Custody, Coparenting, and Overscheduled Kids

Posted on Mar 18, 2024 by Katie Carter

Sometimes, the most frustrating things about coparenting aren’t even necessarily the legal issues.  Sure, the legal issues themselves can be difficult to resolve but, for many families, once that initial hurdle is crossed, things settle down a bit.

That doesn’t mean that all is well and everything is harmonious.  In fact, in many cases – though, admittedly, I have an unfair sampling in the sense that what I see are the ones who struggle to resolve their ongoing issues – there are lots of issues, they just don’t rise to the level that they require legal intervention.

Petty annoyances abound and, added together over time, can create big issues for you and your coparent.  Worse still, there’s often little (if any) recourse for the ways that he’s pushing your buttons – perhaps deliberately.  When you add in stepparents, step-siblings, and half-siblings, too, things grow even more complicated.

To some extent, you have to develop a level of tolerance about these things.  When you and your child’s father broke up, separated, or divorced, you abdicated control over that kind of thing – to the extent that you ever had control over it to begin with.  Most divorced people, especially men, will eventually remarry.  The younger they are, the more likely they are to add more kids to their own personal Brady Bunch and then, the older they are, the more likely you are to have to blend families including stepchildren.

It’s going to happen.  And different families will have different rules, some you agree with and some that you don’t.  You’ve probably already seen this in the case of your children’s school friends, or even other branches of your own family.  For me, the same is also true.  I’m lucky enough to live next door to my sister, and, in many ways, we raise our combined five kids all together.  At other times, though, we have to say, “Well, they have a different mommy.”

Even in very, very close families, the rules can be different – even on things like screen time and curfews, not to mention the food that is eaten and the activities that the family engages in.  One of the complaints that I often hear is that dad is more permissive; letting the kids stay up too late, play too many video games, and generally exist with too few rules and too little structure.  Kids come back to mom’s dysregulated and they have to pick up the pieces, re-establish the rules, and try to parallel parent.

This isn’t really a legal issue.  It’s pretty well-established that, within normal limits, each parent is capable of setting up their own specific rules and dynamic within their own home.  Dad is responsible for the kids on his time; mom is responsible for the kids on hers.  The fact that dad hasn’t done much of it before or that, in mom’s opinion, he does so poorly, is unlikely to have much impact on the judge.  Unless and until his behavior rises to the level that it is either harmful or dangerous to the child (and, even then, significant evidence would be required), it’s probably not going to be considered a problem.

Moms and dads parent differently.  Blah, blah, blah.

One of the areas where, recently, I’ve seen a lot of issues are related to extracurricular activities.  In fact, I already wrote about it recently, with specific emphasis on how these activities are paid for.  For the most part, the child support guideline is supposed to cover the kids’ basic, ongoing needs – and this includes extracurricular activities.  (We all know that it is nowhere near sufficient to cover even basic needs in this day and age, let alone allow money for extracurriculars.)

Many parents have a specific agreement in place that they’ll enroll their kids in certain activities, usually based on some kind of agreement between the parties, and that they’ll share costs associated with them.  Especially in cases where the kids are already enrolled in activities and the family is relatively affluent, it’s not often a huge issue.  In some ways, though, it’s a bit like the college tuition dilemma; a dad might be willing to pay those costs, but he might not want to become contractually obligated to do it.  Because the court won’t force this issue, though – and the court is usually reluctant to enter provisions that force a parent to pay for anything additional beyond basic child support – there’s not much you can do to force him to pay or agree to pay if he’s not willing.

Still, a lot of parents do.  After all, in many families, it really is two different but generally well-meaning people trying to do the best they can by their kids.  The families where one party is truly problematic, abusive, addicted, or something else are less common scenarios.  (And, if that’s you, you really should talk to an attorney one-on-one about your specific child(ren), your family, your soon-to-be ex, and your concerns.)

But that’s pretty minimal guidance, right?  What happens AFTER that?  What is life like?  And then, you go on to add a new spouse, new children (whether step or bio children), and your ex does the same, and things get endlessly complicated.

