Need advice on custody, what's truly in a child's best interest, and throwing a new partner/baby in the mix - Mothering Forums

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#1 of 9 Old 02-14-2013, 07:04 AM - Thread Starter
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After 9 years of marriage, I made the decision to end things to give myself and my children the chance to get away from the stress and turmoil of mine and stbx's dysfunction. I have an 8yo, 4yo and a 2yo with stbx. Stbx sees the kids two evenings a week and one overnight at this point. He wants to do a split alternating week schedule where we would each have them for the entire week every other week. Although I don't think this is a bad arrangement for many divorced parents, I'm having trouble accepting it as truly in my kids best interest due to his limited involvement in their care up to this point. I have always been a WAHM caring for the kids during the day, done 100% of the night time parenting, and really could only solicit help from him when I asked for baths, playtime, etc. and was usually met with resentment. He has always interacted with the kids only when it suited him, usually just yelling at them to get out from in front of the tv. He can be emotionally abusive as well, and has said some horribly damaging things to the kids in the past. There's also been problems with drinking and his temper in the past. To be honest I stayed in my marriage for as long as I did to shield the kids from him, but finally realized that was not really doing anyone any favors.


At this point I'd be willing to to do alternating weeks as far as caring for them at night, but where it gets complicated is daytime care. He works during the day, and would need to put the kids in daycare on his weeks or bring them to me, as they have always been cared for, because I work from home. It's only an issue full time for the next few years until my youngest is in school, and on school breaks. Part of me is ripped apart at the prospect of not caring for them during the day as I always have, but part of me wants to say fine, you want them half the time you deal with their care. He very well may flake out and end up not having them nearly as much, he's already canceled several visitations as it is, but it could go either way.


To make matters more complicated, I recently entered a new relationship with an old friend, and despite precautions to prevent it, wound up pregnant. The situation is very stressful, but we have every intention of making it work and becoming one big family. BF would like to see stbx disappear all together, so neither I nor our child would ever have to be exposed to him, and while I can understand this, it's not realistic. He's pushing for me to let stbx take our kids half the time and tell him to deal with their care, knowing that there's a good chance he won't be able to handle it and I will end up with them most of the time the way we want it anyway.


I guess my question is, is it unreasonable to want a schedule that does not separate children from the parent who has been their primary caregiver for an entire week? Is it unreasonable to continue to care for my kids during the day even if it's stbx's week? is it unreasonable to expect stbx to arrange his own care on his weeks, and just let it tear me apart? What's really in the kids best interests?

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#2 of 9 Old 02-14-2013, 12:31 PM
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Totally reasonable. I cant think of anything worse for children than alternating weeks.

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#3 of 9 Old 02-14-2013, 01:42 PM
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Since you agreeable to 50/50 custody, I'd suggest splitting the week in half rather than alternating weeks. Then your ex would have the onus of finding childcare for only half a week. The kids would also benefit by only being in care for half a week.

A routine would be established where they do one thing with you and one with him. That would be easier to get used to than alternating weeks. Just my opinion.

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#4 of 9 Old 02-14-2013, 01:56 PM
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I think you also have to consider the effects that stbx's inability to cope is likely to have on the kids.  It's one thing for him to admit that he's not taking care of them and leave them with you.  It's another for him to pick up the kids for his week, and have it fall apart with the kids stuck in the middle, in his house.  If you don't think he's particularly capable of arranging care, you should ask to see evidence that he's done it before you send the kids over for a whole week with the expectation that things will be okay.


So the short version:

I think it's reasonable to want a schedule that doesn't separate the children from you so much.

I think it's reasonable to continue to care for the kids during the day even if it's stbx's week, but I also think that sort of thing should be taken into consideration when you're thinking about child support.

I don't think it's reasonable to just drop the kids off in this case, without an assurance that their needs have actually been considered or will actually be met.

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#5 of 9 Old 02-14-2013, 05:37 PM
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I think it is more than reasonable to want to not separate for a whole week right off the bat when you have been the primary caregiver.  If you are willing to do 50/50, I would consider doing a half week kind of thing, where one parent has Monday, Tuesday, the other has Wednesday and Thursday and then you switch weekends.


I would definitely want to continue watching the kids during the day, but I worry that it would be hard for the kids to transition like that everyday during his week.  Do you think they would have a hard time leaving in the afternoons just for the nights?

