Q. My ex drives me crazy. He’s taking me back to court to get more time with the kids, but he brings them home two hours early every time because he says they’re tired. Why would he want more time if he can’t even handle what he has? I want a court order that reflects exactly when the kids are with him! What’s good ex-etiquette?
A. There’s two ways to look at this. One, dad is flaking. Or, two, he’s assessing the situation, and making a decision in the best interest of your children. I vote for number two. If he’s picking the kids up on a regular basis and bringing them home early, it may be because they’re legitimately tired and the return time in your court order is too late. I can’t tell you how many times parents negotiate for the maximum time possible without taking into consideration the child’s comfort level. Therefore, if a parent returns a child early because the child is obviously tired, he or she is being a good parent, not a flakey parent.
Understandably, if you are the primary caregiver, you may want a break and resent that you can’t depend that dad will bring the children back when it says to on the court order. But the truth is, he’s doing what he’s supposed to do. If he didn’t visit at all, that’s when I would fault him. This is a perfect example of two sides to the same coin—some might see Dad as conscientious, others, like you, might see him as a flake.
Parents often request a court order that reflects EXACTLY how they share the kids’ time. I suppose that’s technically possible, but it’s really not practical. Things come up in everyday life. The Court wants parents to be flexible. The Court wants parents to stand back, look at what is in their children’s best interest and negotiate changes when they’re necessary. So, if you and dad agree that he returns the children at 5pm instead of 7pm, that’s fine. A judge will congratulate you for negotiating in the best interest of your children.
I understand how little things can seem huge when you’re frustrated with someone. That’s why I suspect your reaction is actually in response to a host of other things that bothered you during your relationship, not necessarily this particular issue. When people are sticklers for the specific, its usually to regain control. In other words, look at your relationship with dad past and present. When you were together, was he “the boss”? Did you resent it because he wouldn’t listen to you? Did you feel disrespected and overlooked? Now that you’re no longer together can you put him in his place and he’s still not listening? If you’re like many I’ve worked with, that’s the root of your frustration. If you want healthy children, stop arguing about things that won’t affect them and fix the things that will. Your kids won’t care if they’re returned a little early, but they will care if you’re constantly fighting about it. Take a look at that. 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.