When you share your child with an ex-spouse, your final judgment of dissolution of marriage is only the beginning of a new chapter in your relationship. Whether you entered into a parenting plan voluntarily or as a result of litigation, you must figure out how to make co-parenting work in the most efficient way, for the sake of your child and of your sanity.
Once a court has decided that shared parental responsibility is in the best interest of the child, you will both have equal rights. You won’t get bonus points for being the primary caregiver, unless it is specifically stated on the parenting plan.
Even if you think your ex won’t parent as well as you do, you must pick your battles. Some of the minor issues that a judge won’t be thrilled to address when repeated conflict over them land you back in court are the following:
1. Meals. You want your kids to eat whole foods and limit processed fare as much as possible. Your ex’s idea of a good dinner is hot dogs and Cheetos. As frustrating as this might be, constantly arguing over such a small matter will only cause resentment. It will make both of you angry at each other, and your kids will notice.
2. Bedtime. Unless your ex-spouse is allowing your kids to go to bed at unreasonable times and this is affecting their health or their performance at school, you will have to accept that two different parenting styles are part of your new reality.
3. Right of First Refusal: If your parenting plan establishes that, if your ex cannot take care of little Bobby, you get to take care of him, but your ex drops him off with his grandparents instead, you can keep track of it in writing (via e-mail, texts, or tools like Our Family Wizard), then talk to a lawyer about filing a motion to enforce, and decide whether it’s worth spending the money to go back to court and battle it out.
4. Pick up/Drop off Times: If work schedules vary so much that this becomes a regular argument, try to reach an agreement for after school tutoring, or family members to enter the picture and lend a helping hand.
5. New Significant Others: At some point, each parent must deal with the reality that life goes on and the other will date other people. As long as your kid is not mistreated by the new love interest, or confused and calling him or her “mom” or “dad,” this is another one of those situations in which you must swallow your pride and let things be.
While it is possible to file a petition to enforce or modify an existing parenting plan, the court will usually refuse to micromanage the details of your children’s lives. Ultimately, it’s up to you and your ex-spouse whether to raise your kids in an environment filled with animosity, or to recognize how important some issues are and let the trivial issues go. And remember you can always try to resolve your issues collaboratively; collaborative teams will always put your goals and interests at the forefront of your negotiations.
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About this week’s authors: Joryn Jenkins.
Joryn, attorney and Open Palm Founder, began her own firm here in Tampa after a 14-year career in law, 2 of which she served as professor in law at Stetson University. She is a recipient of the prestigious A. Sherman Christensen award, an honor bestowed upon those who have provided exceptional leadership to The American Inns of Court Movement. For more information on Joryn’s professional experience, take a look at her resume.