before it ever reaches the table for discussion.
To avoid this scenario, attack the problem not the person. Focus on finding a solution rather than assigning blame. How? State the problem in neutral terms, and avoid using the word you. Take the stance that there is a problem and you would like to find a solution.
Phrasing problems in neutral terms is not likely to come naturally to you. Take time before raising a problem to think about how you are going to word it. Remember to attack the problem, not the person. Before raising the issue, put yourself in your former partner’s shoes. Would you feel attacked? Or would you be motivated to tackle the problem?
Offer Suggestions, Not Solutions
Many divorced spouses fall into the trap of assuming that a problem has only one solution, which they then present to their former spouse as a “done deal.”
Even if you state a problem in neutral terms, it is unlikely to be resolved successfully if you present the solution, rather than make a suggestion. When you mandate a solution, you set yourself up as “the authority,” which is bound to draw resistance from your former spouse. Presenting solutions in this fashion slams the door on constructive discussion before it begins!
TUNE UP YOUR LISTENING SKILLS
You can’t be a good communicator without being a good listener. Practice listening—really listening. Here are some dos and don’t s that may help you:
• Don’t interrupt. If you think you might forget a point, jot it down so you can address it when it’s your turn.
• Don’t rehearse how you will respond while the other person is still talking. You can’t listen and plan your response at the same time!
• Do try to put yourself in your former spouse’s shoes to understand his or her point of view. Ask questions to better understand.
• Do offer cues that you’re listening, such as eye contact, a nod of the head, or a quick comment, such as, “Go on” or “I hear you.” When couples work on this principle in counseling, their communication is found to improve.
Avoid Button-Pushing Language
Divorced couples are very tuned in to how to push one another’s buttons, and there’s nothing that will short-circuit constructive communication as fast. Undoubtedly you are well aware of what pushes your former spouse’s buttons. Avoid doing it, no matter how tempted you are.
Some words are likely to push virtually everyone’s buttons, and you need to watch these, as well. These universal button pushers are should, shouldn’t, always, and never. Not many people respond well to being told by a former spouse what they should or shouldn’t do. It sets one person up as the authority, and grates on the other. The most likely response? Resistance, active opposition, or a counterattack. Try stating what you would like to see both of you do, rather than telling the other person what he or she should or should not do.
Avoid put-downs. This one is so obvious it doesn’t need elaboration. Everyone knows what a put-down is and how it feels to be on the receiving end. Unfortunately, divorcing spouses are notorious for hurling put-downs at one another. Have they ever inspired you to be cooperative? Just the opposite!
Sometimes put-downs are not explicitly stated but are implicit in the lack of courtesy or respect shown the other person. People with difficult ex-spouses often feel disdain for them and let it show. This is the worst thing they can do because difficult ex-spouses are often acting out of weakness and wounded self-esteem. When treated with disrespect, they feel even more dismissed and devalued.
Put-downs and disrespect invariably have disastrous consequences. Avoid them.
Use Disarming Tools
Disarming tools cause people to falter when they are on the attack and to change gears. They de-escalate the conflict and can even have a calming effect. For example, if your former partner begins to yell or goes on the attack, listen. Don’t attack back! Why? Because people find it difficult to continue attacking someone who is listening to them instead of yelling back. Listening forces the other person to regroup and change tactics. It is a great disarming tool. As an extra benefit, listening, rather than counterattacking, provides time for you to think and for both of you to calm down. When you do speak, find a way to offer some support—another effective disarming tool.
How To Keep Your Cool
You say that despite your best intentions, you always wind up exploding at your former spouse because he or she is a master at pushing your buttons? If so, you have probably learned that losing your cool is a sure way to douse constructive communication. Remember if you say or do something, you may end up giving your ex-spouse to challenge the custody or visitation order.
Ligation over custody is commonly referred to as a custody battle, and battles they are, with few families prepared for the ensuing trauma. Parents forge ahead, day by day and month by month, mired in the escalating animosity, with little thought other than winning. Each parent plans a battle strategy with his or her attorney, and if one or the other attorney is a highly adversarial one, the situation can get out of hand rapidly.
Each parent tries to amass the greater number of allies among family members, mutual friends, neighbors, and therapists, asking them to write declarations in support of their bid for custody. Parents sometimes try to involve teachers, day care providers, coaches, and doctors. Each side arms itself with a stack of declarations, many of which are likely to be highly inflammatory. All too often every minor shortcoming of the other parent is embellished into a major detriment to the children, and occasional mistakes are presented as if they were routine occurrences. For it is typically part of the battle strategy to make one parent look bad so the other will look better.
When parents are served with this verbal assault, many can barely recognize the person described as him- or herself or the marriage described as the marriage they have lived. They are furious with the other parent and devastated by the betrayal of the former spouse, in-laws, former friends, and occasionally even members of their own family, who for one reason or another have aligned themselves with the other parent. Partly for protection and partly for revenge, that parent retaliates with a new round of escalation. “I wasn’t going to say anything about this, but as long as we’re going to play dirty …” The battle strategy extends its reach to the other parent’s past or to tangential issues that can cast him or her in an unfavorable light, even though they are not germane to either custody or parenting.
