On Friday, we talked about the day to day details of your child’s life as it relates to school – pictures, report cards, parent teacher conferences, and more. One of the big questions we always get in these cases, especially as newly separated or divorced parents struggle to establish a coparenting relationship, is whether and how much of the children’s day to day to share with their child’s other parent.
It can be a slippery slope. It’s complicated to create a new normal with someone who used to be a member of your team and who now approaches communication with you with suspicion and mistrust. You might want to share, but, then again, you feel that the sharing is not reciprocated, that he tries to undermine your role, or that he says no to things that you feel strongly should be allowed to happen.
Not only that, but you want to set up a positive coparenting relationship – one where there’s less suspicion and more collaboration. But, when you’re on opposing sides of rival camps, it’s easy to feel like the littlest things can cause big problems.
A big part of successful coparenting – or even successful parallel parenting – comes from the day to day details. While joint legal custody only gives both parents the right to work together on decisions relating to the child’s school enrollment, religious upbringing and non emergency medical care, and generally under a custody and visitation arrangement the parent with parenting time has the right to make other day to day decisions, most parents would like more communication rather than less.
A lot of cliches apply here: what’s good for the goose, do unto others, reap what you sow, and so on. To avoid being on the wrong side of the cliché, you’re going to want to make good decisions about when you discuss changes with your child’s other parent.
So, non-emergency medical stuff – like vaccinations – should be jointly agreed upon. But that’s easy, right?
What about EMERGENCY medical situations? Does that mean you don’t have an obligation to inform your child’s father? Umm – no. At least, I don’t think so. Depending on what kind of an emergency, you should obviously make sure your child is stabilized first, but your child’s father should know – at your earliest available opportunity – what’s going on.
For regular doctors appointments, too, communication is ideal. Not just “We went of the well child check today and everything’s fine,” but, instead, “Johnny’s appointment for his well child check in Friday at 3, if you can make it.”
Optometrists, orthodontists, therapists, etc. – it’s best to keep your child’s father informed.
Sports and Extracurriculars
The same applies for sports and extracurriculars. To the extent possible, get him on the email, text, or other lists that provide parent information. After that, I don’t think you need to take extra steps to inform him, unless you just want to be nice. After all, keeping him informed could take a LOT of time, if he’s not willing to do it himself. I think it’s enough to make sure he has the t-ball schedule, or access to it, but not necessarily that you remind him ahead of time of each game and time. If he doesn’t take steps to inform himself, at some point its on him to get that information – so, to the extent possible, I’d try to make sure that he had information to sign up for texts or an app or email list that provided the information he needs to participate.
Birthday Parties and Fun
Technically speaking, you can do whatever you like with the child during your parenting time, and you don’t really need to ask permission. If your child is, for example, attending his or her first sleepover, you don’t necessarily need to tell or ask him about it – but I would caution you, again, to consider how you would feel if it happened on his parenting time, without his input.
He can’t really stop you from sending your child, but it’s good to be able to have open communication, all the same. So, if he says no, you still have the power to override him and send the child. Remember, this isn’t a non emergency medical care, religious upbringing, or education decision that requires joint agreement – but, if it were my kid, I would at least want to know.
As far your child’s own birthday party, you can have one – and you don’t necessarily have to invite your child’s father. But I do encourage you not to fall into the dueling birthday party trap. It’s far better (not to mention healthier for the child) to have one party, and invite him. You don’t have to, of course, but if you don’t you run the risk of him deliberately trying to outdo you on his time, or taking his hurt feelings out on you in others ways.
Hair Cuts, Hair Dye, Piercings, Etc.
It’s probably a good idea to coordinate with each other about things that are out of the ordinary. A general maintenance haircut is one thing, especially if you’ve been doing them all along and it hasn’t been an issue.
It’s a different thing entirely to have a child’s first hair cut (especially if one parent is overly sentimental about the hair – it really can be a thing that matters tremendously), or to make a massive change, like dyeing it, especially if it’s a bright or unnatural color.
Piercings, too, probably require that you let your child’s other parent know. I think an argument could potentially be made that it’s a non emergency medical procedure, since a needle is piercing the skin. Probably better to at least collaborate with your child’s father than run the risk of anger-fueled litigation taking you to court. Whether you win or lose, you kind of both lose anyway, in terms of blood pressure points, time off work, money spent, and lack of happiness with the results. (At the end of the day, win or lose, if the child’s nose, for example, is still pierced, you might not be happy even if your ex ‘loses’.)
Cell Phones and Other Technology
A lot of parents in coparenting situations give their children cell phones to make communication in the other parent’s care easier.
Then, in turn, the other parent confiscates the technology during their parenting time.
It can be a seesaw. And it’s unnecessary.
To the extent possible, cooperate about technology and screen time. And don’t send devices over to the other parent’s house in an attempt to snoop or to thwart the rules in that parent’s home. (And, then, don’t be angry when it’s confiscated and doesn’t return, or doesn’t return in the condition it was in when you sent it over.)
I think it’s generally a good idea to set a time for phone calls when the child is in the care of the other parent, unless we’re talking about a much older teenager, or a child too young to participate in phone calls. That way, neither one of you is using a cell phone to disrupt the other parent’s parenting time completely.
In general, whatever the issue, I feel like my advice is the same: do unto others. Think carefully about how you’d want your child’s father to handle the situation towards you. Imagine what would happen if he responded in kind, and whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing.
There are a lot of issues that can come up in any coparenting relationship, but your children have the best chance of a good outcome, even if its difficult for you and your child’s father, if you work together to sort out the heavy lifting of parenting.
For more information, to schedule a consultation, or to request a free copy of our custody book for Virginia moms, give our office a call at 757-425-5200.