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"How to Avoid 5 Common Problems that Arise Between Newly Separated Parents."
Hunter & Hein, Attorneys at Law, PLLC. Updated 7/12/17.
Ending a relationship is difficult enough without children involved; but when you throw kids into the mix, you add a whole new level of pain, anxiety, and complications (both legal and emotional). As a child custody attorney, I counsel a lot of clients on how to fix problems regarding their children; but there are also steps you can take to avoid these problems altogether. I put together a list of the top five complaints that I hear from clients about their ex when it comes to the kids, and some ideas on how to head these problems off at the pass:
If you and your ex have agreed to a child custody schedule without going to court, great! There is no doubt in my mind that it is better for everyone involved when parents can talk civilly about their children and what is in their best interest, rather than duking it out in court. However, a handshake agreement, unfortunately, is just not enforceable when it comes to a custody schedule. If you want to agree on a custody schedule and ensure that it will be enforceable, the best option is typically to enter into a Consent Order. This is an order to which both parties agree and sign, and then submit for signature by a judge. The judge’s signature makes the order enforceable by contempt powers of the court, so there is incentive to stick to the agreement.
This is a tough one, because you can’t keep your ex from dating; and you can’t always control who he/she brings home to meet the children. But, there is something to be said for stability in the children’s lives and avoiding the confusion that introducing them to multiple dating partners may cause. The best way to deal with this is to request the inclusion of a provision in any custody order that requires a waiting period before a new dating partner meets the kids. I usually recommend a six month waiting period. Also, I would recommend the “dating parent” introduce their new significant other to their ex prior to introducing him/her to the children; or, at the very least, have a conversation with your ex prior to introducing your new partner to the children. Sometimes a simple conversation can go a long way when it comes to keeping the peace.
Talking to children about the details of your relationship ending is a BIG no-no. However, it is quite likely that at some point (depending on their age) your children will ask why Daddy and Mommy ended their relationship. It is important to think about this question before it comes, so that you aren’t caught off guard when you have to answer it. Your children do not need to know the details behind your relationship ending; and sometimes, they don’t even need to know the truth behind it. If telling your children the truth (that Daddy cheated on Mommy; or that Mommy decided she just didn’t love Daddy anymore) would have a serious negative impact on their relationship with the other parent, come up with a neutral, boilerplate explanation. May I suggest, “Honey, sometimes people just grow apart and realize that they don’t want to be married to each other anymore.” If you can’t come up with a boilerplate answer, or if your child is the type to follow up with a million other questions, then at some point it is alright to tell your kids that you just aren’t going to talk to them about the details of your split.
Seeing another parental figure discipline your children can be difficult. Unfortunately, when parents split, the truth is that there will likely be other parental figures in your children’s lives on both sides. The best way to deal with this scenario is to talk about it before it happens. When your ex comes to you and tells you that his/her new boyfriend/fiancé/wife is moving in, bring up parenting boundaries. For instance, you may want to discuss whether each of you are open to the other encouraging the children to call a step-parent “Mom” or “Dad.” You may also want to discuss what type of discipline is acceptable for the new parental figure to use on the children. If you and your ex practice spanking as a form as discipline, you may want to revisit your thoughts on that subject when it comes to someone else dealing out a spanking. Whatever your boundaries are, make sure your ex knows them up front.
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One of the most difficult things about co-parenting is learning to deal with the differing personalities, schedules, and styles of parenting that develop in two separate homes. The most important thing to remember is that, as difficult as it may be on the parents, it is even more difficult on the children. They are the ones who are going back and forth between Mom’s house and Dad’s house and trying to conform to the dynamic in each household for whatever time they spend there. It is important that you and your ex sit down and talk about the children’s schedules and routines. It is also important to communicate about things like discipline, punishments and rules. When the children misbehave or get in trouble at one home, it is important that the other parent support whatever disciplinary action was taken. Likewise, when one parent says that the children are not allowed to watch a certain movie or listen to a particular type of music, this should be communicated between the parents. Parents must stand as one united force for the children, even when doing so from separate homes.
The fact is that parenting from separate households is difficult. No matter how civil you are about it, you will likely run into road blocks here and there. If you have built a good foundation, try not to let a few bumps in the road destroy what you’ve worked to build. If you are continuously having problems, and not finding solutions, then it may be time to seek legal counsel to help you understand what options you have and what the likely outcomes are depending on which route you take.
If you or someone you know is having continuing parenting issues and needs legal counseling, we can help. Call us at 704-412-1442 to schedule a consultation with one of our Charlotte child custody lawyers. Or, complete the contact form above and one of our attorneys will contact you.
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