This is only the preliminary battle leading up to the court trial. Before the ultimate battle, private investigators may be hired, witnesses are deposed, and new charges and countercharges may be leveled. An experienced South Jordan Utah divorce lawyer can assist you in your custody battle.
There may be one postponement after another, requiring new trial dates to be awaited on crowded court calendars. The waiting is excruciating, and both parents and children live in limbo. Anxieties mount, as does distrust, and parents feel their control over their lives slipping away. Many parents find the courts to be objectionably intrusive, as they may be ordered by the court into counseling, parenting classes, anger management classes, or drug treatment programs, or to undergo psychological evaluation or drug testing. Many parents deplete their financial resources and put themselves and their extended families into longterm debt.
The majority of parents settle somewhere along this long, torturous road. However, the small percentage who make it to the ultimate battle, the trial, suffer the final indignities of having their lives scrutinized, with the most intimate details aired in open court, where anyone can walk in off the street. And when the judge makes a ruling and declares a “winner, ” bitter parents are left to pick up the pieces of their lives and those of their children. Even more difficult, they must continue to deal with one another in parenting their children, despite all the animosity, bitterness, resentment, and distrust engendered by the custody battle.
Even more depressing, frequently the battle does not end with the judge’s ruling. Some parents appeal the decision. Others pounce anytime there is the slightest change of circumstances and petition the court to reconsider the matter in this new light. Meanwhile, embittered parents, made more bitter by the prolonged legal battle, continue their battle outside of court. The parent who “lost” the battle often engages in a campaign of passive aggressive behavior, pushing the other parent’s buttons at every opportunity. Parents who supposedly “won” begin to think that they have won the battle only to lose the war. The arguments continue over every minor issue related to their children— clothes, haircuts, hygiene, nutrition, television, homework, bedtimes, exchange times, discipline, friends—the list is endless.
Joint Physical Custody
In joint physical custody, children spend substantial time in each parent’s home, and parents actively share in their day-to-day upbringing. In Utah the court can order joint physical custody of the children.
In the eighties, there was a flurry of research on joint physical custody, and some considered it to be a panacea for all divorced families. The obvious benefits of joint custody were touted: Parent-child relationships would more closely resemble the intact family; children could have strong ties to both parents; both parents could play an active role in their children’s upbringing; and neither parent would be overburdened with the stress of full-time parenting.
Early research on joint custody generally reported positive findings. Compared to sole custody children, the joint custody children were often found to have higher self-esteem, reported more positive experiences in their lives, and felt very valued because of both parents’ determination to remain in their lives. Some studies reported the most satisfied children to be those in joint custody arrangements. Parents, especially fathers, also reported a high satisfaction, and parents’ stress levels were lower than those reported by sole custody parents. However, the parents in these early studies also chose joint custody and were very committed to making it work. Research results are not as positive in all studies, particularly when joint custody is imposed upon parents.
Joint physical custody works best when parents—
• Can separate parenting issues from spousal issues, focus on their children, and keep the children out of parental conflict.
• Are able to communicate and cooperate with one another about their children.
• Respect one another as parents and one another’s importance to the children.
• Fundamentally agree on child rearing.
• Are willing to coordinate schedules, standards of behavior, expectations, and discipline for their children.
• Are flexible and adaptable.
Remember The Children
Particularly when parents do not work together in their parenting, it is the children who shoulder the brunt of dual residence demands. It is the children who must continually adapt to the differences and demands of two homes, move back and forth, and keep schedules and belongings straight. Many children shoulder the burden of coordinating the logistics, such as when team uniforms are needed and the progress of long-term homework assignments so things will be at the right home at the right time.
Depending upon how different the homes are and how contentious the parents, some children feel as if they change lives each time they change homes.
They are children with the developmental capability of handling the demands of living in two homes. Although there is negligible research on the issue, generally there is concern about the ability of infants, toddlers, and pre-schoolers to handle dual residence. These young children thrive on consistency and generally need a stable home base. Some, however, do well. Teens often prefer having a primary home base, even many who have grown up in equal child-share arrangements. Many teens, particularly older ones, simply find it too difficult to negotiate two homes with the demands of their busy social, school, and work schedules.
Children’s temperaments also play a role in how well they adapt to a dual residence arrangement. Some children have very easy-going, adaptable temperaments and adjust to change easily. These children can usually negotiate the demands of two homes in their stride. In contrast, children who have a hard time with change and need consistent routines in order to function well are likely to have more difficulties.
For dual residence to work for children, parents must live in close enough proximity to one another so children can consistently attend one school. Preferably, children should be able to participate in their activities from each parent’s home and have consistent friendships. The more equal the child-sharing schedule, the more necessary this is for a child.
Some parents arrange dual residence around vacation times, so the parent who lives further away has a larger share of school breaks. This works well for many families. As children grow older, most want to spend some time during vacations in their more familiar community with their close friends, however.
When Can Joint Custody Be Damaging to Children?
When parents are locked in conflict, distrustful of one another, and cannot separate children’s needs from their own, joint physical custody is found to be the worst alternative for children. It appears that the more equal the child-sharing schedule and the more frequently children go back and forth between the warring homes, the more likely they are to be negatively affected: to be withdrawn, depressed, aggressive, or to have somatic symptoms.
