November 6

Co-Parenting?

Rome visit, June 2008 - 57

There is a lot of talk out there about co-parenting. For those who have not been through the courts recently, co-parenting is the new term for working together as parents living in separate households. You have to take some type of court ordered co-parenting class when you divorce with kids now in most jurisdictions. The Federal government has encouraged this through legislation and incentives. The classes are a few hours long if they are provided through the county or court services. Some courts allow you to find a qualifying program on your own, and some require you to do it as more of a joint counseling session. This is really a part of the child centered divorce movement. Something that I have talked about in the past. Something I think at best is a bad way to raise kids, and at worst is a manipulative idea to sugar coat making choices that benefit others appear to be for the children.

The idea of co-parenting is sound. The problem is we are dealing with people, and people aren’t always logical or fair. To further exacerbate the issue, we are dealing with people who are naturally in the middle of a conflict or more likely multiple conflicts. Sometimes the core conflict is raising the children. If this is the case, then co-parenting is not going to be a reality. The best these couples can hope for in the future is some form of parallel parenting. If divorce is founded in a power struggle of any kind, it is going to create a power struggle in all aspects of the relationship, at least in the short term following the break up, but it could be a long term proposition regarding the children. If the divorce is founded on the basis of growing apart, we are dealing with a couple where one or both are feeling like the other person did not hold up their part of the deal. There will be some animosity from one or both people, and that will lead to conflict. The most likely place for conflict to play out is regarding the children, because in the end the assets will be divided and you will have yours and they will have theirs, but the kids are still shared. Immediately after separation there are some key points of conflict. The income that each have coming in. This is intensified if one parent doesn’t have any income of their own. Each person feels like they should have the fruit of their labor, and when one person’s labor was for the benefit of the household without pay, they tend to feel entitled to as much of the other person’s income as their own. Physical assets and cash become the next issue. These are things that the parties can put their fingers on and feel. They want as much of that as possible, especially since up until a short while ago, they were all at their disposal. Cars, homes, jewelry, cash, and just stuff become the prize. Savings, investments, and debts come into play next. These things are usually handled the same by the court all the time. They are the easiest thing for the court to figure out. Neither party wants any debt, and both want the assets and savings, but these will be split quite easily by the court. I have made recommendations on handling all these things in other posts. I will beat that drum again fairly soon. The last thing both parties have to fight over is the children, and they can fight over this until the children are grown adults, and then outside of court until the day one of them dies.

In theory co-parents will work to be on the same page in decisions, and provide the kids with a united front in the same way that parents do when they are together in the same household. A major problem with this idea is its based on a view of the family unit from the outside looking in. When parents are together, the united front is often only a public view of how things work. Everyone presents a similar face to the world, but what happens in the home is often very different from household to household. Some separated parents can provide the same face, but more often than not the rational of making your family look good to the outside world is outweighed by the desire to make the other parent look worse than you. Sometimes one parent wants to make the other look bad, but in all cases each parent wants the world to believe they are the better parent. In the real world parents aren’t always on the same page in intact homes. They usually have a line that they require the other parent to be respected by the children. They agree on most major decisions or have a way to mitigate them. One parent will allow the kids to cuss a little, and the other might let them have sodas at restaurants. Usually the parent who feels the strongest on something rules that thing when they are together. This doesn’t have to change when parents are not in the same household, but it usually does. I blame the courts for this. Undermining one parent gives extreme advantage to the other parent in court, and comes with the potential of cash flow. The courts are built to handle conflicts. More than that, the courts are built to be adversarial. The people who we hire to handle these affairs have trained to be in these courts. The entire system is set up to increase conflict, and though the system preaches to the parents that they need to get along and figure out this parenting thing together, they encourage conflict in their very nature. The fact that there is an opportunity to get some advantage over the other person is the problem. The odds that both people are completely reasonable during the initial breakup and divorce process are fairly small. The odds that one person is so apathetic as to not care is also fairly small, so we throw these people into a system where they can ask the court to decide. Their actions are justified because the court as an authority has decided it as so.

Reality is most couples could figure this out on their own. Most have done it before seeking out lawyers. They have working plans and share responsibilities with the kids in a way that both are satisfied, or at least content. Neither parent has lost anything through the court process, so they can bend to make things better for the kids. This is the only time in any divorce that the kids are actually being looked after. During this time, parents will often work out whether and how to celebrate events together or not. Before lawyers and judges are involved, I have observed that most couples do just fine taking care of the kids needs, and continuing to raise them together. So much of the legal process is based on Federal Welfare benefits, and the government not being saddled with the bills for these children. This isn’t the economic reality for most families in the West. Most families can separate in a way that both parties can move on without going to the government for handouts. For a year and a half all my kids bills were paid by me, and I was able to live my life without struggling. My ex was able to take care of her bills, and though she struggled, she decided to keep her job with the school system, even though she could double her money as a skilled nurse. This decision was fine with me. It had little bearing on me. My kids had all they needed, and were able to stay in their activities. She was free to do what she pleased to take care of herself. The court doesn’t care about the example already set forth in this year and a half. Custody laws provide that someone should have to pay child support, and so once the lawyers were involved, hers sought to increase the amount to the maximum amount possible. The end result is I struggle a lot to make ends meet now, I owe lawyers 5 figures, she pays for all the kids things, and somehow doesn’t have money to make ends meet on a regular basis.

Co-parenting is a misnomer. In some ways its like snipe hunting. Its something that each family figures out over the course of time if left on their own. While the courts interject themselves and so often rob one parent of their rights in the name of the children, there is no real hope of co-parenting. A successful co-parenting relationship makes it hard for their to be a winner. The system really doesn’t care about the children, not in any way that matters. It is really only concerned with the money. They are less likely to be overruled if one parent is made out to be sub-standard, and the other one the gold standard. The court has to choose what aspects of parenting are most important. Right now those things are the things that mothers do. I don’t know if that is a result of deciding that mothers should raise kids or mothers raising kids has caused the bias, but there is a bias, and the court uses it to decide which parent to punish and reward everyday.

The biggest lie I here is that the real losers in divorce are the children. So long as the courts continue to pick sides in divorces that there is no reason to do so, the real losers are the kids and the dads. Dads lose so much time that they rarely get the big moments that naturally occur in their kids lives. If they do, its dumb luck or through a video the mom chose to send him. The kids lose the strong comforting presence that a father provides. I see this in my home. How much the two kids who live here all the time crave that, and how threatened they are by my kids coming over. I shouldn’t have to wait for her to screw up, and then go after her for the kids. The ongoing nature of custody cases makes it almost impossible to to develop a healthy relationship unless one parent quits. Too often fathers do give up, and the do so for the sake of their kids, and maybe for their own sanity. If I have any hope of finding solid financial ground anytime soon, I have to give up. There comes a point where I have been told that I am no longer the protector of my kids. I have been usurped by the government in that role. If it were another man, I would be able to challenge him, but I can’t beat the government. They have the power to take more and more away from me. I hope the years that I was there everyday, and the time we have now is enough to be a fixture in their lives as adults. I don’t know, and won’t until that day comes. Co-parenting is the big lie that I have to deal with. I am told to co-parent with her, but since she has the time and the resources, she gets to make the decisions. I might be able to get the court to call her a bad girl later on, but the decision is already made.

Ten-Foured,

JeD