Common Coparenting Issues: Lifestyle Choices

Posted on Mar 13, 2024 by Katie Carter

Lately, I’ve done a whole series of articles on common coparenting issues on everything from travel and relocation to extracurricular activities and birthday parties.  Believe me, all sorts of things come up!  Coparents can find a million different ways to fight with each other, both before and long, long after their divorces or break ups are finalized.

Some of those issues come from litigation.  I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: rarely does litigation lead to happily ever after.  Most of the time, parties who litigate once are much more likely to do so again.  Court orders governing divorce and/or custody and visitation are often relatively generic and lacking in specifics, meaning that the parties are more likely to feel like there’s no blueprint for how to handle their relationship.  Besides, the litigation has eroded any feelings of goodwill that might otherwise have existed.

Some of that comes from poorly drafted agreements, too.  I can’t tell you how many women have told me that they just want something super basic.  They usually say they just want it to say something like, for example, “reasonable and liberalparenting time because they think that it will give them more control over what their parenting plan actually looks like.  What it actually accomplishes, though, is an environment where the two coparents can delude themselves that the agreement says what THEY think (to her, that she’ll have control; to him, that it’ll be close to 50/50), creating an environment where they’re likely to continue to disagree.

No, in custody agreements – and in many other areas of life – the best defense is a good offense, meaning that the better you draft your custody and visitation agreement, the better prepared you will be for whatever comes up in the future.  Any time you use generic language, you are going to get a generic result. What does ‘reasonable and liberal’ mean to you, after all?  It may very well be something that is different from what reasonable and liberal means to your soon-to-be ex.  A better way to handle it, in my opinion, is to come up with a very specific, very detailed parenting plan.  To the extent that you ask for something – like an itinerary when your child travels – specify what exact detail you would need.

Want to include a right of first refusal?  Be specific there, too.  We’ve talked about a million different ways you can be specific.  There’s not really a right or wrong way, there’s just a vague way and a detailed way – and it’s very clear to me that one of those creates a path towards more harmony, and the other, well, doesn’t.

Not everything is a legal issue, in the sense that it doesn’t all rise to the level of needing to be adjudicated by a judge.  Sure, if enough of the little things came together, it’s possible that you could petition the court but, then again, that’s really a last resort and not at all the position you want to find yourself in.

There are bound to be some differences between the two different households.  But where do you intervene?

As far as I’m concerned, from a legal perspective, the lines are pretty clear.  He gets to parent on his parenting time, and you get to parent on yours.  The court understands and accepts that the two of you will not have the same way of doing things and, in fact, you may disagree with each other.

As far as the decisions that you have to make jointly, there are only three areas (as long as you have joint legal custody, which most coparents do): non emergency medical care, religious upbringing, and education.  Your agreement and/or custody order should outline any other particular areas where you might have to confer or let your other parent know what’s going on, but otherwise – you’re on your own, kid.

And so is he, unless there’s something going on that is likely to not be in the child’s best interests.  If he’s running a meth lab from his kitchen, for example, or hosting a brothel in the basement, these may be details that the court would be interested to hear.  Otherwise, though, there aren’t many things that would rise to the level that the court would deem concerning.

Yes – this is true even if your child is coming back from his parenting time with dad upset and dysregulated.  In fact, this often happens, for about a million reasons, and it’s not necessarily that something untoward is happening at dad’s house.  It’s also possible that the child is reacting to the uncertainty involved in his life or even your perceived hostility towards his other parent (or his towards you).

Ultimately, the law on this point is pretty clear: you’ll each be free to parent in the way that you see fit during the time that you have the child(ren) in your care.  This means that you – and any spouses or other children that may come into the equation at some point – will all have to adopt a sort of ‘live and let live’ approach.  This is true even if:

  • New stepchildren or half brothers and sisters are added to the equation;
  • The child’s other parents can’t maintain the same ratio of adults to children that you can (or that you think is appropriate);
  • Rules that exist in your home are not honored in dad’s home;
  • You don’t have the same opinions with respect to extracurriculars or other activities of the child;
  • You worship in different churches or practice completely different religions (whether new or established);
  • Your child’s stepparent has hobbies, interests, or work that you don’t particularly like; and so on.

It’s common that there will be issues and tension between two different households.  It may be that one home or the other is more affluent and is able to do more – in terms of vacations, extracurriculars, hobbies, or private school tuition – than the other.

There are all sorts of different coparenting models.  Some coparents are more cooperative, while others choose to follow a more parallel parenting type approach.  There’s no one size fits all, but you will almost certainly have to adapt to the reality that there are two households, two families, and two sets of rules that exist here.  Usually, children can adapt to these systems fairly readily; it’s really continued fighting that makes negotiating this territory difficult.

By all means, though, ask questions if there’s something going on that concerns you.  In rare cases, things like parental kidnapping, child abuse, sexual abuse, or other issues can come up.  The best interests of the child factors provide that anything that harms the child’s best interests is a concern to the court, so you may need to bring it up.

There’s also a pretty wide gulf between two normal, well-meaning, basically good parents doing the best they can (but doing it differently), and an abusive, neglectful, addicted, narcissistic, or otherwise difficult coparent.

For more information or to schedule a consultation, give our office a call at 757-425-5200.