Dear. Dr. Jann,
For years my husband and I have struggled to co-parent with his ex-wife. She refuses to cooperate unless it’s convenient for her. We are a family of six and we don’t have money for a lawyer. I was hoping things would get easier, however they are getting worse. Please Help!
By the way, I failed to mention that even though there has been a court order intact for years, she still violates it numerous times a week and does what she wants regarding exchanges, medical, etc.
-Sincerely, Family of Six
Dr. Jann: Dear Family of Six,
This can be very frustrating, particularly if you are trying to follow the court order and your co-parent isn’t. From a legal point of view, the best thing you can do is have a court order that is “enforceable.” That way if the other parent doesn’t follow it, you can call the police for assistance.
If your order states things like, “holidays will be shared by mutual agreement,” it’s not enforceable. The police can’t look at an order and decide with whom the children should spend the holiday. “Alternating weekends” isn’t really enforceable. If the order is written in 2014, for example, how will police figure out who has the current weekend? They will not refer to four years of calendars and count every other weekend.
Number Your Weekends
When parents don’t get along, it’s best to number the weekends. If you get the first, third, and fifth weekends of each month there is no argument as to what weekend is assigned to you and it is easier to enforce.
Save Receipts from Child Exchanges
Also, you mentioned his ex doesn’t cooperate with child exchanges. Most custody exchanges list “receiving parent” as responsible for transportation. This means the parent who is “receiving” the children is responsible for picking them up. Enforceable exchanges would list a specific location to exchange the children. For example, “from school.” Other things that may help to enforce an order is to include that if a parent is 15-30 minutes late for an exchange, visitation is canceled until the next time. This is usually put in place if a parent often “no-shows” and forces the receiving parent to wait. It would also require an exchange at a place where you could get a receipt or something to prove you were on time and at the correct location. If the other parent is late or doesn’t show up with the kids, the receipt is time stamped and you have proof you were there. Although drastic, if you then call the police, they may accompany you to pick up the children.
If parents cannot agree and are constantly arguing, the court may intercede. Family court makes primary custody decisions based on “the parent who is most likely to cooperate.” If you are documenting that your co-parent isn’t obeying custody exchanges or being difficult when it comes to your child, you have proof that they aren’t the most likely to cooperate. The court may deem that your co-parent having primary custody may not be in the child’s best interest.
Attend a Parenting Class
Finally, sometimes divorced parents must be reminded that their kids have two parents and deserve a relationship with both of them. You may want to add a mandatory co-parenting class to your court order. Attending a co-parenting class will offer tools to help both parents work together and remind both parties to do what is best for your children.
Download a Co-parenting App
There are many tools out there to help you. A co-parenting app is one of them. With features like creating a custody schedule, date/time stamped messaging (that works just like text messaging), calendar that auto syncs with both parents phones, requesting holiday vacations and special requests, it can help you keep everything in one place and keeps both parents organized. You can use it together or separately, both parents aren’t needed in order to use an app. The coParenter app is the only one that offers a coaching/mediation feature through tapping the ‘GetHelp’ tab which allows you to talk to a professional when things get tough with your co-parent or you just need advice.
This may seem like a difficult task, but well worth it in the end. Sometimes it takes parents more of a “push” to learn to work with the other parent instead of against them, for the sake of the children.