If you are separated or divorced with kids, you and the ex are going to disagree at some point about how to raise them. Maybe you want them in bed by 8:30 on school nights, but your ex might allow them to stay up until 10:30. Or perhaps you feel your six-year old son is not mature enough to play with a BB gun, but the ex buys him one anyway. Then there are the really big issues. What if the ex raises them against the cultural or religious beliefs you feel very strongly about? What if the ex does not value education and a strong work ethic like you? What if he or she doesn’t provide any true structure, rules, chores, or the kind of consistent responsible co-parenting that enables them to be productive members of society?
With my own separation, problems manifested immediately. Sometimes I felt like she was trying to micromanage my time with them, even though it was my weekend. We got into more than a few texting arguments on the cell phone. In the beginning, I lost sleep over it and it put stress on my time with the kids.
That problem has been taken care of, but it took an epiphany on my part: all the stress, drama, and frustration that the ex and I initially went through was happening because I allowed it to. I only had to do a few simple rules to return my life to normal and simply enjoy the time I had with my kids without her influence. Below I’ll share a few ways to avoid unnecessary drama, at least until you and the ex can be more amicable.
Leave all Subjectivity out of it
First, check your emotions. Anger, resentment, and anxiety aren’t going to help. Some things will be out of your control. Let that part go. But there are things you can control, like your reactions to the current reality of the divorce. Focus your mental and emotional energy there. You don’t need to see the situation negatively as long as you taken care of a few basic legalities.
Always Follow the Separation Agreement
Every divorce is different. Circumstances leading to the separation, the laws for the state you live in, and how much time you demand with your kids all play a big factor in how everything will play out. But if you want a hassle-free life with the ex when it’s all said and done, one thing above all else is vitally important: you need to follow the separation or divorce agreement exactly as it is written. There’s only one reason to ever deviate: when you and the ex are amicable and it’s in the best interest of the kids. However, if you’re diligent to do your homework, the kid’s best interests should already have been factored into the agreement. That’s why you must craft your separation agreement carefully. You might hire an attorney, but if you choose to go the cheap route, like I did, it’s important that you plan for long-term contingencies. If you haven’t ironed out a fair and balanced separation agreement based on the circumstances of your separation, make that a priority. Now. If you procrastinate, you’re leaving yourself vulnerable to an endless nightmare. Get it written, notarized, and follow it exactly as it is written. If you’d like to see my article on how I did this cheaply, go here.
A few days before writing this post, I found one story on a divorce forum that illustrates my point perfectly. A man and his ex-wife had a valid separation agreement, but they both decided to deviate. The ex-wife wanted them on Memorial Day weekend even though it was the husband’s weekend. He agreed, but only because she agreed to give him one of her weekends. The man’s parents ended up buying plane tickets to fly in from Michigan to spend time with their grandchildren on the weekend that the wife agreed to give up in return for Memorial Day. A few weeks later, after the wife had already got the kids Memorial Day, she wrote her ex-husband an e-mail saying she wanted to stick to the agreement and she would be keeping them the weekend his parents bought plane tickets to fly down. In a panic, he explained the situation to her. His parents had already paid for the tickets. She refused to listen. I can only imagine his frustration! And the grandparents as well. I haven’t returned to the forum post to see how it turned out, but I can bet it ended in a lot of headache.
So again…follow your separation agreement exactly as it is written to avoid all this type of unnecessary drama.
I had a similar issue when I agreed to deviate from our separation agreement. I had asked to pick the kids up for two hours one Sunday for ice cream on her weekend because my daughter asked for it over the phone. My heart went out to her, and of course as a father I immediately wanted to show her that I was always there. I had my daughter give the phone to mommy and I asked her if it would be okay to grab them for a few hours. She refused, stating that it was her weekend. So I shrugged my shoulders and told her no problem, I understood. And actually she was doing the right thing. It was setting clear guidelines for me. For both of us. I could respect that. Sometimes it’s hard when the kids reach out, but I also understood that my daughter kids would be more stable overall when she realized that mommy and I had an arrangement that we always followed. Eventually she would come to realize the importance of following an agreement and know when she could expect to see me. When my daughter got back on the phone, I told her that mommy and I had to follow what we agreed to and that I would take her for ice-cream when I got her in a few days. It was hard to hear her get a little upset over it, but I’ve learned kids are more resilient than I expected. When I got her Wednesday we went out for ice-cream and she was happy about it. More importantly, I knew that she now understood when she could expect to see me and it would advert future issues.
However, less than a month later my ex’s mother got tickets to the Nut Cracker in Raleigh on one of my weekends, so the ex-wife asked if they could grab the kids all day on Sunday. Although I knew this was a double standard on her part, I thought my kind gesture after she had refused me would show her I could be reasonable. Besides, it would be a great experience for my kids, and my daughter said she wanted to go. So I agreed. Suffice to say, it only made things worse because a few other double standards followed. It built up quite a bit of resentment on my part. And to be fair, my ex probably didn’t even think of it this way. She was just trying to give the kids a good experience. Sure, in a perfect world I wanted her to recognize the double standard and have her admit it wasn’t fair, but in a separation and divorce it doesn’t usually work that way. Often times we can expect nothing fair from our partners.
That’s when I realized everything must be treated as a business deal. True, some couples separate and become good friends, and everything goes smoothly for the kids. But that’s probably not the majority of cases. Regardless, it’s vital to stick to some type of written, notarized agreement. To date things are better and the ex and I have been able to deviate from the agreement on a few things, and it has been fair. But it took a year following the agreement first for a certain level of respect to be developed.
Following a separation agreement from the beginning let’s both of you know what is expected. Clear guidelines and routine advert complications. It prevents misunderstandings and opportunities for one partner to take advantage, even if it’s unconscious. Remember, once it’s all said and done and you two have gone your separate ways, and you don’t owe each other anything except when it comes to the kids. Just make sure you don’t sign a separation agreement until you can both work out a situation that you’re happy with.
I’ve seen a lot of victims continue to be a victim after the separation. Hopefully this won’t be the case and both of you can be mature adults, but unfortunately separation and divorce usually brings out the worst in at least one partner or both partners. Understandably so because there is so much history and emotion involved, and sometimes it’s hard to be fair when you’re in the midst of it.
Don’t count on the fact that you give one thing so therefore the ex should too. Remember, that usually only works when you are in a relationship that both partners are committed to. The very definition of separation or divorce is to erase those said commitments.
But What if My Ex Doesn’t Follow their End of the Sep Agreement even if I am?
There’s always the chance that you may follow the separation agreement perfectly but your ex decides not to honor it. Doesn’t matter. Instead of getting frustrated and stressed, see it as an opportunity. It’s actually to your advantage. Document everything. Keep detailed records with dates, times, and incidences. If you ever have to argue your case in court, and if you’ve documented injustices, most likely the judge will know. Even if you don’t want to go to court over it and involve the kids (sometimes a better option), you can use all your documented evidence as leverage. Sometimes the ex may need to see how tough you can be to get them back in line and following the things you have agreed to. If they know you’ve done your homework, they might be more inclined to straighten up their act and be more responsible.
Be Firm, but Nice
After you’ve clearly settled in your mind to follow the separation agreement, be firm but nice about it. No matter what your ex does or says, simply refer back to the separation agreement whenever you take necessary actions. Remember, it’s a business deal and has to be treated as such. Leave all emotion and feelings out of it. Then there’s no stress, drama, or loose expectations that can potentially cause future complications. I know this can be hard if you feel wronged, but in the end, what good is it going to do you?