Coparenting is hard. It’s probably especially hard when it’s new and when everyone is still reeling from the shock of the break up, separation, or divorce. It’s hard, too, when holidays are coming up, when a new significant other is introduced, or when big changes (like a move or a new job) are on the horizon.
There’s no coparenting manual. Like so many other things, it all comes down to the fact that, with coparenting, you are going to need to figure out your own way.
First and foremost, I think that comes down to asking yourself what you hope it’ll look like and then carefully, methodically, making decisions over time that help that vision come to life.
Is it natural? Probably not. Is it immediate? Usually, also, no. Is it a result of a ton of hard work, soul searching, and consistent reminders that you’ve got to just suck it up and put your child first? Absolutely yes.
It’s also possible that, in your situation, your child’s coparent won’t let successful coparenting work. There are cases where there are no other options but parallel parenting – essentially, each running your own show in your own house on your own parenting time. Is it ideal? No. But, hey, no one said all of these situations were ideal.
You’ll probably want to talk to an attorney about your unique case and make specific decisions accordingly – I’m certainly not telling you that all custody cases are these ‘pie in the sky’ situations where it’s possible to have the most ideal coparenting relationship possible – but I do also want to caution you not to make choices at the beginning that set you and your child’s father up as permanent adversaries.
I get it. There’s a lot of mistrust and hurt feelings and anger and probably a million other things. But there are also choices to be made, and one of those is this one:
Should I record visitation exchanges?
For me, the answer is, almost without question, absolutely not. I know there are attorneys out there who would advocate for it, who would suggest that it’s necessary to do it to ‘protect yourself’ in these situations. I’m not that attorney, absent some other really specific and challenging facts.
In most cases, I think that recording visitation changes – however ‘discretely’ – is asking for trouble.
I’ve written before about ‘gotcha’ moments in custody cases, and I think recording is really just an excuse to look for a moment like this. To goad the other coparent into a situation where they behave badly while you know you’re recording, and then use it against them in the custody case. It would be very difficult for me to believe that a person who is recording is not secretly trying to catch their ex acting badly. It would also be difficult to imagine that, knowing they’re recording, they wouldn’t just exaggerate their behaviors a bit to specifically trigger the response that they want the court to see.
Maybe his behavior – or, heck, even yours – would raise eyebrows in a courtroom. But would that same behavior have taken place without recording it? It’s hard to say, and it’s hard to trust even the interactions you see on a screen right in front of you.
There’s also a fair amount of abuse and gaslighting that often takes place in these relationships, and things that partners can do to each other to push buttons that would otherwise seem innocuous to someone else. I had a client once who said that her ex wore the tie that he wore to their wedding to court to unglue her – and, needless to say, it worked like a charm. Is that happening here?
It’s pretty obvious to me that behaving this way is not how you set up a successful coparenting relationship. Furthermore, I really don’t see how it amounts to much in the way of ‘protection’.
You want protection? Do a visitation exchange at a nearby police precinct during hours when they’re open. Don’t attach a GoPro to your head.
But what about a pen camera, or something else super discrete?
I’ve literally never seen anyone use a pen camera – but my argument is the same. You’ll be goading each other into behaving badly. It doesn’t help you establish the coparenting relationship that you want, either.
You WANT to keep fighting? Go right ahead. But I’d argue that this really isn’t the way to get where you probably would like to be.
But what if I suspect him of recording?
In general, it’s a good idea to behave like you know you’re being recorded. Don’t get agitated at visitation exchanges. Stay very calm. Don’t make threats or yell. Don’t talk about things in front of the kids, especially things that might be considered disparaging.
You don’t have to talk on the phone either – your phone conversation could be recorded. If he’s the type, he’ll probably find a way. So, don’t let him catch you with your pants down, so to speak. Speak calmly and clearly. Imagine what you’re saying being played in a courtroom and, if it’d be embarrassing or cast you in a bad light, don’t say it.
Better yet? If things are contentious, communicate in text, via a text message or an email. That way, you BOTH essentially have your conversations recorded and can produce it all, in its entirety, for the court.
He might record. But I don’t think that one person behaving badly is necessarily a reason for another person to do the same thing. I do think it’s a good argument for making absolutely certain that you keep your cool.
It’s kind of like the golden rule. Do unto others, you know? If you want to work to train him to be the kind of coparents you want to be, someone has to start somewhere. You can’t control him – and you don’t know what kind of advice his attorney is giving him – so you may as well start with yourself. Treat him as a coparent the way you want him to treat you. Don’t give him a reason to think that he needs to record your exchanges to ‘protect’ himself. Come up with an ironclad custody and visitation arrangement that spells out every possible contingency.
And, ideally, move forward into the kind of coparenting arrangement you visualized. For more information or to request a copy of our custody book for Virginia moms, visit our website at hoflaw.com or give us a call at 757-425-5200.