Q. My ex is constantly nagging me. He didn’t like what I was doing and threatened to take me back to court. I told him to go ahead. Well, he had a deputy serve me at an exchange right in front of our girls. They were frightened when they saw the police officer and now they don’t want to go to his home. He thinks it’s because of something I’ve done. It’s not. What’s good ex-etiquette?
A. Exchanges are one of the few times children see their parents together after a break-up. If an exchange is stress-free, the children will look forward to the exchanges, and as a result, spending time with both parents. If the exchanges are fraught with sarcasm, inuendo, and out and out anger, don’t be surprised if your kids tell you they don’t’ want to go. Parents often misread that, thinking the child doesn’t want to see the other parent. “Oh, they must like me best. They don’t want to see him (or her).” Truth is, it’s not the other parent they don’t want to see so much as they hate the exchanges. They express that by saying they don’t want to go.
That’s when the parent that’s on the outs start blaming. “It must be your fault! Your turning them against me!” If you are arguing at the exchanges, it’s both of your faults. Stop it. You are breaking every ex-etiquette rule there is.
I have to say it–serving the other parent in front of the children is just plain low. It brings the parental conflict to the forefront and puts your children right in the middle of the two people they love the most. One will appear right, the other will appear wrong—and your children will have to choose which one.
It is for this reason that most custody orders specify that parents are not to discuss court proceedings with their children. Serving the other parent in front of the children places them right at the center of your conflict.
There’s more. There are times when we need the help of a police officer to serve the other parent, particularly if the break-up is volatile or there has been domestic violence in the past. But, in a day when we need protection more than ever, asking a police officer to serve the other parent in front of the children could just reinforce a child’s fear of the police.
I cannot think of one positive aspect of serving the other parent (with the help of the police or not) in the presence of the children. It’s horrible ex-etiquette.
Finally, although there are times that returning to court is a necessity, using returning to court as a threat to scare the other parent into submission is a sign the parents aren’t listening to one another and are locked in a cycle of whose right and whose wrong. Don’t be those parents. Remember your children are watching and it’s not “either/or.” Your children need both of you. That’s good ex-etiquette.
Ex-Etiquette®, runs in countless newspapers and websites all over the world. It is written by Dr. Jann Blackstone, who specializes in child custody, divorce, and stepfamily mediation. Dr. Jann is the author of seven books on divorce, remarriage, and co-parenting, specifically, Ex-Etiquette for Parents: Good Behavior After Divorce and Separation, and other Ex-etiquette books. Dr. Blackstone is also the founder of Bonus Families,501 c3 non-profit organization dedicated to peaceful coexistence between divorced or separated parents and their combined families.