Why should this be? The more that both parents are actively involved in day-to-day child rearing, the more contact is needed between them and the more there is for embattled parents to fight over with children caught in the middle. Even worse, antagonistic parents are also more likely to become locked in power struggles over managing their children’s lives when children spend more equal time in each home.
When parents are embroiled in conflict, children in dual residence arrangements usually become enmeshed in the ongoing battles, get caught in parental cross fire, and feel emotionally torn by conflicting loyalties.
Is There Gender Bias in the Courts?
“Courts always give the children to mothers” is a belief expressed by many fathers. At one time, courts did show a preference for maternal custody. However, most, if not all, states including Utah now have gender-neutral custody laws in which mothers and fathers are equal before the law. The criterion now used by courts is “the best interest of the child, ” and child custody is determined on a case-by-case basis.
The primary caretaker criterion explains why mothers are still more likely to be granted custody than are fathers. Despite the prevalence of two working parents in the home, studies are continuing to find that mothers assume most of these parenting responsibilities, and fathers usually play a secondary role.
Although primary caretaking was the most common factor stated in judicial custody decisions in the nineties, it is certainly not the only criterion courts use. The broader criterion, the best interest of the child, considers what a particular child needs at this time, given the totality of the current circumstances. The primary caretaker is usually only one consideration, albeit a very important one. Other considerations are likely to include a child’s individual needs, attachments, and emotional ties; parents’ emotional stability, parenting competence, and life style; parents’ willingness to share the child; parents’ ability to provide continuity with school and community; domestic violence and abuse issues; and substance abuse issues. In Utah the courts tend to consider the best interest of the child when deciding a custody application.
Split Custody: Should Siblings Stay Together?
The bond between siblings has been called the “longest bond” and there appears to be an almost universal assumption that siblings should remain together after divorce. When sibling relationships are warm and supportive, children benefit from remaining together. On the other hand, hostile sibling relationships appear to exacerbate children’s adjustment problems. In other words, when sibling relationships are negative and hostile, siblings may fare better if separated than if kept together. If you do separate siblings, try to have them spend a good deal of time together, such as every weekend, and perhaps a midweek evening, at one parent’s home or the other, so they will still have the opportunity to develop bonds with one another.
Once you and your spouse separate, you enter unchartered territory in parenting your children. How will your children be parented in the future? What will each parent’s role and responsibilities be? How will important decisions be made? When will children be with each of you?
Some parents find they can negotiate parenting roles and responsibilities as the need arises. Some find them to be an ongoing source of uncertainty. Others find them to be the arena in which ongoing conflict and power struggles are played out. Some resident parents find themselves overburdened, while some non-resident parents feel disenfranchised as parents.
An experienced South Jordan Utah divorce lawyer can assist you develop a parenting plan. Developing a parenting plan now will provide you with a blueprint for your future as co-parents. Your blueprint can be as detailed or as loose as you wish. The greater the detail, the greater the likelihood that everyone will have the same expectations and that co-parenting will follow a predictable and smooth course.
The Nuts And Bolts Of A Parenting Plan
The more serious the parental conflict, the more detailed the parenting plan should be and the more strictly it should be followed until conflict subsides.
Will decision making about the children be shared, or will one parent have the authority to make major decisions? Following are issues that are likely to require decisions. Specify how each will be handled. Will each be shared? Will some be made only by Mom or Dad? Will some be made only by the parent the children are with at the time? If your intent is to maintain the status quo in specific areas (school, religious affiliation, child care provider), specify that. Also, decide how you will share information in each of these areas.
Who will make decisions about the children’s school of attendance, requests for specific teachers, placement in special programs, tutoring, summer school? Mutually decide on the following as well:
• Will both parents attend parent-teacher conferences; if so, together or separately?
• Will both parents have access to all school records and be listed on school registration and emergency cards?
• Don’t forget to decide how information will be shared. Will each parent be responsible for obtaining report cards and school information? Will one provide these to the other? Will each inform the other any time either becomes aware of an event or activity involving your child? Will all notices be left in children’s backpacks until each parent has seen and signed them?
Who will make decisions about religious affiliation and training? What about church of attendance? Specify if your joint intention is to retain your child’s current religious affiliation. Would any other affiliation also be mutually acceptable?
Who will make decisions about selection or changes of physicians and dentists? Nonemergency surgery? Nonroutine medical or dental treatment? Who is responsible for scheduling checkups? Specify that both parents are empowered to obtain emergency medical care and will call the other parent immediately.
Child Care Provider and Baby-Sitters
How will child care providers or day care be decided? Will each of you independently choose your own sitters you use occasionally?
Who will determine if a child needs counseling? How will a counselor be selected? Will both parents attend the first session, provide input, and work with the counselor to meet your child’s needs?
Recreational Activities (Sports, music lessons, etc.)
Which activities will children continue? How will new activities and summer camp be determined? Don’t forget to specify how you will share information.
Who will make decisions about curfews, dating, obtaining a driver’s license or job, quitting high school, or marrying underage?
