Q. I sincerely believe my son would be better off with me. I did not see him much when he was very young—we had him when we were 17 and 18. He is now 7 and in the last year I have spent a lot of time with him. His mother parties way too much and posts herself getting drunk on Facebook. It’s time he lives with me. I’m going to court in two weeks to get full custody. What’s good ex-etiquette?
A. I don’t know your case personally, but let me explain what I think happened. This is in no way displaying a prejudice or making a judgment, it’s simply making an observation about what I’ve seen happen thousands of times over my years in practice.
Two very young people have a child. The father isn’t ready and isn’t involved in the child’s life. The mother takes on most of the responsibility, often living with her parents for a period of time until she gets on her feet. She meets someone else who steps in as the male parent figure. Father eventually meets someone else, as well, has another child and realizes he should have been there the entire time. He contacts the mother who often does want him involved because her new significant other has stepped up. Sometimes the child isn’t even told that mother’s significant other isn’t the biological parent, and that’s another can of worms we won’t even address in this column. Bottom line, the father then chases mom through court to get time with his child.
If you have been seeing your son over the last year or so, then mom is open to you having a relationship with your son—which is excellent—but you have to work with her if you want to get more time on paper. Reason being, your son has lived with her his whole life and hopefully he’s doing well. You just got there in the last year. Unless mom is really having trouble with substance abuse—and that means strung out and CPS is involved, DUIs, arrests, it’s doubtful a major change will be made. There may be changes made in the parenting plan to allow you more time, but unless the issues I mentioned above are present, it may not be regarded as in the child’s best interest to change custody.
Now, let’s address Facebook and Instagram posts. Mom? You out there? Get those posts off social media. Anything posted on social media is admissible in court. It’s legal to drink and there is no proof the child was present, but there are multiple reasons you don’t want that stuff out there:
One, it’s ammunition in court if there ever is a custody battle. (I hope you never “battle,” but look for solutions together. That’s good ex-etiquette.)
Two, when your child is an adolescent and possibly has their own Facebook page, even if he/she wasn’t present, he/she would see the behavior. Our job as parents if we drink is to demonstrate firsthand how to drink responsibly. Pictures on Facebook abusing alcohol or drugs does not teach your child to drink responsibly. Plus, if you’re friends with your child’s friends’ parents and they see the pictures, they may not want their child around that, and now you have embarrassed your child.
So, it sounds like everyone has to take a breath and sit down and talk about what you both want for your child. Fighting will never get you the help you both need. Respect and compromise will. (Ex-etiquette for Parents rules #9 and 10) It’s going to take a change in mindset, but if you want to take an active parent in your child’s life you have to work with mom, not against her. 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.