When someone tells me they are getting a divorce and the other parent will be getting physical custody of the child(ren), there is one piece of advice I always give them. It is : Make your parenting plan EXACTLY what you want no matter how wonderful your relationship with the other parent is right now, no matter how idealistic your views of co-parenting may be… plan for the worst.
My ex and I split quite peacefully. There was some pain and hurt – but we were friends. We wanted our son to always have both parents. We wanted to cooperate and co-parent even though we were separated. We had a verbal agreement and even went so far as to take it to an attorney to make it official (we thought “WOW… that’s a stretch… make it legal?! We don’t need to do all that, do we?”).
Then his mother and then, girlfriend got involved. Oddly, the attorney disappeared along with the written agreement. Suddenly, he simply was not going to give me my son, as we had agreed. He filed for divorce again, this time claiming abandonment. That was, of course, overturned and we went through the legal process and got a parenting plan in place. I fought tooth and nail to get stuff into the parenting plan that we had previously agreed upon. Things he had ASSURED me he thought were in the best interest of our son only months before.
Later, once everything was in writing, there were several times that he tried to restrict my visitation and I HAD to fall back on the legal document we signed. My son would tell me things that they talked about regarding me and thankfully, there was a legal document to say that wasn’t allowed to happen. One would think that these things just shouldn’t be able to happen… what parent in their right mind would think it would be ok to stop the other parent from seeing the child – or to badmouth the other parent, right?
Finally, I got physical custody of my son back and the tables were turned. Now he wanted to stretch things this way and that so that he wouldn’t have to pay child support for an extra month. I had a legal document saying that he did not have the right to do that. He didn’t take his parenting time as laid out in the agreement he signed and I had a legal document to fall back on to prove it.
Thank GOD I fought so hard to get everything included. I was called all sorts of nasty things in the process because how dare I demand and push and press to get these things included – but being relentless paid off. I shudder to think what could have happened had I left things up to ‘the better judgment of his kind, well meaning, best interest of the child heart’.
It is the story that most non-custodial parents have in common only, not always with a positive ending because they never thought they would need that parenting plan to uphold their rights. I hear it over and over and over from non-custodial and/or long distance parents. It rarely deviates. In the beginning, if they are friends, eventually, it winds up that they are not. Whether because it becomes an inconvenience to one parent or the other or simply out of spite almost every story is the same… someone feels that their rights as a parent have been stepped on and the non-custodial parent has little to no recourse if it was never in writing.
It’s not about being pessimistic, it’s about being smart. You never thought you’d get divorced or you never would have gotten married, right? It stands to reason that you could be wrong about how great you think you will get along in the long run. If nothing else, rest assured that when your ex moves on and finds someone new, that new person won’t be too keen on them handing you everything you want.
So, while you are still amicable, make that parenting plan bulletproof. Put all of the ‘givens’ into a legal agreement that you are both amicably willing to sign. Imagine the worst. Imagine that your ex turns into robo-psycho.
What are the things that you would want to make sure you could have? Ample unsupervised visitation, open phone, mail and email access to the kids, a steady child support amount and say in their education and medical decisions would be a great start. What schedule works for you both for visitation? What about non-school time visitation? Who will pay for college or the first car? What if one parent wants to move more than 100 miles away – or out of state? What if they move an abusive person into the home?
Those are worst possible scenarios that you HAVE to put thought into if you don’t want to be caught unprepared.