Designation of Legal Custody
Utah law draws the distinction between legal and physical custody. Legal custody is the legal power to make major decisions about the children. You may wish to check with an experienced South Jordan Utah divorce lawyer for the implications of joint versus sole legal custody.
The Parenting Schedule
A parenting schedule designates precisely when the children will be in each parent’s care. It basically identifies which parent is the “on-duty” parent and which is the “off duty” parent at any given time. When thinking about sharing schedules, realize that the more specific you are, the less room there is for misunderstanding in the future. Include the following in your parenting schedule.
The Week-to-Week Schedule
What will the weekday schedule be? How about the weekend schedule? u You may wish to specify the following: days and times the children will change homes; where the children will eat if the exchange is around mealtime; and who will oversee homework if there is an exchange on a midweek evening.
Will there be a different schedule during school vacation periods, such as summer, Christmas, and spring break? Will there be time away from both parents, such as an extended stay with grandparents or summer camp? Specify that you will share the children at additional times by mutual agreement.
How will you share the children on holidays? (The holiday schedule supersedes the normal week-to-week schedule.) Will holidays be alternated yearly or will the children be with each parent for part of each holiday? If you are sharing holidays, you may wish to specify the specific times the children will be with each parent on each holiday.
Common holidays parents specify are Thanksgiving, Chanukah, Christmas Eve/Day, New Year’s Eve/Day, Easter, Passover, Mother’s/ Father’s Day, Memorial Day, July 4th, Labor Day, Halloween, children’s birthdays, parents’ birthdays, Monday and Friday school holidays.
Changes in the Schedule
If the nonresident parent will be unavailable to care for the children during one of his or her scheduled times, how will it be handled? How much notice should be given the resident parent? If the resident parent is not available to fill in, will the nonresident parent be responsible for arranging and paying for child care? Will the missed time be traded for a different time?
If a child does not want to go with a parent during scheduled time for some reason, how will it be handled? Will the child speak directly to the parent and the decision be made between them?
First Option Or First Right Of Refusal
If a parent will be leaving a child with a sitter at any time, will the other parent have the first option to care for the child instead? Many parents specify the need for a sitter will be at least so many waking hours or overnight. This avoids having to call the other parent if you simply have some errands to do or have a late date when the children are ready for bed.
May each parent take the children on vacation? For how long? How much notice will be provided to the other parent? (Thirty days is common.) Specify that travel itineraries and emergency telephone numbers will be provided. How will the children and nonvacationing parent communicate? Is there any place (e.g. certain foreign countries) that will be off-limits for vacations?
Designation of Physical Custody
Now that you know how you will be sharing the children, decide how you will designate physical custody. Sole, joint, or split? Be aware that custody is a legal decision. You may wish to check with an experienced South Jordan Utah divorce lawyer for the implications of a custody designation.
Exchanges of the Children
Specify where children will be exchanged when switching from one home to the other. At each parent’s residence? At school or child care? At a neutral exchange site?
Will transportation be shared between the parents’ homes? If so, how? Who will transport children to which activities and appointments? Can any person who is designated by a parent transport children? (Relatives, stepparents, significant others, parents’ friends, babysitters?)
How will parents communicate about child-related issues? Phone calls as needed? Regularly scheduled “business” phone calls? Regularly scheduled face-to-face meetings? Mail? Fax? E-mail? A communication journal exchanged with the children? Will each of you be able to call the children at any reasonable hour, or will there be set days or times for calls? Will children have open access to call each parent?
How will you share financial responsibilities for your children? If one parent will be sending a monthly support check to the other, what expenses is it intended to cover? Have you thought of child care expenses? What about children’s activities, summer camp, lessons? What about teenagers’ car insurance? Will there be cost-of-living increases? You may wish to determine how you will handle these other financial considerations:
• Who will provide health insurance?
• How will co-pays and uncovered health care be covered?
• Will each of you carry life insurance so the children will be protected should you die? How will you designate the beneficiary? Check the legal implications of this one.
• Who will claim the children as dependents on income taxes? Will it be the same person every year?
• Will you consider private schools? If so, how will tuition and uniforms be handled?
• Will some provisions or financial commitments be made for children’s college education?
How will you handle it if the resident parent wishes to move with the children? This issue becomes very critical if the potential move involves a distance. At a minimum, specify the following:
• What is an acceptable distance for the children to move?
• How will you handle it if the resident parent wishes to move further away?
• How much notice will be required for a move beyond the acceptable distance? Within the acceptable distance?
• How might the parenting schedule change to allow the nonresident parent and children to maintain their relationship despite the move?
Following are some ground rules you may wish to incorporate into your plan:
• Each parent will have autonomy in parenting and care of the children while they are with that parent.
• Children’s Activities:
– Neither parent will schedule activities or appointments for the children during the other parent’s scheduled parenting time without the other parent’s prior agreement.
– Each parent will cooperate in the children’s consistent attendance at their school, sports, and other extracurricular events.
– Both parents may attend all the children’s activities.
– The children will obtain permission for their plans and activities from the parent they are scheduled to be with at the time.
• If either parent wishes to spend time with the children during the other’s scheduled parenting time, the change in schedule will be negotiated with the other parent.
