5 Co-Parenting Considerations BEFORE You Sign the Divorce Decree

Divorce is such a deep swell of emotion, sometimes couples vastly underestimate the challenges of daily practicalities once the decree is signed.  The mundane daily no longer “shared” tasks may be, in and of themselves, no big deal.

But now everything is different.

Shuttling kids from one place to another may not be as straightforward as one might imagine, especially if one parent, before the divorce, mostly took care of the minutiae.  What’s the sanest approach?

1) Slow down.

You want this over with.  You want to sign the dotted line and fly to Fiji.  Or at least move on with your life as best you can in your exceedingly small new apartment.  Your kids may want that, too.  However, avoid the impulse to sprint pell-mell to the finish line because that arbitrary line you’re aiming for is not actually an end.  It is the beginning of your new normal.

So, take this crucial time to consider how your day to day life will look once you get there.  Be fair.  Keep spite and anger out of decisions that affect the daily lives of your children.  Craft the “General Terms & Conditions” language exceedingly carefully in the decree, addressing as many variables as possible. No, this stuff is not fun to think about.  Welcome to divorce.  But your kids—and you and even your ex, no matter what he or she did or did not do during your marriage—deserve your forethought to avoid as many pitfalls and promote peace as often as possible.

2) Be reasonable regarding possession.

The default is to generally split driving between both parents so that Dad drops off kids with Mom at the end of his possession and Mom drops off kids with Dad at the end of her possession.  However, this can be tailored in certain situations to fit the best interest of the child.

For instance, the relative proximity of one parent or the other to school might make it easier and more efficient for one parent to bear the brunt of school pick-ups and drop-offs.  Instead of obsessing over ‘getting your time’ ask yourself honestly: do I want to sit in traffic an extra two hours for “quality time” with my kid, who’s probably tired and starving?   If you’re reasonable, perhaps the ex will surprise you by agreeing to an extra overnight or two.  It’s worth the question.  The agreement is all it takes to make a schedule that fits the needs of all involved.

3) Think through competent adult designation.

Parties can generally designate a competent adult to handle pick-ups and drop-offs.  This designation is worth discussion, i.e. what makes this particular adult competent?   Does a designated adult need to fit within specific requirements? What rights does a parent have when agreeing to this provision?   Are there additional hoops to jump through for a competent adult designation or just written notice to the other parent?

Again, think this through. Taking the time to outline the who/what/when/where/how for a competent adult designation will help prevent this often-overlooked provision from obfuscating on the back end what should really be the primary question:  What is best for your kid? (Noticing a theme here?)

4) Personal effects require planning.

While this is generally straightforward—a parent returns the child with the clothes and items he or she brought at the beginning of possession—specific items or circumstances make this language important.

For instance, if your child plays the tuba and must haul his instrument back and forth from school, it may be easier to handle for one parent; or perhaps your daughter is an equestrian horse rider with expensive fees and clothing: how will this time and expense be handled equitably?  The answer is, terms can be as varied as exes plan for; provisions can even include pets—if a child is particularly close to his dog, for example, parents can specify in the order authorization for the dog to travel with the child between houses.

5) Inability to exercise possession.

Unfortunately, this comes up too often.  One parent has primary custody and the other has standard possession; for whatever reason, the standard possession parent decides to stop exercising all but one weekend per month.  Often this parent is not communicative about his or her intentions, making it unnecessarily difficult for the primary parent to arrange children’s (not to mention their own) schedules.

In addition to being hurtful and disruptive for children, it is obviously an imposition on the primary parent for the standard possessor to be less than consistent. Yes, unexpected occurrences happen. The key is communicating about them timely.

So, if you know that this will likely be an issue down the road, consider adding some teeth to the standard provision from the beginning by requiring the non-primary parent give written notice (seven days, three days, or even just twenty-four hours) of their intent to exercise their next possession period: if they don’t, that period is forfeit and they can try again on the next one.

This provides at least some measure of stability for the primary parent to be able to plan without living in fear of being in violation of the order even when, ironically, the other parent rarely follows it.   If it’s in the decree, it’s one less thing anyone needs to argue about.  You will thank yourself later for being nitpicky when situations that would have been catastrophes are avoided because you had the good sense to get it down in black and white.

Final thoughts

The transition to co-parent need not drive anyone batty; acknowledgment of responsibility and agreement to practical solutions in the decree—along with some real-time flexibility—can go a long way in helping kids and parents become comfortable with life beyond divorce.  Paradoxically, understanding that bumps will happen can avoid derailment when the inevitable roadblock occurs.