This is part 3 of a series that will explain how to obtain 50/50 custody of your children. This article will focus on common problems that arise in pursuit of 50/50 parent-time and how to solve those problems.
What do I do if the other parent is stonewalling my efforts to be involved?
Sometimes, the other parent will try to frustrate your attempts to be involved in the kids’ lives. It’s important to note that unless a court order is placed, the other parent does not have the authority to dictate what happens with the children. While you don’t want to put the children in the middle of a tug-of-war between parents, you also don’t want to let the other parent prohibit your contact with the children if they don’t have the authority to do so.
Here are some ways you can work around a parent that isn’t letting you be involved:
- Contact the school or school district and figure out how to get your own login for the school portal, get notifications, and get updates from your children’s teachers. Use this information to get involved. Volunteer, schedule parent-teacher conferences, attend your children’s activities, etc.
- Contact your children’s doctors or other care providers to see when they have appointments. Attend those appointments. If you show up and the other parent is upset that you are there, be calm, don’t get into an argument, and be kind and respectful to the doctor.
- Contact your children’s coaches or extracurricular activity leaders for a schedule of their practices and games. Attend the games. Volunteer to bring after-game treats. Ask if you can help out at practice. If appropriate, attend practices.
- If your children have their own cell phones, call or text, but not overbearingly. Most kids really don’t want to have long conversations with their parents. A short conversation or a simple text message is usually enough to let them know you’re there and available for them. If your kids don’t have their own cell phones, most these days have their own emails through their school. Send them an occasional email.
- Pick them up from school or daycare. If the other parent is upset that you picked them up, send a written message (text or email) and assure them that you will not keep the kids from them, but it’s important for you to see the children as well.
Here are some examples of messages you can send to establish to the other parent and to the court that you are actively trying to be involved, but the other parent is preventing it.
- “I’m planning to have the kids from Tuesday after school until Thursday morning when I drop them off at school. I can drop them off at school Wednesday morning and pick them up again.” If they respond and tell you they do not agree to that and will not allow that, you can respond, “I’d like to work something out between us so we’re not fighting over when either of us can see our children. It’s important for them to see both of us, especially now that we’re in litigation, and they need to know both parents are there for them and love them. As you know, there is no court order that allows you to dictate when I see the children, just as there is nothing in place that allows me to dictate when you see the children. So, I can change up my plans and pick them up on a different day, but I’m not going to agree not to see them at all. When do you propose I pick them up? How about Friday after school until Monday morning?”
- “I saw that Joe’s science project is due next week. The teacher said they need trifolds and some other materials to complete the project. I got those from the store today and plan to work with him on it this weekend.”
- “Will you please send me the kids’ game schedules and locations? I plan on attending those this weekend.”
- “It looks like parent-teacher conferences are in a couple of weeks. I’m planning to attend. Are you comfortable attending together, or would you prefer if we each made our own appointments and took Jane separately?”
- “Hey, I would really like to be in attendance at Jane’s upcoming well-child checkup. Will you please let me know when it is?”
You can submit these messages to the court as evidence. Your messages will show the court that you’re actively trying to be involved. If the other parent is preventing your involvement at every turn, you can use that in your favor as well.
What do I do if I am granted 50/50 parent-time during the pendency of my case?
This may seem obvious, but if you are granted 50/50 parent-time at a temporary orders hearing, your job is to make sure you do a fabulous job with your parent-time. Here’s how to do that:
- Establish a routine with the kids while they’re with you. Create a bedtime routine (i.e., homework, bathtime, brush teeth, read a story, sing a song, and go to bed at the same time every night). Create a morning routine (i.e., wake up at the same time each morning, make breakfast for them, do their hair, help them get their backpack ready).
- Get the kids to school on time. You don’t want the other parent to obtain attendance records and show that the only time the kids are late to school is when they’re with you.
- Make sure that homework assigned during your time is done and turned in.
- Get off the screen and spend time with the kids. There are a number of scenarios where kids talk to therapists, guardians ad litem, or custody evaluators. A common complaint from kids is that a parent is on their phone or watching TV all the time. Do fun things with your kids during your parent-time, have conversations with them, connect with them by doing the activities they like (not just the activities you like), read to them, teach them new skills, and develop new hobbies you can do together (i.e., hiking, mountain biking, doing puzzles, exercising, playing board games, building legos, watching a favorite sports team together, etc.).
- Be agreeable and solve problems with the other parent. One of the things the court looks for before granting 50/50 custody is whether parents can get along together. You can’t control how the other parent acts, but you can control how you act. Keep your communications brief and to the point, and avoid sarcasm, pettiness, and curtness. When the court sees your communications, you want the judge to say, “This parent is usually mature and workable in their conversations with the other parent.”
What do I do if I am NOT granted 50/50 parent-time during the pendency of my case?
If you’re not granted 50/50 parent-time at a temporary orders hearing, that doesn’t mean you can’t or won’t be granted 50/50 at trial, but it will take some additional effort. You can:
- Do extremely well with the parent-time you are awarded. See the section above for ideas on how to do that.
- Hire a custody evaluator. Custody evaluators are expensive, but as long as you are a good, involved parent and there are no significant problems, the trend (at least as of right now) is for custody evaluators to recommend 50/50 custody. This is because research shows children typically do better emotionally, mentally, socially, academically, and even physically if they have two involved parents in their lives.
What if the police are called?
It’s not terribly uncommon to have a parent call the police on the other parent. This can happen in a variety of circumstances, but most typically this occurs when there isn’t a custody order in place, you go to pick up the children, the other parent doesn’t want you to, and calls the police to report that you’ve taken the children without permission. If the children are already with you, tell the police, “I’m the father/mother of the children. We don’t have any custody orders in place at this time, but we’re working on getting some. So, there’s no court order preventing the children from being with me. They’re safe, I’m a safe parent, and this is a civil issue that will need to be handled through the court system.” If you want, you could also include something like, “I don’t plan on keeping the children from the other parent. I’ve told them they can take the children on DAY at TIME.” If the police officer seems like they’re pressuring you to give the children back to the other parent, ask them, “Are you ordering me to give the children to the other parent? If so, will you please tell me what court order or law you’re relying on?” If you get an officer that seems especially aggressive or seems as though they’ve already taken sides, ask to speak to their supervisor. Remember, remain very calm and collected. Yelling and acting exasperated only escalates things, and if you escalate things with a law enforcement officer, you’ll usually lose the battle.