Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Shared Parenting After Divorce - Sharing Clothes, Toys and Information

As you are preparing your parenting plan, it is very helpful if you include some details about how you will share clothes, toys, and information for the children as they transition from one house to the other. This is usually something that parents think will just happen automatically, without any particular discussion, but it often doesn't. By taking a little time to discuss these issues and plan for them during the initial process, you can avoid disagreement and conflict down the road.

Clothes

Regardless of how much time the children are with each parent, it is very helpful if each parent keeps clothes for the children in their own house. As you are separating property in the beginning, include children's clothes for each household. How many outfits each household needs will depend on the parenting schedule you are thinking about. Even if you aren't sure of the schedule as you are initially dividing property, try to allow for at least three outfits for each household, if possible.

If the children's wardrobe is not big enough to be able to set aside clothes for each household, divide the clothes you do have and then each parent can shop for more new or used clothes for their respective household. This system works well for the children because it allows them to have familiar clothes at each house, making them feel more at home in each place.

When the parents have clothes for the children at their own houses, they are much more aware of the children's growing needs. Both parents will know when the children outgrow their clothes and shoes and can replace them accordingly. This awareness can help avoid arguments over child support and the cost of clothes.

Having clothes in each household also helps avoid arguments over clothes not being returned or being returned dirty. How exactly the clothes will be handled for each transition will depend upon the days and times of the exchange.

Toys

After separation and divorce, children often complain that there is nothing much to do at the house where they spend less time. When the children's time is spent fairly evenly at each house, the parents seem to do a better job of providing toys, books, toiletries, and incidentals for the children. As children's time at one house becomes significantly less than 50/50, the parent with less time sometimes overlooks the importance of keeping these everyday items for the children.

Everyone likes to have familiar things around. For children this is especially important to their sense of belonging and comfort. Whether the children are in your home half the time or only a few days a month, keeping toys, games and other things for them will help them feel at home. If you're not sure what they'd like, try making an activity out of gathering these things together. Thrift stores can be great places for these "treasure hunts".

Information

There are many ways people exchange information about the children after separation. The fact that you give some thought and discussion to this issue is more important than the actual methods you decide work best for you.

Before email, blogs, and the internet were prevalent, parents would often include a notebook in the children's backpack or suitcase to transport back and forth between houses. Although this is better than having no way to share information it is not preferred. Communication between parents should not be the children's responsibility. Even though the children are not actually the messengers between parents with the use of a notebook, they still bear the burden of being the delivery person.

The old notebook idea can be updated to take advantage of today's technology. The parents can share information about what's going on with the children and school without giving the children the responsibility of carrying the information back and forth.

Consider scheduling regular email exchanges to share information about the children, school, and activities. To keep email from becoming intrusive, talk about the schedule that will work best for you and try to stick to that schedule. You can use text messaging instead of email, but people sometimes have a harder time setting limits for themselves using text messaging than using email.

You might also consider using a private blog to keep a running dialogue about the children. Several blog sites are free and easy to set up. You can set up the blog to be private so only you parents have access to read and author the blog. This is like the notebook in the backpack, but the parents are fully responsible for keeping track of the blog, relieving the children of that extra burden.

Including in your parenting plan how you will share clothes, toys, and information after separation will help ease the children's fears and concerns as they move between homes. They will appreciate the thought you put into this and will love not having to lug a backpack or suitcase with them.

© 2009, Mary Wollard, J.D., Family Solutions Center, www.cofamilysolutions.com

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Navigating the Troubled Waters of Parenting Time Exchanges after Divorce

The waters around exchanging the children for parenting time can be muddy and turbulent. When parents are able to navigate these waters successfully, the children thrive and learn valuable lessons about handling difficult situations.

Parents who are able to focus on what's best for the children find ways to facilitate parenting time exchanges cordially. Ideally, whichever parent is receiving the children, at the beginning or end of parenting time, is able to come to the front door of the other parent's home to pick up the children and their things.

When the parents maintain a friendly, or at least civil, relationship with each other, they approach these parenting time exchanges as they would with a friend or co-worker. They ring the doorbell or knock, wait for the door to be answered, only enter the house if invited, and limit conversation to noncontroversial subjects. The exchanges will happen without drama and the children will benefit.

When the parents are not able to keep their conflict away from the children during parenting exchanges, it is best for exchanges occur without parent contact. For these parents, it will often work for the exchanges to take place at school or daycare as much as possible. Your parenting plan might say: Parenting time will begin on ____ afternoon with pick-up from school or daycare, and will end on ____ when the children are dropped off at school or daycare. A specific time or range of times can be added if necessary. These times are natural breaks in the children's day and they are not likely to view this kind of exchange as an indication that their parents are not able to be nice to each other. The parents won't have contact with each other, but the children will not view the lack of contact as out of the ordinary.

Another exchange mechanism that eliminates contact between the parents is for the "picking up" or dropping off" parent to park at the street, driveway, or parking lot of the other parent's home and let the children walk from the home to the car or vice-versa. A simple phone call can let the other parent know they are there. I don't like this one as well as the pick-up or drop off at school or daycare because it is more evident to the children that their parents aren't able to get along.

Many high conflict parents do their parenting time exchanges at a public place like a fast food restaurant. I'm sure you've seen them. They are not hard to spot. Everyone looks uncomfortable, especially the children. Some even opt for exchanges in the parking lot of the police station. If it's at all possible, please find another solution to parenting time exchanges other than using a restaurant or police station parking lot. These exchanges are very hard on the children and provide them with a poor model for conflict resolution skills.

When thinking about how to handle parenting time exchanges between parents, keep in mind that your solution might be sending unintended messages to your children. The more natural the setting for these exchanges, the happier your children will be.

© 2009, Mary Wollard, J.D., Family Solutions Center, www.cofamilysolutions.com