All seasoned family law attorneys, judges, and related professionals, such as parenting coordinators and therapists, have worked with parents who simply cannot get along and reach agreement on simple things.
Appellate cases report parents who make parenting with their children a “battleground.” Often this becomes acute with face-to-face transitions of the kids. Sadly, some parents have to have these supervised or occur at a place like a police station. Children “get it” and carry this baggage into their future relationships.
At Ciyou & Dixon, P.C., we see this unfortunate situation occur on a daily basis. Over the years, we have compiled a list of effective tips that if parents adopt and follow will make child exchanges tolerable, help them heal from the wounds of divorce to move on with their own lives, and minimize the impact of the post-divorce life on their children.
We hope they help you.
The Gift of Five Minutes of Peace.
Grief. Change. Unknowns. The future. Blame. All of these dynamics are in play for parents during and, often take years to understand, manage and over-come. However, the time and place to sort this out is not at drop-offs and pick-ups. This is already an inherently stressful time for the kids. This reflects staying in a different home that night, perhaps with the other parent’s new significant other.
The stress for the kids expands exponentially if the parents are arguing with each other up to, at, and just after the drop-offs and pick-ups. Whatever is going on, the best thing parents can do for their kids to adapt to the switches between parents is to hold back emotion and anger, whether verbal, or non-verbal, and let the kids have a quiet and peaceful transfer.
This is the recipe to stay out of court (and in some cases jail) and help the kids, your children, to adapt and thrive post-divorce. In other words, no matter how caustic the parent-parent relationship is, don’t let it show at child transitions. Do it for yourself, but if you cannot, do it for your kids.
Arrive Early or On-Time.
Children are smart. A parent who is chronically late to drop-offs and pick-ups sends a signal to the kids: The other parent’s time with them is not as important as my time. This erodes the relationship between the parents and children and may signal how the child will value his or her relationship in the future. It is a selfish, self-centered approach.
And no matter who may be wrong or right, the late parent causes the on-time parent to run late and this often impairs his or her job, quality of time with the kids, or schedule. This in turn makes that timely parent resentful, which feeds on itself and makes him or her rigid, which is exactly the opposite of what is required for smooth sailing in co-parenting post divorce. Then this may cause a custody modification or contempt petition to be filed, and both parents embroiled in litigation.
Be early or on-time for child exchanges.
Have the Kids Ready.
An all too common pattern attorneys at Ciyou & Dixon, P.C. observe in parent-child transitions occurs with the kids not being ready for the other parent. A mantra successful parents follow is to have the kids ready for the other. There are many ways begrudging parents unwittingly do this.
The kids go without their homework. With homework undone. Dirty. Without medicines. This wholly undermines the quality of time the receiving parent has with the kids. They spend their time with the kids on unnecessary tasks, which erodes the quality of the time and relationship. This, in turn, makes that parent resentful. This just fosters quid pro quo.
These parents are heading for years of fighting, litigation, and children with long-term psychological baggage. Yes the parents are hurting each other, but they are really hurting their kids. Go the extra mile. Anticipate. Make sure the kids go to transitions with what they need, which may range from sports equipment to completed homework and having been fed.
This is a fundamental for smooth parent-child exchanges.
Consider the Environment.
Over the years, every product and service has gained insight that the environment, from the packaging, to inside of a pediatricians’s office (now with exam tables that look like a child’s bedroom furniture) can and does make a profound difference in how it is perceived–great to terrible framing the range. So too is the environment for parenting exchanges.
If it causes the parent stress, multiply that several fold for the children. They do not have an adults experiences and mental development to sort this out as effectively as their parents. Not sure? Take two common examples. The parents literally have so much tension between them they perceive the other as dangerous and require the custody changes occur at police stations.
While the police and civilian world do work in a partnership to thwart the criminal element, and kids are taught police officers are authority figures who will help them, this is not the message this sends. Instead, it is that something bad might happen and the police need to be close by when they change from one parent to the other.
Another classic occurs at the respective residences. A child is sent packing out the front door and has to walk to the other parent parked on the street. This is tantamount to the DMZ between North and South Korea. The message it sends to the kids is each parent is a side different from the other, good and bad, right or wrong. Prudent divorced parents are on the same side when it comes to raising two children as productive members of society.
On the other hand, a common and good place for parenting exchanges is McDonalds. This cultural icon is suited for and oriented to children and is familiar to all. And where there is the need to eat it fills that role as well.
The place and how a child exchange is handled, is important to raising well-rounded children post-divorce. Often this is an insidious process and many parents do not understand they are engaged in really harmful behavior with their exchanges.
Think about it. What does your child think. Take care and understand the environment child-exchanges occur in.
The only certainty in life, as the old adage goes, is death and payment of taxes. The only constant is change. In the post-divorce world, new significant others and step-children or half-siblings may come into the dynamic as variables. This creates all sorts of permutations for scheduling, as does the weather and everything else.
Parents who want to stay out of court, not fight, and help their children adopt to the post-divorce life are flexible. This is not to say this is an excuse to be late to exchanges because you do not value the other parent or he or she does not value your time. Instead, it is the recognition that the world is not a perfect place.
Road construction, traffic jams and all sorts of things may cause a parent exchange to not go smoothly. This should “roll off” and not be the cause of a “meltdown.” On the other hand, there is a line between flexibility and taking advantage of the flexible parent. The best way to measure this is to give the other parent the benefit of the doubt.
Keep a journal of the date, time and circumstance so if this threshold is crossed, a lawyer can help you carefully evaluate the situation to determine what remedial measures may be put into place to address the situation, which could range from a letter to opposing counsel, request for a parenting coordinator, to a contempt action.
At the end of the day, the time, grief, and litigation can never change the fact that the parties have children and will have to co-parent until the children leave home. This can be two (2) decades of bitterness and “war” or a tolerable situation in most circumstances.
Ciyou & Dixon, P.C. Indianapolis divorce attorneys hope you find these five (5) tips to harmonize parent-child exchanges helpful. Ultimately, the disengaging and developing of a thick skin and giving the other parent the benefit of the doubt is the key to moving on post-divorce and help the kids adapt to this change.