• Each parent will support the children’s relationship with the other parent. Neither of us will make negative statements about the other parent in the presence or hearing of the children, question the children about the other parent, or use the children to carry messages between us. Neither of us will expose the children to our disputes or to adult issues. Each parent will make every possible effort to ensure that other people comply with this agreement also. We will discuss marital, child-sharing, court-related, and financial matters only at a time when the children are not present or within hearing range.
• Neither parent will introduce a new significant other into the children’s lives until…. Specify both time frame and conditions.
The following areas are not always included in a parenting plan. However, reaching agreements on how they will be handled will curb the potential for future misunderstanding and make life smoother for children.
Shared Routines and Expectations for Children
Will you establish some common routines, rules, and expectations in your homes for the sake of consistency for your children? Some possibilities are bedtimes, standards for children’s unacceptable behavior, discipline guidelines (what types used, who can discipline), whether very young children are allowed to sleep with a parent, maturity expectations for young children, allowances, curfews, unacceptable television programs and movies. Will each of you support the other in the event of a child’s major infraction, such as a school referral, a failing grade, or drug or alcohol use?
How will a sick child be cared for when both parents work? If a child is sick, will he or she remain in one home rather than follow the parenting schedule? How will you define “sick”?
What will travel with the children, and what will stay at each home? Will each parent have a set of clothes? For clothes that go back and forth, should they wait to be returned until laundered, or is it more important they travel immediately with the child? If a child leaves a needed item at the other home, which parent is responsible for transporting the item?
Is each parent responsible for maintaining ties to his or her family during that parent’s scheduled time? Can extended family call the “in-law” parent if there is a special event during that parent’s parenting time?
Shoring Up Parenting Skills
Will steps be taken to shore up either or both parents’ parenting of the children? Examples include parenting classes, anger management classes, completion of a substance abuse program, refraining from use of alcohol while children are with the parent, initiating individual counseling to deal with personal or parenting issues. Are there any other protective issues for the children that need to be considered and dealt with?
How will future disputes be handled if you cannot resolve them yourselves? Ideally, you will seek mediation or co-parenting counseling prior to resorting to court.
Reevaluation of the Plan
Build in a time frame to reevaluate the plan to see how it is working. You may need to add clauses to deal with trouble spots. Certain events will require a reevaluation, such as a parent moving out of the area. Parenting schedules also need modifying to accommodate children’s changing developmental needs. There is more on this later.
Selecting A Parenting Schedule Tailored To Your Family
Don’t get caught in the trap of focusing on who has “custody” of the children.
Instead, work out a sharing schedule that makes sense for you and your children. When will each child be with each of you?
There are no hard-and-fast formulas for a good sharing schedule for all children.
You will find a calendar essential to your life from now on. When you finally arrange a schedule with the other parent, keep one posted in each home so everyone will have a visual aid of when the children are with each parent. If you do not already do so, get in the habit of recording all your children’s school events and activities on the calendar. There will no longer be another parent to remind you of them, and children may be in the other home when they occur.
Respective Parenting Roles
Consider what your respective parenting roles have been. Have you shared parenting somewhat equally, or has one of you assumed the primary responsibility for children’s day-to-day care and managing their lives. Try to provide children with some consistency so their lives will not change any more dramatically than necessary.
Minimize Children’s Losses
Consider each parent’s ability to minimize each child’s losses. For an older teen, staying in the family residence with its closeness to school,
friends, and activities may be far more important than to be with one parent versus the other. For a young child, the loss of the family residence would pale in comparison to the loss of daily contact with the parent who provided most of his or her nurturing and care.
Be sensitive to children’s relationships with each parent. Children with a special relationship with a parent should spend considerable time with that parent.
In minimizing children’s losses, also consider everyone’s schedules. Try to maximize the time that children are with a parent rather than in child care.
One Primary Residence or Two?
Whether a primary residence or dual residence is best depends upon the child, the parents, and the circumstances. Usually spending one-third to one-half of the time in each home is considered dual residence.
Please realize that even if your children spend far less time than that in your home, you can still create the sense of their having a second home with you.
Many parents elect to have a primary residence for the children during the school year, either because of the distance between them or the complications in coordinating schoolwork and school routines. However, they use school vacations to provide children the opportunity of having the full experience of being parented by the less-seen parent. Some parents divide school vacations equally in some manner, or the nonresident parent may have a greater share of school vacation periods. Some reverse the school time schedule during school breaks.
Aim for Balanced Time
Ideally, each parent will have some involvement with school and homework, with children’s activities, and with children’s free time.
School involvement can take any number of forms: participation in the child’s classroom; a midweek evening contact of a few hours for dinner and homework; a midweek overnight with the parent taking the child to school the following day; a Monday morning return after weekends rather than Sunday evening; or one school week each month or during alternate months. Some parents split the school week, alternate school weeks, or alternate two week blocks of time.
Each parent should also have some relaxing, off-school time, so children can experience the fun side of each parent. Alternate weekends are common. Some resident parents spend one weekend each month with the children, while the less-seen parent spends three.
Try to minimize the frequency of children having to switch homes. Frequent transitions between homes are hard on most children; each changeover requires them to shift gears and adjust anew. When children change homes frequently, they don’t have time to settle in and regain their equilibrium.
