What day to day details do I have to share with my child’s father?
Navigating the challenges of a coparenting relationship is incredibly challenging. Even in the families who seem like they’ve got it all figured out, there was definitely a stage where they didn’t – where they struggled, where they went to therapy, where they did some soul searching, and where they felt certain that their choices would cause irreparable damage to their children.
If you’re not quite there yet, well, you’re not alone. And you’re right to do some work to try to figure out how to make your coparenting relationship as successful as possible. I’m a divorce and custody attorney, but I do see a lot of families struggle to establish coparenting arrangements, so I think I have insight that, in general, can be helpful.
In most family law cases – whether we’re talking divorce or custody and visitation – I think it’s worthwhile to start with an end goal in mind. How do you envision your coparenting relationship? What kind of custody and visitation arrangement would work for you, depending on your work schedules, the children’s school schedules, how far apart you live from each other, any other partners or other children who are involved, etc?
Most people want to have a positive coparenting relationship, but that’s not always the way it ends up. And, even if you are able to achieve some kind of balance in later years, it’s often a little rocky in the beginning. Working your way to a successful coparenting relationship is something that’s going to take time, focus, and deliberate effort. It’s going to require that you put your child’s interests first, which is something that is easy to say and harder to do. You’re human, and you have human emotions involved here. It’s normal to be upset, or angry, or to have periods of time – say, when a new significant other, another baby, or stepchildren are introduced to the equation – where peaceful periods of coparenting become (temporarily) a little more volatile.
I definitely suggest that you give yourself grace, and that you consider carefully what types of details you share with your child’s father about their day-to-day.
I was surprised, when I first started, at how many details make up a coparenting arrangement, and how easy it is for something to run off the rails. I’m going to talk today about things that often come up in custody and visitation cases, and give you some pointers for how to handle it. In this two part article, we’ll discuss a lot of issues that come up in these types of cases: medical appointments, school and extracurriculars, technology, and so on.
But, first, the golden rule of custody cases:
Before you make a choice on your own that involves your children, ask yourself: ‘Would I have a problem with it if my child’s father made the same choice without MY input?’
I’m not saying that the ‘golden rule’ should be your answer in any case, but it should serve to inform you as you do make decisions, with or without his input.
If you have joint legal custody – as most families do – then that means that you and your child’s father will work together on THREE main types of decisions: non emergency medical care, religious upbringing, and education.
To that end, you should involve him in decisions related to those three things without fail. But, of course, there are lots of things that fall outside of the scope of those types of decisions. Parenthood is, after all, exceptionally complicated.
School Activities and Events
So, joint legal custody requires you to work together to make decisions about education – but do things like school assemblies, parent teacher conferences, picture days, report cards, and orientation events fall under that heading?
Mostly, when we’re talking about joint legal custody, we’re talking about the right to make decisions about school enrollment – private versus public, this school system versus that school system. But I do think it’s clear that there should be a fair amount of communication about things like report cards and parent teacher conferences, too, as those relate to your decision-making ability as a parent.
For other things, like picture days and school dances, or assemblies, its probably ideal if you set up a system wherein the school keeps both of you equally informed. If there’s a Remind app class for your child’s class, give your child’s father login or registration information, so that all information isn’t funneled through you. When you receive notice of school events in your child’s backpack or folder or agenda, or however your school system notifies parents of goings-on, take a photo and text or email the information to him, if possible. It’s not necessarily required, but it’s certainly good form – especially if there’s not some other listserv or other similar service providing the information.
Same goes for things like school pictures. If HE got the order form and you didn’t, would you want that information? If so, share it with him, too, if only to prevent him from being vindictive at some later point when information falls into his hands, rather than yours.
To the extent that you have this information and he does not, you should make sure to share it. This is definitely information that both parents should have, and, regardless of your feelings for your child’s other parent, you should do what you can to make sure that he has what he needs to be informed of your child’s academic progress.
Similarly, school conferences require two participating parents. If there’s an issue – and even if there isn’t – both of you need to know and participate so that you can work with your child on troublesome areas.
For more information – stay tuned. We’ll go into more detail on Monday. In the meantime, give us a call at 757-425-5200 to schedule an appointment, to request a copy of our divorce book, or to get more information about an upcoming divorce seminar.
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.