- There will always be conflicts between co-parents when it comes to issues like activities and scheduling. Co-parents need to be able to solve these issues themselves, because it is not technically the Judge’s job to adjudicate on these matters, and in most cases Judges will refrain from doing so (unless there is demonstrable harm being done to the child).
- Third-party mediators like attorneys and counselors can be very useful in helping co-parents come up with solutions to these issues, but the ideal situation is co-parents being able to resolve the issue themselves.
- Co-parents should not attempt to control the daily life of their child in their co-parent’s house, unless the child is being demonstrably harmed.
- In the midst of a contentious custody case, parents sometimes batten down on their beliefs, and come to see their ideas about parenting as the golden rule (when in fact they are the subjective opinions of one person). Parents should do everything they can to resist falling into this cognitive trap.
There are many different decisions that go into co-parenting, and many components of a cooperative co-parenting relationship.
One example is questions of whether a child should do a particular activity, and how that activity may or may not conflict with the child’s set schedule. For example, let’s say Parent X wants the child to play baseball, and Parent Y wants the child to play piano. Let’s say in this case the league Parent X wants the child to play baseball on has practices and games that conflict with Parent Y’s proposed piano lessons.
Conflicts like this are usually very hard for either an attorney or a Judge to weigh in on. In all likelihood, if there’s a conflict like this, the Judge will probably say it isn’t their job to dictate which particular activities the child does when the child is in each house.
So, if parents can’t make the decision amongst themselves, they may find themselves in a situation where the child goes to baseball practice when they’re in the custody of Parent X, and goes to piano lessons when they’re in the custody of Parent Y. If those two activities happen at the same time, then the child will wind up not being able to participate in either activity fully, and will miss out. They will be at a disadvantage compared to their peers, who either go to every piano lesson or every baseball practice. This is obviously not in the best interest of the child, which is usually enough to motivate the parents to come to some sort of an agreement. Still, this is an example of where parents’ disagreement would potentially be hurting their own child.
Hopefully in an instance like the baseball/piano conflict, there would be some level of give and take, and some degree of compromise. For example, the child could attend piano lessons when baseball isn’t in season. While this may seem like an obvious solution, some parents in the midst of argument may not see it as obvious.
Another example is if the child has friends where Parent X lives, but no friends where Parent Y lives. If the child is getting older and starting to want to spend more time alone with their peers, the child may say that they want to spend more time at Parent X’s house—not to spend more time with Parent X, but to be able to spend time with their friends. This sort of thing is also very difficult for an attorney or Judge to adjudicate, and therefore really needs to be solved between the parents.
Are There Some Things That Should Not be Discussed Between Co-Parents?
I would say that the day-to-day activities of the child, barring activities that pose demonstrable harm to the child, would not need to be discussed between co-parents (by which I mean, would not have to be decided in the course of a child custody case). While co-parents may discuss these issues, it does not need to be “officially” discussed (i.e., decided by Parenting Agreement or Court Order).
I have had instances in which one or both parents have tried to dictate the behavior of the other parent in their own home, under the guise that they were trying to discuss the activities of the child. For example, I had one parent say that they knew for a fact the other parent was allowing their 11-year-old child to watch PG-13 movies.
An issue like this is not a bright line test. Every parent can decide for themselves whether they let their child watch PG-13 movies. Just because the Motion Pictures Association of America decides that a twelve-year-old shouldn’t watch a particular movie doesn’t necessarily mean any parent is mandated to agree with the MPAA’s decision. That’s where the disconnect comes in, especially when people are looking for a reason to start a custody fight because of interpersonal acrimony – they tend to heighten recommendations or guidelines into rigid rules.
I’ve had other parents say they want to mandate a certain bedtime for the child in both houses. They may tell me they know for a fact the other parent allows the child to stay up till midnight, which means the child goes to school tired the next day.
While this may be true, you really need some sort of proof to back up the allegation that staying up late is definitely bad for the child, or causes the child to be tired the next day to their detriment. Different kids need different amounts of sleep, and sometimes parents just make assumptions without actually asking the child or even their teachers.
Again, parents who are in a highly emotional and contested custody battle may be more likely to view things as harmful that aren’t totally harmful. They may begin to adopt their own notions of parenting as the golden rule of parenting that must be accepted between households, such as bedtimes or choice of food or choice of movies or TV, or other things along those lines.
These are, more often than not, issues a Judge will refuse to get into or rule on, unless there’s some clear evidence the child is being harmed.
For example, if we are going with the accusation of staying up too late on school nights, the Judge would really have to hear this from the child’s teacher. The teacher would have to clearly testify that on days after the child is with their father (for example), the child comes to school and is exhausted to the point where they aren’t functioning and are slumped over their desk and sleeping instead of engaging in learning. If you have that sort of evidence, then you might have something to build on with the Judge. Otherwise, it’s going to be very hard to prove, and the Judge isn’t going to be interested.
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