Yesterday, I reintroduced you to Marjorie to share an update on her divorce story. Marjorie waited some fifteen months for the trial date for her divorce and during that time was the non-custodial parent for her minor daughter. She went from being a stay-at-home mom to having very limited access virtually overnight. At the trial, Marjorie got what she thought was best best for her child – joint custody. Here’s Marjorie with the details:
Basically, it’s joint custody. We have shared parental rights, both of us as if we were still married. The parenting schedule is a four nights and three nights. The judge felt that because she’s been traumatized and so much has happened, for continuity purposes, he felt that it was important for her on school nights to be in the house that she’s known all of her life, so that’s the one up that I would say my ex had on me – he stayed in the home.
I think that that’s important. I know a lot of folks told me in the beginning, not to leave the house. I had always said that I was going to leave the house eventually, but not realizing that leaving the house without her meant that he stayed in the house with her.
The judge felt that on school nights, she should be there in that house, and then I would have her on other nights and just take her to school the next time. That was a little hard for me to swallow. I know for us mothers in society, we’re so used to being there for homework and all of these things on school nights, and then dads get them for the weekend, but I found the blessing in that was that I actually have more time with her overall. He’s got to get off work, he’s got to pick her up from child care, he’s got to get her home, get her homework, get dinner, by that time it’s almost bedtime, but I get the fun time. I get those weekends when we can actually go places and do stuff, so I look at it as quality over quantity in that respect.
During the week, that doesn’t mean that she’s inaccessible to me. I can go, I have lunch with her from time-to-time. If she has an after-school activity, I can be a part of that.
The judge laid it out all of the defining factors that he took into consideration for this, and it was a long list. He wanted us to understand why he was making the decision that he was making. Even though I was arrested for domestic violence, and I had two Department of Child Services investigations thrown at me with these mysterious phone calls that I had left my daughter alone, accusations of me having men in my apartment and exposing her to men and the therapist even saying to the judge that my child told her that she would rather live with Daddy, the judge took none of that into consideration.
He felt that we were both morally fit, he felt that we were both active enough in our child’s life in the past and now, he felt that we both had safe, secure, clean homes for her, so even after all these things thrown at me, what my ex thought would be the things to give him a leg up in winning custody of her, none of that mattered in the end. The judge doesn’t look at those unless there’s something concrete, and it was really nothing concrete.
He knows my case, and he even cited that the arrest was a minor issue, that didn’t make a difference. There was nothing from the DCS report that was harmful to my child, and the judge felt that even at her age, she was six at the time, she’s seven now, even saying that to the therapist, he said, “This is why we don’t have young kids come in and testify and say where they want to live, because we just can’t take that into consideration. They’re young. They don’t know what’s best for them.”
My daughter’s great, she’s happy that she spends more time with me, and now we’re able to communicate. My ex wouldn’t allow me to talk with her by phone during this entire time, he wouldn’t give me phone access to her when she wasn’t with me. The judge gave him a bit of a tongue lashing, that even though he set a parenting schedule in place, he expects for us to work together and do what’s in the best interest of the child. If she needs to have both parents at an event or something, let both parents be there. Don’t prevent the other parent from being there to be spiteful. Give the child access to the other parent by phone or whatever. Be reasonable, be flexible with your time. He knew that eventually my ex is going to want some weekends with her, and so we’re going to have to get to a point where we trade off, where we work together, so she’s really liking it. She calls me every night before she goes to bed and we talk and I feel like this is good for her, this is going to be better for her as time goes on, if he will continue to be civil and cordial with me.
The Divorce Coach Says
Marjorie’s comments about leaving the marital house underscore the importance of seeking good legal advice before making major decisions like this. Not only will a professional tell you if you moving out will prejudice your child custody position but he/she should also be able to tell you what you need to do to mitigate any risks. I know that living separately under the same roof is stressful and sometimes someone has to break the stalemate. You could end up with a nesting custody arrangement like Michelle but that does require at least some degree of communication. I’m also reminded of Swati who moved out to put an end to her husband’s harassment but her attorney told her what she needed to do to avoid allegations of denying her STBX parenting time.
Fighting for child custody is grueling for everyone, especially the children. It’s time-consuming and it’s expensive. It’s absolutely necessary when you have well-founded concerns for the safety of your children but the decision to fight for custody should always start with a brutally honest self-assessment of your motives:
- Are any of your concerns based on bitterness or resentment?
- Are you using your children to get back at your STBX?
- Are you giving your STBX the chance to improve his/her parenting skills?
- What part does poor communication between you and your ex play?
I don’t agree with the judge giving Marjorie every weekend – that seems like a raw deal for the dad. It’s setting Marjorie up to be the honeymoon parent and dad to be the disciplined one that enforces schedules and homework assignments. Given the history, I think it’s unrealistic to think that Marjorie and her ex are going to be flexible with parenting. In my experience, having a super detailed parenting plan helps to contain the conflict and flexibility comes with time. What do you think? How would you want the parenting time divided?
Photo credit: gwilmore