When you have minor children, getting divorced means negotiating a financial settlement and a parenting agreement. Both are hard and can be fraught with emotions and hurt feelings.
My current guest Donna F. had been married to her husband for about seven years when they decided to divorce. Their daughter was just two years old. Donna thought figuring out a parenting plan was going to be easy but she was wrong. Very wrong. Here’s Donna:
I just figured that I would have my daughter and he would see her on weekends, because he wasn’t all that interested in being a dad. He wanted to see his daughter two days every two weeks. I thought it would be easy.
I had supported several single moms, friends who didn’t have family around and who were just struggling as a single mom to take care of their kid and not go crazy. And so, for me, I thought, “I need to be with my family or with my good friends.”
We lived in Arizona, my best friend was moving up to Colorado and I had this vision of moving up to Colorado. My friend was moving up here into an area where there was going to be a group of friends in the same area and one of my sisters lived there.
I thought, “I don’t want to go back to Chicago. I’d rather move to Colorado.” So, I wrote my husband this letter just saying that I really wanted our daughter to grow up with family and that I knew that I couldn’t do this on my own. We didn’t have any of his family.
I think that’s the reason why my family and everyone else went crazy. Like, “Oh, my god, you can’t take her away from us,” and I’m like, “He’s only going to see her four days a month anyway. I’ll bring her back. He could fly up, whatever.”
When it got toward the time we were going to court, the court said, “No, you can’t take her out of state. You have to split her fifty-fifty. She’s got to go back and forth every week. You need to live in the same neighborhood, so she can go to the same school and have the same friends.”
I looked at him and I went “Are you crazy? We can’t even decide on one little thing.” We could never come to agreement and still today we cannot.
So, now all of a sudden he wants her fifty percent of the time and I thought, “We had agreed at the very beginning when we decided when we were getting divorced that we weren’t going to split her fifty-fifty for our benefit. That she needed to be in one place and it would be the Disneyland dad kind of thing.” I never changed off that. He did once we were in court.
It’s my belief and I feel really strongly about it, especially seeing kids today, that going back and forth is not for the kid. It’s for the parent. It’s so they can both say, “Well, we’re good parents and we have her fifty percent of the time.”
It makes me crazy.
The pendulum has swung away from the traditional parenting agreement to a presumption of equal shared parenting time but I think we still have a long way to go.
As Donna says, shared parenting is often driven by the parent’s wishes and not the child’s needs.
Frankly, I don’t know too many adults who would cope with moving between houses with the frequency expect from our children. My son brought that home to me over summer vacation when he said, “It seems to me that you and dad got divorced and I got to do the work.” He’s seventeen now and was eleven when we divorced so the back and forth doesn’t get easier. Maybe it gets harder with age.
It doesn’t help that the number of overnight visits is a factor used in the calculation of child support in many states. The financial penalty for giving up overnight visits can be a disincentive for acting in a child’s interest although parents do have the option to agree to a child support formula assuming that overnights are split equally even if they adopt an alternative arrangement.
I believe that the quality of the parenting time counts more than the quantity and I do believe that both parents should be given the opportunity for active involvement. That means getting creative with transportation, school volunteering, field trip chaperoning, sports team coaching and so on. It’s all possible but making that happen comes back to embracing the other parent’s involvement and being willing to negotiate the agreement around the child’s needs. And it’s not just a one time deal … the agreement needs to be revisited each year as schools and activities change.
Do you and your ex have any creative ways of dividing your parenting time? How do your children cope with moving between two houses?
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