Frequent transitions also break up the flow of parenting. When all their time together is spent in short spurts, parents and children have no opportunity to get into the rhythm of a relationship. Many parents who spend alternate weekends and a midweek overnight with their children prefer the overnight to be Thursday so it blends right into the weekend. The longer block of time allows more continuity.
Making Co-Parenting Work
Perfect Pals? Cooperative Colleagues? Angry Associates? or Fiery Foes? Which describes the co-parenting relationship that you have with your child’s other parent? Which describes the co-parenting relationship that you would like to have? You may be wondering if this is for you, especially if you are not in a joint physical custody arrangement. If both you and the other parent are involved with your child regularly at some level, the answer is yes. Children need two parents after divorce, not one parent and a “visitor.” Ideally, your children will have two parents to parent them, which means that you need to make co-parenting a priority.
How To Build A Co-Parenting Relationship
It will interest you that divorced parents who cooperate with one another as parents are better able to move on with their new lives and are happier in new relationships than are uncooperative parents. Parents who work together as parents are also found to be more satisfied with their parenting arrangements, and this is true whether they are custodial parents, noncustodial parents, or joint custody parents. As if these benefits of working together weren’t enough, cooperative divorced parents are found to have better relationships with their children and to have better-adjusted children than do uncooperative parents. In fact, children whose parents cooperate with one another not only adjust better to the divorce but adjust better to their parents’ remarriages as well! As you can see, everyone wins when parents learn to work together as parents.
Just what is a workable co-parenting relationship?
It is one in which parents keep unresolved spousal issues and conflict compartmentalized so they do not spill over into the business of parenting. Most parents who establish a workable co-parenting relationship do not have a personal relationship, and many don’t even like one another. However, they have learned to separate their personal feelings for each other from their roles as parents. They keep spousal issues separate from parenting issues.
It may seem a tall order to you to separate spousal issues from parenting issues, particularly in the emotionally charged atmosphere of separation and divorce. Indeed, it will be very difficult to separate the two if you continue to relate to each other as you always have. It will be far easier if you restructure the relationship so that it becomes a different kind of relationship.
The best way to restructure the relationship is to break away from the old ways of interacting so that you can reconnect on a new basis as co-parents. For most divorced parents, breaking away from the old ways of interacting is a must!
Establish Clear Boundaries
The first step in restructuring your old relationship is to define clear boundaries for the new one. With clear boundaries, you are less likely to fall back into the old ways of interacting. You are also less likely to be drawn into power struggles with one another. The more conflict there is, the clearer the boundaries need to be.
There are two primary steps you can take to establish clear boundaries: disengaging from one another and formalizing your new parenting roles.
Disengaging from One Another
The most effective way to disengage from the other parent is to eliminate your involvement in all areas except parenting. Following are specific guidelines that will help.
First, respect one another’s privacy. Don’t ask about personal matters, especially the other parent’s social life, and don’t offer personal information about yourself.
Part of respecting one another’s privacy is never entering each other’s home unless invited, even if it used to be your home. If you still have a key, return it. If your children invite you in, check with the other parent before accepting their invitation. A surprising number of divorcing spouses freely enter one another’s home and even help themselves to food in the refrigerator during exchanges of the children.
This is out of bounds! If you are invited into the other parent’s home, think of yourself as a guest, and don’t do anything you wouldn’t do as a guest.
Second, do not rely on each other for any non-parenting tasks previously assumed during the marriage (home-cooked meals, laundry, bill paying, car or house repairs, and so on). Although these may be a convenience, they come with a price: falling into the old relationship and blurring boundaries.
Third, eliminate spontaneous and unnecessary communication with one another. It is both tempting and common for a parent to make frequent and unnecessary calls to the other parent after separation. It is also common for a parent to stop at the former family residence unannounced, under the guise of visiting with the children or picking up a left possession. But such frequent and unstructured contact ties parents to their old relationship and clouds boundaries. Formalize how and when you will communicate. This formality will discourage unnecessary calls or unannounced visits.
Formalizing Future Parenting Roles and Responsibilities
The more clearly you formalize parenting roles and responsibilities, the better. Everyone’s expectations will be the same, which means less opportunity for misunderstandings, power struggles, and future conflict.
The first step is to arrange a parenting schedule that specifies when the children will be with each of you. The more conflict there is, the more strictly parenting schedules should be adhered to. A predetermined parenting schedule eliminates the need for repeated communication to arrange future exchanges of the children. It allows both parents to organize their independent lives and schedules so neither is vulnerable to the last minute whims of the other. And it eliminates potential power plays over the children. Once parents begin working together, parenting schedules can become more flexible.
A clear parenting schedule is only the first step. Essentially, you and the other parent are entering new territory—establishing yourselves as independent parents—and you will need a road map. Issue upon issue will arise along the way that you will need to address. How will you make decisions about the children in the future? How will each of you keep informed about children’s school progress and activities? How will you handle holidays, children’s illnesses, medical check-ups, and medical insurance? Will the two households have some rules in common? Can each of you take the children on vacation out of state? Suppose one of you wishes to move with the children? The best way to establish clear parenting roles and responsibilities is to develop a thorough parenting plan.