What happens when the kids are OVER scheduled?

I got a question recently about this situation.  There are two kids (one with special needs) and the parents were never married.  They have both since remarried, and mom has added two more kids with her new husband.  They share custody on a week on/week off schedule.

The parties’ teenaged son is an athlete and his dad couldn’t be more thrilled.  Between practices, extra weight training, gym sessions, and meetings with his personal trainer, the son spends part of the day for a full 6 days a week – sometimes two-a-days – training.  His lengthier sessions run into the early evening and require a 25 minute drive.

Mom is concerned.  Not only does she have two much younger children now – including the bedtimes and feedings and all of the other concerns associated with young children – she has a daughter with special needs, who is in physical and occupational therapy.

She’s not unsupportive of her son’s participation in these activities.  The son seems to enjoy it and he’s good – but dad probably enjoys it more.  “What if I can’t do it all?” she asks me, tearfully.  “I don’t want to pull him out and be the bad guy, but I just don’t feel that I can manage such an intense schedule!  As a mom – not as a lawyer – what would you do?”

Two different families, two different sets of rules

When you separate, divorce, or otherwise break up with your child’s father, you create two separate households.  It doesn’t even matter whether you remarry.  It’s two different families.  Two sometimes completely different ecosystems.

You have to create your own family dynamic that works for you.  Yes, you still have to blend a bit with your ex, but you don’t have to follow the exact same rules or allow the exact same things that he does.

If you have more children, you have to balance all the needs of all the children – and, of course, your own needs, too!  (Believe it or not, you do have some of your own.)  Especially in this scenario, with another child with special needs, it’s important to have the flexibility necessary to take that child to and from her appointments as well.  I don’t want to say that physical and occupational therapy are more important than the son’s sports involvement, but it’s certainly not less important.

I don’t think you’re the bad guy – or a bad mom – if you set boundaries and limits.  All of your children have to exist together in the same family.  Treating one child or the other differently is going to create an environment that fosters tension and resentment.  To some extent, things will always be at least a little different, because their parents aren’t the same, but you don’t have to help it along.

You should discuss it in terms of boundaries and setting a healthy balance for your family.  Maybe it’s even worth a family meeting during your parenting time, with your son, to discuss the family’s needs and how to balance them.  Maybe you agree to do some of the practices and/or trainings – say, two evenings a week and one morning – or you create a flexible schedule where you determine, week by week, what bandwidth you have given your other obligations.  There are no rules except that it needs to work for your family during your parenting time.

The mental load is a real thing for moms.  We’re working so hard, all the time, even at the things that seem invisible to our partners.  (It was Dr. Seuss day at my kid’s school today – talk about invisible mental load!)  If you can’t handle it, you shouldn’t feel obligated to do it.  You can’t push yourself past the point of exhaustion, or fail to meet the needs of your other kids, to support this.  Well, you probably can, because you’re a mom and you can do anything, but you have to ask yourself whether it’s actually a good idea.

If you can’t do it, you can’t do it.  You don’t have to do it.  You could, potentially, allow your ex a chance to drive him or do the extra leg work during your parenting time, if it’s so important to him, but you could also just say no.  Or set limits.  Your son has to learn that he’s just one member of a much larger family and, although his needs are important, they are no more or less important than every single other family member.

It’s not easy, but it’s not being a bad mom to say that you can only go so far.  It’s being smart and it’s being fair.  Your child’s father may say unkind things about you, but don’t rise to his level.  Stay cool and level-headed.  If you choose your choice, you should be able to calmly and rationally discuss it.  (And, after a certain point, there’s no need to discuss at all.  You’ve made a choice for your parenting time, and it stands.)

Set healthy boundaries.  I know it’s not easy and no one ever taught us to do it.  But it will help you – and, by extension, your son (not to mention those other three kids) so much to see you do it.

For more information, to schedule a consultation, or to request a copy of our free custody book for Virginia moms, visit our website at or give us a call at 757-425-5200.