You and your ex divorced for a reason. There were just so many things that you didn’t agree on and ended up fighting about that you thought it would be best go your separate ways.
So it makes sense that even after you divorce you still have difficulty agreeing on things. But one of the most important things to both of you is your children. So after you divorce it makes sense that one of the most difficult things you argue about is negotiation your children’s visitation arrangements.
Sure, the court created a parenting plan. But there are so many unexpected and unplanned things that come up that there’s no way a court can anticipate and plan for every small thing. And families’ lives are so busy that parents need to be flexible in the visitation arrangement at times. So instead of litigating every time an exception comes up (which can be costly and really annoying to your judge), it’s best just to negotiate something that’s agreeable between you and your ex. But you already have a hard time agreeing on things. Otherwise, you wouldn’t have divorced.
So what can you do to help you and your ex negotiate visitation rights? And more importantly, what can you do make sure your children don’t feel caught in the middle? Below are four tips that will help you do just that.
1. Stick to the Parenting Plan. It’s the courts job to make a parenting plan that they objectively deem is fair. Even if you don’t think that you got all you should have, you still have to stick to it or risk being held in contempt of court. But more importantly, by sticking to the parenting plan you’re showing your ex that you’re going to be responsible and follow through on your obligations with your children – even if you don’t agree with it. This will help them to trust you and trust that you’ll make good decisions based on the parenting plan when you need to. It will also help them to feel more comfortable if there are ever times you have to compromise about the parenting plan (like when one of your relatives is coming for a rare visit).
Remember, too, that the parenting plan is an obligation. In other words, if you’re supposed to have your children on the weekends, it’s your obligation to be with them. You can’t simply text your ex and tell them you can’t take them this weekend and expect your ex carry the burden. This doesn’t help things between you and your ex and it certainly doesn’t help your credibility with them when it comes to making important decisions for your children.
Lastly, while the parenting plan is legally binding, it’s meant to be a guideline. While courts expect you to follow them, they don’t expect you to return to court every time one of you drops the kids off 15 minutes late. They’re not meant to be specific enough to not allow for any flexibility and it’s expected that you’ll negotiate things with your ex outside of the courtroom as much as possible.
2. Be Flexible. There are circumstances that come up that can never be predicted by the courts when they made the parenting plan. As a result, it’s important to be flexible. If you’re supposed to have your children one weekend but your ex has an important relative coming in, try to be flexible and allow your children to go over even though it’s your time to be with them. Negotiate and make arrangements that you feel are fair. For example, if your ex gets extra time with the children this weekend, you get more time with them over the week.
3. Put Your Children First. When there’s a dispute about visitation between you and your ex, it’s easy to get stuck only considering the amount of time spent at both houses. After all, it’s not fair that they get to spend more time with your ex than they do with you. But it’s more important to consider what’s best for the children. If your ex is asking for more time with the kids this week so they can see his mother whose health is failing, it may be more important for your children to see their Grandma than to have equal time spent at both houses this week.
4. Let Go of Baggage Created by the Divorce. No divorce is fun. And the events in the marriage that led to the divorce make it even more difficult. But if you can’t successfully let go of the baggage caused by the divorce as well as the baggage that caused the divorce it will be difficult to be a successful co-parent. It will be difficult because instead of viewing situations with your ex objectively and identifying what’s best for the kids you will make judgments that vindicate your hurt that you still feel. You may even make judgments based on wanting to make your ex pay for the hurt they’ve caused.
There are plenty of books you can read to help you get over the divorce and there are even more therapists in your area. There’s no shame in admitting you’re having a hard time getting over the divorce. And a good parent does whatever they need to do in order to be a good parent. Including seeing a professional.
Visitation can be a tricky thing. Because you’re divorced you don’t get to see your kids as often as you’d like so you want to make sure to have as much as time with them as you can. So it’s natural that you’ll argue with your ex about who gets to see them and when. But remember, your job as a parent isn’t to be focused on you. Your job is to focus on them and be the best parent for your children by giving them the tools they need to grow into a happy and successful adult. And by successfully navigating visitation schedules with your ex, you’re doing just that by showing them good conflict resolution and negotiating skills.