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#6 of 9 Old 02-15-2013, 12:13 AM
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I understand how you feel; I was a sahm when ex and I split, and at first we did where I had ds mon thru friday, ex had him fri thru sun night, more during school breaks (ex is a teacher). I was reluctant to do the EOW because I didn't want to be away from ds, even once I started working outside the home. However, we did end up doing a 50/50 EOW, with one weeknight dinner/visit on our off weeks. So, when ex has him for a week, one of those days (Wednesdays right now) I will get ds from school, keep him for dinner, then take him back to his dads. That we, we aren't truly going a whole week without seeing him. I was upset about it at first, but it really works for ds, which is the main concern. He was 8 or so when it started, and never had any issues. I had considered the split week, but honestly, it's easier this way and it does work.


I think that it is totally reasonable to watch your kids while your ex is at work, it doesn't make sense for them to be in day care if you are available. In fact, many custody agreements address this very issue. I think you are doing a great job and are being very flexible. I would ease into the 50/50, but it seems like it could work in your favor. Make sure to get it all solidified in court. Good luck!

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#7 of 9 Old 02-15-2013, 07:37 AM - Thread Starter
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Thanks for all your support! It is wonderful to be able to reach out on Mothering and get feedback.


As every divorced parent knows, it's a disappointing to trade the misery of being in a bad relationship for the misery of seeing the impact of the split on your kids. I just worry that I'm putting my feelings of "I want to care for my own children like always, and I'll miss them!" ahead of what's truly in their best interest, although I do believe that being cared for by a parent on a regular basis when a parent is available is better for kids than day cares or babysitters, especially if that is how they have been raised their entire lives.


I feel like stbx is coming from a spiteful and monetarily motivated position, hoping to pay no child support if we have 50/50 residential placement, although he would still have to pay child support and daycare costs, so really he'd be spending more just to ensure the kids didn't get to be with me more. When we were married he was totally on board with me staying home, and preferred it strongly to daycare, but now that we are split he is worried about the kids seeing me more, even though that's always been the norm for them. He's stated both that he does not think he should have to pay cs and thinks the kids should be put in daycare now so they spend the same amount of time with both of us. I just worry about arguing their best interests to a judge, should it go to a hearing, which it might.

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#8 of 9 Old 02-15-2013, 08:50 AM
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Check for state guidelines where you live.   Not all states are 50/50.  Mine is not.  Where I live, your ex would have EOW with one dinner night during the week unless you agreed to an alternative schedule.   There is also a "Right of First Refusal" clause in many cases that states if the parent can't care for the children due to work, etc than the other parent gets the first chance to have the kids.   So while your husband is at work, you automatically get first chance to have the kids.  


If you have always watched the kids at home while working, I really don't think a judge would change that arrangement.  Have you met with an attorney?  I'm not a big fan of 50/50 arrangements because I know of very few situations where it actually seems to work in the kids best interest.   I have a few friends who really regret to agreeing to it in order to speed up the divorce process.  You really need to find out what is normal for your area regarding parenting time.   Until there is a court order, I wouldn't agree to the 50/50 schedule.      



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#9 of 9 Old 02-16-2013, 10:47 AM
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1- "Right of 1st refusal" (or whatever it's called where you are) is pretty common.  I.e., ANY time the parent caring for the kids needs childcare, the other parent is legally entitled to provide it (if they're willing and able), before the kids may be left with someone else.  (Of course there are usually qualifiers meant to prevent abuse, like time limits [visiting relatives for a few hours doesn't count as "childcare"] or excluding household members [leaving kids with a stepparent while a parent runs to the store isn't "childcare"].)


Let's say you agree to 50-50 time, but your ex never actually exercises it, because he blows off visits and you cover his childcare needs.  You'll still enjoy more time with your kids.  And, in future, if you feel your overall arrangement isn't working out, you'd have a strong argument for the court to modify it.  You'd look cooperative for having agreed to the 50-50 split.  It would seem obvious you weren't out to restrict your kids' relationships with their dad.  And (provided you keep detailed records!!!) your ex would have to admit he had every opportunity to exercise equal parenting time and couldn't/didn't pull it off.  It would be hard for him to blame you for it not working out.


