When your ex schedules the kids’ activities on your parenting time
During marriage, there is no divided parenting time. The children’s lives are a subset of the family life. Meal times, school, weekends and holidays are all part and parcel of the family’s life together. This fundamentally changes when there is a divorce.
Divorce results in the creation of a new normal. As a result of divorce, the children have two parental units instead of one. As a result of divorce, the children have two homes and bedrooms instead of one. As a result of divorce, the children have two schedules instead of one. That is why there must be an agreed residency schedule or a mandated schedule recognizing the fact that structure is needed for the benefit of the children. Without a structured parenting plan, there is no stability, uniformity nor expectation of the children’s schedule. This creates chaos and upheaval. That is why it is critical for there to be a comprehensive parenting plan in place following separation, even before divorce.
The following are three tips on how to deal with the children’s after-school activities following divorce.
Before any of the big-ticket issues such as the sale of the family home, property division or even a final parenting schedule is agreed to or determined by a mediator or judge, reach a temporary agreement regarding the parenting schedule and create a calendar that can be posted in each home, on a bulletin board or fridge, setting out each parent’s designated time and responsibilities for the children. Expect and insist that this parenting schedule is adhered to. Of course, some flexibility is warranted. However, as much as possible, aim for there to be clearly delineated boundaries with respect to the children’s time with each parent. Then, once each parent’s time is circumscribed, maximize your use of that time in a way that is child-focused, ensuring good quality time together with the children. If the children don’t have any activities outside of the home during their time with you, then schedule activities in the home such as pizza night, puzzle night, Netflix night etc. Then convey this schedule and routine to your ex-spouse so that he or she is aware of it and is less likely to infringe upon it.
Discuss with the children the sort of after school and weekend activities that they are interested in. Once you solicit that information from them, then share that with your ex-spouse. Use the children’s expressed views and preferences to attempt to reach consensus on what the children’s after-school and weekend activity schedule should be. The children’s expressed views and preferences is most compelling and hard to oppose. However, if your ex-spouse still does not agree, and if you then proceed to mediation or to court, these views and preferences will likely be determinative of the schedule.
Be careful to not establish a precedent by agreeing to the children’s activities on days that you will later attempt to change. Once this schedule is established, it is often considered to be your acquiescence to that schedule. It will be later difficult for you to change that schedule, even if it is no longer convenient for you. In separation and divorce, mediators and judges attempt to make the least amount of change to the children’s routines as possible. So where there is a status quo that has been established, it will be very hard to later change. So think long and hard about what schedule you would like – early in your divorce – so that you can begin laying the foundation to what the schedule will be in the end.
Although after-school and weekend activities are usually a lot of fun for the children, nothing is more important for them during a time of divorce than experiencing the love and affection that they have with each parent. If your time with the children is marginalized because of activities that are scheduled during your time, it is important to weigh the pros and cons of such scheduled activities against their time with you. In most cases, a compromise is possible so that the children benefit from these activities, as well as from their time with you. In fact, in many cases, the drive to and from the activities and your participation, or viewing of their participation, in their active activities is also a tremendous opportunity for bonding and connection with the children.