Originally published by The Law Office of Bryan Fagan, PLLC Blog.
Many people who go through child custody cases do so with the initial motivation to not have to live with their child’s other parent. There are always reasons for this but they tend to be fairly similar across the board: money fights, infidelity, etc. The fact is that people seem to be less and less likely to work on a failing relationship and instead opt to exit.
The ironic part about ending your relationship with your spouse or significant other is that if you have a child with that person you will actually be working closely with him or her on parenting your child after the case is over then you may have been doing before.
Co-parenting is one of those phrases that is used a lot these days by therapists, attorneys, and judges. It is a term that basically indicates two people coming together to parent a child who is not married or otherwise in a committed relationship. It’d be like if two business partners decided to adopt a child and then had to make decisions about raising the child based on a business agreement. In many ways, your Final Decree of Divorce or Final Orders in a Suit Affecting the Parent-Child Relationship (SAPCR) is exactly that.
Today’s blog post from the Law Office of Bryan Fagan will focus on your ability to co-parent your child with your ex-spouse after your child custody case has concluded.
Conflict can be minimized if you put your best effort into co-parenting
It is healthiest for your child when you do your best to work with your ex-spouse during and after your child custody case in order to make decisions together that are in your child’s best interests. Keep in mind that if there has been a history of domestic violence, substance abuse, a history of cooperation issues or even a significant distance between your residences, co-parenting may not be possible. However, for most of you reading this blog post-co-parenting is not only possible it is essential to your being able to give your child his or her best opportunity to be raised in a stable environment.
The comparison I used in the opening section to this blog post, that of a businessperson being compared to a parent, is actually quite apt in my opinion. It is hard to think about yourself, not as a loving caretaker, but rather as an objective, results-oriented businessperson but that is what you become once you enter into a family law case. The rules that govern your relationship with your ex-spouse and your child are written in black and white almost as if it were a business contract. It is, in fact, a contract of sorts between yourself, your ex-spouse and the judge.
Communication is the key to any good relationship. It may not be possible at this stage to communicate as effectively as you would like with a person who you are divorcing but it essential that you make an effort to start anew for the betterment of your child. If you can be positive with your ex-spouse about your efforts to co-parent each of you will be better served in doing so. Not only will your final orders require that you behave in such a manner, but the well-being of your child demands that you make an attempt to act civilly.
Conflict is normal- don’t be normal
If you were to ask a judge if it were normal for two divorcing parents to not get along with one another the response would surely be that, yes, it is normal. That normal back and forth of arguing, anger and conflict work against the successful resolution of a case and can also harm your relationship with your child. In these situations, it is worth noting that it is those parents who can be “weird”, set their differences aside and do what is best for their child that judges will give the most latitude to in terms of possession arrangements. If you display an unwillingness to co-parent it may be that your possession schedule is by the book and very rigid.
Most counties in southeast Texas require divorcing parents to attend, either via the internet or in person, parenting courses that will teach you how to approach your ex-spouse in terms of co-parenting. Setting aside your differences and approaching your new relationship as one where your only objective is to do what is best for your child is what I find parents do the best with.
How will a judge determine your ability to co-parent?
No matter how strongly you dislike your soon to be ex-spouse, a judge will not care about your feelings towards him or her as far as your own pride or hurt feelings are concerned. Rather, the judge will view your relationship with one another as a means to best raise your child. The question remains: how will the judge view you and your ex-spouse as a team in raising a child together?
Do you and your ex-spouse work together to make decisions that are in the best interests of your child? Have you displayed an ability and willingness to set aside time to talk to one another about the issues that are affecting your child’s life? If you can report that you and your spouse talk on the phone weekly about activities the child is involved with, changes in your work schedule that affect drop off/pick up times, and subjects like these it is more likely that your judge will view you and your spouse in a favorable light.
Next, what kind of restraint are you able to show your ex-spouse when you are feeling upset with him or her? It is easy and can feel good momentarily, to lash out in anger at your spouse while the divorce case is going on. I have heard many stories about spouses leaving nasty voicemail messages, text messages or saying mean and spiteful things to one another during a divorce case. The pressures of the case can be significant so it would be understandable to want to lash out at one another. However, if you can show restraint and civility you will earn points in favor of your case with the judge.
