One of my universal truths about divorce is that there is almost always less money afterwards. It’s just the reality that it costs two people more to live separately than together. That certainly held true for my current guest Michelle. Eighteen months ago, when she and her husband were separating she had a new business that wasn’t producing much income. That meant they were on a shoestring budget even before the divorce. Supporting two households was even harder. Their custody arrangements evolved into a nesting arrangement where the kids stayed put and Michelle and her husband were the ones to come and go. Think that might work you for? Here’s Michelle:
When he first moved out, he just got a one bedroom apartment because financially it was like, “Holy crap, how are we going to do this?” So he got just the cheapest thing that was safe and comfortable that he could afford. We were trying to have the kids go stay with him every other weekend.
Well they hated that, they didn’t have space, they’re pre-teens, they’re adolescents. They didn’t have their own rooms and they didn’t have their own beds. One kid was sleeping on an aero-bed and one kid was sleeping on the couch. They’re at an age when they really don’t just want to sit around in a small room with either one of their parents anyway. They want to be with their friends, they want to be doing their own thing.
At first I really thought, “No, no, we have to maintain boundaries and we have to show the kids that we’re in control of the situation and no, when it’s time to be with Dad, it’s time to be with Dad.”
That’s how I started off, I was terrified of losing control of the situation so I was really pushing sticking to the arrangements. The kids were miserable, and then it was sad for my ex too. At one point he came to me and said, “Listen, could you at least have them packed and ready to go when I come to get them because it makes me feel like crap when I come to get them and they don’t want to leave and then I have to argue with them to get their stuff and make them leave and it just makes me feel bad.”
I was really sorry, I hadn’t even thought about that.
After a couple of months of trying that I realized it wasn’t working. It wasn’t working for the kids and I thought maybe I needed to let go my whole idea of having these boundaries. So I said, “Listen, if you want, if it would make it easier for you, when it’s your weekend, I’ll go stay at the apartment, and you can come to the house.”
What ended up happening was I would go out of town a lot, so I’d go visit friends out of town and then he’d come stay at the house with the kids. Most of the time that he was spending with the kids was me leaving the house and him coming to the house so that the kids didn’t have to leave.
Then when he first announced that he had a girlfriend, my first trip away, I called him and said, “Listen, I’m totally supportive of your relationship, I’m happy for you. I’m not asking you not to spend time with her, but I would just appreciate it if you didn’t entertain her in the house because it feels uncomfortable to me, the thought you cooking dinner with her and hanging out on my couch…this feels like my home.” He was totally agreeable to that, so he didn’t bring her over to the house.
We kind of have an open access parenting agreement. Now that he has a three-bedroom house there’s x amount of nights a week that the kids are supposed to stay with him and there are some nights, or the rest of the nights they’re here. If I’ve got a business trip or something, he’ll take them. If he’s got a business trip and it’s supposed to be my night off, I’ll take them and we’ll just make up for it later. He’ll come by at least a few nights a week and take one of them to practice and drive one of them home from practice. He lives really nearby, and I know how important the kids are to him, so there’s no reason to not give him access when he wants it, and it helps me out. It really does.
One of the lessons I’ve realized is when I learn to let go of things, it actually serves me, as well as the other person.
The Divorce Coach Says
What I’ve learned from my interviews and reading divorce studies is that except for high-conflict divorces, children seem to fare best when the changes for them are minimized. That can be challenging even when you are working cooperatively with your SBTX. It can also be challenging while you’re working through the divorce process, waiting to finalize your financial agreement. No one wants to pay more rent than they have to for what may be temporary accommodation and it may be difficult finding something that is temporary, suitable and affordable. A nesting custody arrangement would be worth considering.
You might also want to consider it if you and your SBTX can’t agree on who should move out. In fact, the judge might even order it.
Michelle talks about letting go some of the boundaries and being more flexible – I think this is something that develops over time as you learn to trust each other again and I agree with another of my guests, Kathleen, that having a detailed parenting plan can help with that because you have the security of knowing what you’ve agreed and can go back to if necessary.
I actually think that a successful nesting custody arrangement calls for each of you to layout your specific expectations of how it will work and how to respect each other’s privacy just as Michelle did when she learned of her ex’s new girlfriend. This would apply to both the home in which the kids are based and any other accommodation you and your ex are sharing.
Are you currently following a nesting custody arrangement? What’s the setup? Does it work for you? What are the challenges? What expectations have you agreed with your ex? What advice would you give to someone who was thinking of this now?
PS: And I do think it’s your responsibility to make sure your children are prepared when your ex comes to pick up for his/her parenting time.
Photo credit: crossn81