EX-ETI­QUETTE

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - STYLE - dr­jannblack­stone@gmail.com

Q My ex was a stay- ath­ome mom and rarely went out. We break up and all of a sud­den she’s par­ty­ing and not com­ing home un­til late. My kids, age 15 and 16, com­plain that their mother is never home and I’m won­der­ing if I should file for full cus­tody. What’s good ex-eti­quette?

A You can go back to court any­time you want, but be­fore you do, let’s look at some of the rea­sons some­one might be granted sole cus­tody of their chil­dren:

aban­don­ment — the other par­ent has not been around, and once served to ap­pear in court, does not fight the mo­tion.

The non-cus­to­dial par­ent is in prison or an­other fa­cil­ity that pre­vents in­ter­ac­tion with the chil­dren.

a men­tal ill­ness that causes a pat­tern of poor de­ci­sion mak­ing.

abuse or do­mes­tic vi­o­lence against the other par­ent or chil­dren.

doc­u­mented drug or al­co­hol abuse.

You can see the pat­tern. If the chil­dren are not safe in the pres­ence of the other par­ent, then there’s a good chance the court could in­ter­vene, but there has to be proof that the kids are in dan­ger such as po­lice re­ports, child pro­tec­tive ser­vices in­ter­ven­tion or school in­ter­ven­tion.

What you re­port sounds more like a par­ent­ing dis­agree­ment — in this case, it seems as if mom is hav­ing trou­ble mak­ing the tran­si­tion from mar­ried to sin­gle. Go­ing a lit­tle crazy af­ter a breakup is not un­com­mon. To com­pli­cate things even more, your kids are teenagers. Most teens don’t have a prob­lem be­ing left alone — so if they re­ally are com­plain­ing, there may be some­thing more go­ing on here.

From an ex- eti­quette stand­point, if we are op­er­at­ing from the premise that chil­dren do best when they have time with both par­ents, rather than file for cus­tody, start by look­ing for cre­ative ways to ap­proach mom that might re­in­force a more pos­i­tive en­vi­ron­ment when the kids are with her. Think this ap­proach is cod­dling the ex? Af­ter all, she’s the one who is run­ning around. Since it’s doubt­ful the courts will in­ter­vene, ar­gu­ing will get you nowhere, es­pe­cially if you’re call­ing at­ten­tion to some­thing you feel mom’s do­ing wrong and she doesn’t agree.

So, of­fer so­lu­tions.

For ex­am­ple, if she’s go­ing out when the kids are sched­uled to be with her, ini­ti­ate a first op­tion for child care. Al­though, it’s de­bat­able how much child care you need for 15- and 16-year-olds, but say­ing some­thing like, “The kids are telling me that they don’t like to stay alone at night. If you want to go out when they’re with you, feel free to send them to my house.”

It’s all in the way you sug­gest the so­lu­tion. If she feels you’re find­ing fault or pos­si­bly record­ing when she’s gone, it’s doubt­ful this ap­proach will work. You need to build trust. If she trusts you, that’s when she’ll ask for help (ex-eti­quette rule No. 2). If she doesn’t, ev­ery­thing will be a se­cret. The more trans­par­ent you can both be, the less likely you will have co-par­ent­ing dis­agree­ments.

The bot­tom line is, it’s not you against her, it’s both of you for the kids. That’s good ex-eti­quette.

Jann Black­stone is the au­thor of Ex-Eti­quette for Par­ents: Good Be­hav­ior Af­ter Di­vorce or Sep­a­ra­tion, and the founder of Bonus Fam­i­lies — bonus­fam­i­lies.com. Con­tact her at

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