For most parents, co-parenting is a long trial and error process through hilly terrain that often feels mountainous and sometimes insurmountable. In addition to restructuring your relationship, there are basic co-parenting ground rules you can follow to guide your way. You may wish to look into the availability in your community of classes that teach co-parenting skills, which are usually excellent resources. Whether you take a class or not, start putting into practice these seven fundamentals, and share them with your co-parent.
Respect the Other Parent’s Autonomy as a Parent
Each of you is now a single parent in a one-parent home, and each of you has the right to parent in your own style, free of the other parent’s control. Each of you also has the right to make the day-to-day decisions about the children while they are with you—such as appropriate playmates, nutrition, and your house rules. Because different things are important to each of you, you will likely have some different house rules.
The one exception to the autonomy principle is if a child is being placed in harm’s way by the other parent. In this case, by all means intervene. For serious issues, such as sexual abuse, very abusive physical discipline, serious neglect, substance abuse with your child in the home, or domestic violence while your child is in the home, act immediately. Options include contacting your local child protective agency hotline to investigate and make recommendations to ensure your child’s safety. In very serious situations, contact law enforcement directly. You may have to initiate emergency court action to protect your child while problems in the other home are being addressed.
For less serious issues, check your perceptions with an objective third party, such as a therapist or your child’s doctor, to ensure that you are not overreacting. Perceptions of a former spouse’s parenting are frequently flawed, and issues that some divorced parents are concerned about are rather minor when put in perspective. If, after you’ve sought an objective second opinion you believe a valid issue exists that requires intervention, speak to the other parent. See if you can arrive at a mutually agreeable solution to the problem. If the issue is emotional harm to your child, you might suggest that you initiate either family counseling or counseling for your child so a professional can help both of you better meet your child’s needs during this stressful time. If the issue is the other parent’s inexperience or poor parenting skills, suggest that each of you take a parenting class now that you will be parenting solo in your own homes. Even experienced parents can benefit from honing their parenting skills.
Acknowledge and Respect the Importance of the Other Parent’s Relationship with the Children
Your children need a relationship with both parents, and this is their right. Divorce is bad enough for children, let alone losing a relationship with a parent. The other parent may have a different parenting style and a very different relationship with the children than you have. But don’t do what some divorced parents do and trivialize the other parent’s role in the children’s lives because you perceive that you are the better parent. Recognize that each of you can contribute to your children’s lives in different ways.
Make Containing the Conflict a Top Priority
Conflict is the number one predictor of children’s poor adjustment after divorce, and it is critical that you protect your children from it. Conflict can be expected after separation, as former partners grapple with their losses, resentments, unfulfilled expectations, thwarted needs, and inevitable anger—all while dealing with property, support, and custody negotiations. Many parents successfully contain or even end their conflict within a year of separation.
When parents are in conflict, sharing the children often becomes the focal point of their battles. The importance of having and strictly following a detailed parenting schedule cannot be emphasized enough! Such a schedule specifies when children will be with each parent and reduces the need for frequent communication, which often ends in confrontation. It markedly reduces the potential for future battles and power plays over children, such as one parent denying the other access to the children, a parent unilaterally canceling the other’s time with the children, or a parent refusing to return a child. It also provides structure that enables children to go between their battling parents’ homes in a somewhat orderly manner.
The greater the conflict, the more clearly the schedule should be specified, and the more strictly it should be followed. For parents who are in conflict, flexibility generally opens the door for new conflict. You are likely to have a better chance of protecting children from conflict if you can settle parenting arrangements prior to involving yourselves with the legal system. Once the legal system is involved, conflict may escalate, and children sometimes become bargaining chips in support issues.
Non custodial Parent
The noncustodial role thrusts parents into a dilemma that commonly goes unrecognized. Unfortunately, many nonresident parents who find no satisfying way to solve their dilemma allow themselves to drift along in a way that has serious repercussions for their children. Most don’t realize the seriousness because they believe they have become inconsequential to their youngsters. With few exceptions, they are wrong. The issue is not whether parents without custody have an impact on their children, but whether their impact is positive or negative.
The Visitation Dilemma
What precisely is the nonresident parent’s dilemma? Researchers find that after separation, the great majority of parents without custody intensely miss being involved in their children’s daily lives and report overwhelming feelings of loss and being shut out. Even many previously uninvolved fathers become distressingly aware of what they have missed.
Instead of opportunities for a meaningful relationship, however, most parents without custody are restricted to what is known in Utah as “visitation.” Visitation? With your own children? What are you supposed to do during “visitation”? Do you take the children to your home? Will they be bored? Do you try to do something spectacular? Play tour guide? Take them on a shopping spree and shower them with presents? After all, you have so little opportunity to show your love these days, and you want them to look forward to seeing you. Perhaps they might even stop coming if you don’t show them a good time. Do they want to see you as much as you want to see them? Parents whose children differ widely in age or interests have more complicated problems with how to spend their allotted time. Studies suggest the most common visitation pattern for non-custody fathers is interacting with children as an adult friend and spending time in recreational activities— a pattern that often develops by default rather than by design.