Now, I have heard of cases where mothers used their ex-husbands for childcare; the ex-husbands petitioned for custody modifications, to reflect the reality that the kids spent a majority of time with them; and the mothers successfully argued that this would wrongly penalize them for working and for complying with the father's right of 1st refusal.  I.e., the hours Dad covers Mom's childcare needs should still count as Mom's parenting time.  Otherwise, she'd be better off putting the kids in daycare, so her ex couldn't use those extra hours with the kids against her, in court.  


However, I think a father would have a harder time prevailing with such an argument.  Besides, in your case, there's a history of the kids spending more time with you AND he skips visits.  So, he won't look (to a judge) like a responsible dad who's cooperating by letting you care for the kids when he needs childcare.  It will appear that, despite your 50-50 agreement, you two ended up maintaining a pre-existing arrangement in which you were always the primary caregiver.


I think the bigger risk is you telling him to work out childcare on his own.  


I understand the motivation!  When my ex left me with 2-year-old special-needs twins, my mother thought I was criminally neglectful because I wouldn't send a suitcase of diapers, extra clothes and toys, when they spent Saturdays with him.  But, he was their dad, not a babysitter!  Besides, he'd made countless remarks equating at-home parenting with "sitting on one's a**, doing nothing" and he'd decided he no longer wanted to raise our kids as a team.  He flat-out did not deserve my help with his parenting time and ought to experience what caring for our children entailed!


Luckily, my gamble paid off.  He did become a parent, whereas he might easily have never progressed beyond feeling like a sitter or an uncle.  And over the years, he's said many appreciative things, recognizing everything I do for our kids.  That has helped us get over all that prickly break-up stuff and be friends, instead of our kids dealing with constant conflict.  But had we gone to court, evidently my mother was right and I would've looked bad for not sending provisions for his parenting time.


It's not hard to find childcare.  If your ex does - and it helps him get into a good groove of regular visits - then he will look responsible and it will appear that you didn't want the extra time with your kids, even though you were home.  And that's not really what you want, is it?  At the heart of it all, you sound like you want the parenting time more than you want to give your ex what he deserves.  That's the right instinct.  Listen to it.


2- No method of dividing your kids' time between their parents is "best" for them.  The "best" things would be if the parents were able to get along better and not divide their home.  Apart from that, it's bad for kids to spend half their time away from their mother.  It's also bad for them to spend less than half their time with their father, in order to see more of their mother.  IMO, usually the least evil is for preschoolers to spend a greater majority of their time with their mother, the younger they are; and for school-age kids to spend approximately half their time with each parent, so they feel like they live in both homes, rather than living with one parent and only visiting the other.  


That said, I'm glad as hell my husband's and my exes can't make 50-50 work and all our kids spend most of their time in our home.  What I reason is right would never feel right to me, as a parent.  Hopefully, that's true for both parents, each wanting more than half-time with their kids.  So I think one must focus on reason.


Reason tells me a man who slacks off as a parent may rise to the occasion and improve, once he finds himself deprived of the luxury of a wife who picks up the slack.  If you give your ex the chance to spend ample time with the kids - and be in charge of their bedtime routines, etc. - he may surprise you, given time to adjust.  If he doesn't, then you can modify the arrangement and his failure as a parent won't be due to you denying him any opportunities.


3- Abuse matters, of course.  It's just hard for anyone to know for sure what "emotional abuse" means, to someone else.  


My older posts give a sense of what it means to me.  My step-son's mother is not simply a flawed person (like all of us) who sometimes hurts his feelings, speaks carelessly, loses her temper or otherwise does the wrong thing.  She systematically manipulates him to believe things that aren't true and that hurt his relationships with those closest to him; and she encourages behavior and attitudes in him that drive others away and interfere with him acquiring basic skills he needs, to thrive as a person.  Her emotional abuse is aimed at reinforcing an exclusive, needy relationship with him and the idea that only she can truly understand, support, comfort or bond with him.  I do believe it's better for him to spend limited time around his mother, so she influences him less than his father does.


But sometimes one person calls another "emotionally abusive" because that person is less gentle, kind, unselfish or affectionate; has a significantly different parenting style; or is more demonstrative of normal, human emotions like frustration and anger.  I'm sure there are things I've said to my kids - or times I've lost my patience with them - that other, more patient, moms would consider verbal or emotional abuse.  And maybe they'd be right.  But I'm not someone from whom my kids need protection or limited time.  Only you really know if your kids need to be protected from your ex; or whether he's simply not as good a parent as you are.

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