How often have you used your child as a messenger or go-between? Obviously, if you are the parent of an infant or toddler this probably hasn’t come up very much, but if your child is over the age of six it can be tempting to tell your son something so he can repeat it to your spouse when he goes over to his house for the weekend. This may be easier on you, but it is not a good position to be putting your child into. Furthermore, the judge does not want you and your spouse involving your child in this aspect of your case. In today’s world, we do not suffer from a lack of means to communicate information. Even if you do not want to speak directly to your spouse, email, text messages, and parenting websites make communicate easier than ever. Do not use your child to communicate updates or messages when you have a variety of means available to you in order to do so.
Next, I would ask yourself how willing you are to support your child’s relationship with your soon to be ex-spouse. This does not mean that you have to sing your ex-spouse’s praises to your child every time you see him or her. What it does mean is that your being respectful of your child’s other parent can not only build up that person in your child’s eyes but can also build yourself up. Your child is learning from you how to treat other people. If you can act respectfully towards your ex-spouse it is likely that you will act respectfully of all people. Your child will feel that it is appropriate and encouraged that he has a relationship with both you and your ex-spouse.
Finally, you need to be aware of your ex-spouse and their desire to be updated about changes in a child’s routine or daily habits. For instance, if your child has been having problems eating certain foods or has had a bad reaction to a certain sunscreen that information ought to be included to your ex-spouse. Not only is it harmful to your child it shows a lack of respect by not addressing these issues with him or her. Furthermore, if you know that your ex-spouse is taking off of work to attend a school function or doctor’s appointment you should inform him or her immediately if you are told that there has been a time change or something like that. Failing to do so can cause a great deal of animosity to be directed your way- and rightfully so.
Where do you want to live once your divorce is over with?
In today’s world, it is common for people to pick up and move at the drop of a hat. Jobs are no longer tethered as tightly to one specific location. Many employers prefer that employees work remotely and therefore have little preference as to where you live. Telecommuting seems to be the wave of the future in many jobs and sectors of the economy.
It is possible to co-parent despite living a fair distance away from your ex-spouse. Communication has never been easier with cell phones, text messages, emails and the like prevalent even among those (like myself) who are not overly tech-savvy. Whether or not a judge will allow you to move a long distance away from your child’s primary residence, or to move with your child away from your current location, is a question that depends on the specific circumstances of your case.
For example, wanting to move in order to “start fresh” or establish roots in another place are not good enough reasons in and of themselves for moving. Not only are you decreasing the stability and consistency in your child’s life (at least temporarily) but you are also causing there to be a potential rift in your child’s relationship with your ex-spouse. It would not be fair to be able to move your child away from their home and your ex-spouse for no other reason than merely wanting a fresh start somewhere new.
Next, the age of your child would need to be considered. If your child is young and has not yet started attending school on a full-time basis the chances of a judge allowing you to relocate after a divorce are increased. However, if your child is already of school age it is far less likely that a judge would endorse and allow you to move away with your child after the case has concluded.
Finally, and most important, it is almost a foregone conclusion that your ex-spouse’s relationship with your child would be harmed if you moved a considerable distance away. It would also force your ex-spouse to pick up and potentially move to be closer to your child. For this reason, most courts will insert what is known as a geographic restriction into your final orders that allows you to live in your home county and any county contiguous to your home county. This allows for greater consistency and stability for your child while ensuring that your ex-spouse does not have to constantly move to keep up with your child’s whereabouts.
What issues are the most commonly encountered in child custody cases?
Those who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it. What lessons can you learn from other people’s child custody cases that are relevant to you and your family? Stay tuned tomorrow to find out the answer to this question.
In the meantime, if you have any questions about the material that we covered today please do not hesitate to contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan. Our licensed family law attorneys offer free of charge consultations six days a week where we can address your issues and answer your questions in a comfortable, pressure-free environment.