Few parents without custody are satisfied with the “visitation” arrangement or the role of “recreation director.” They complain there is too much to compress into a limited time and simply no time to let things happen naturally. How do you pass on your values and hard earned wisdom to your children on a Sunday outing? How do you get children to share their feelings, fears, and inner lives with you? Getting children to open up takes time, the right situation, and the right mood— luxuries often not enjoyed by nonresident parents and their kids.
It is not only meaningful communication that is difficult in this strange new “visiting” situation, say nonresident parents. They and their children often report an awkwardness with one another never before experienced; they often have the feeling of not knowing what to say, what to do, or how to act with each other. And if a parent and child do finally establish some rhythm between them that feels comfortable, it is usually lost in the interim before they see one another again.
Too often, whatever sense of intimacy the parent once had with a child feels tenuous at best, and the parent begins to feel like a peripheral player in his or her child’s life. Many parents eventually ask themselves whether “visitation” is worth it. If their child seems to be doing okay, many wonder how much they are really needed. They wonder how much influence they can possibly have on their child’s development. To many, “visitation” seems futile, and the role of noncustodial parent feels like a sham.
How do parents without custody resolve the “visitation” dilemma? Many resolve it poorly: They begin to distance themselves from their youngsters. As they do, their children become less central to their lives, and with the passage of time, spending time together, phoning, and letters drop off. Some eventually join the ranks of parents who have drifted out of their children’s lives completely.
But fading out of children’s lives has high emotional costs. Everyone loses. Many nonresident parents who withdraw from their children report feeling anger and a continued sense of loss for years afterward— quite a contrast to the uncaring, indifferent parents others assume them to be. But children are the real losers.
The Important Role Of The Nonresident Parent
In the aftermath of divorce, youngsters cling to their “visits” with the parent who has left the home, and the “visits” assume tremendous symbolic importance. To youngsters, these contacts are not only evidence of a parent’s love, but a gauge of how lovable and worthwhile they are. After all, the parent chooses to see them regularly, despite the hassles involved. It must prove the child is loved, lovable, and worthwhile.
Infrequent and unreliable contact with the nonresident parent is also symbolically significant to children. They feel rejected and abandoned, and they look for some explanation for the parent’s seeming indifference.
Remember one thing, if you do not maintain the court ordered visitation schedule, your spouse can ask the court to modify the order. If you are unable to keep maintain the court ordered visitation schedule, speak to a South Jordan Utah divorce lawyer.
Most noncustody parents who drift out of their children’s lives would be shocked to learn of the anguish they cause their youngsters and of the prolonged impact their absence has. Although many realize they will be missed initially, they generally assume their children will get over it. After all, children are resilient. They have their other parent, and sometimes a stepparent. They have their friends, activities, and lives.
To children, a parent is a parent forever, not someone casually forgotten. Although children are usually quite resilient, a parent’s abandonment is a unique trauma from which many do not easily recover. Some continue to be troubled with intense feelings of rejection, abandonment, and loss throughout their childhoods. Some continue to feel unlovable and to have poor self-esteem. Some respond with anger and act out that anger in behavior problems such as aggression, drug abuse, or delinquent activities. Some, after having seemingly adapted for years, develop a renewed intense desire for their missing parents when they reach adolescence. Children who had a close relationship with a parent before divorce are the most hard hit. To such a child, the parent’s disinterest and abandonment are utterly incomprehensible and devastating.
Solutions For The Visitation Dilemma
Nonresident parents can maintain good relationships with their children despite constraints on the time they have together. In fact, some parents without custody develop better relationships with their children after divorce than they had while living with their children full-time. Once freed from the problems in the marriage, some previously uninvolved parents get to know their children as individuals and form warm and close relationships with them. So can you.
Disparaging the Other Parent
Many children hear from one parent that the other parent is a liar, a slut, conniving, irresponsible, money grubbing, neglectful, an alcoholic, or a host of other disparaging names. Sometimes a parent’s extended family also join in the badmouthing. Sometimes badmouthing is done directly to the child. At other times, children overhear it, which is no less destructive.
Disparaging the other parent is one of the most destructive forms of conflict because its consequences for children are twofold. First, it creates serious loyalty conflicts for them. Children feel disloyal to the disparaged parent and feel they should come to his or her defense. But to do so is likely to anger or hurt the parent doing the badmouthing. Children, once again, are in a lose-lose situation, and many feel guilty no matter which course they take. Second, children’s self-esteem is whittled away when they hear a parent badmouthed. Why? Children identify closely with their parents and see themselves as composites of each. Courts do not take disparaging the other parent lightly. If you believe your spouse is disparaging you, speak to an experienced South Jordan Utah divorce lawyer. You can apply for modification of the custody order.
No matter how bad a parent is, a child needs to know some positive things about him or her. It is okay to let your children know in passing that you are angry or disappointed, but it’s not okay to degrade their other parent under any circumstances.
Utah divorce laws and laws on child custody are complex. Seek the assistance of an experienced South Jordan Utah divorce lawyer.
South Jordan Utah Divorce Lawyer Free Consultation
When you need legal help with a divorce in South Jordan Utah, please call Ascent Law LLC (801) 676-5506 for your Free Consultation. We want to help you.
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