Archive for the ‘Parenting Coordination’ Category

Providing a Smart Phone Without Being Dumb

October 1st, 2017 by Wanzer Edwards

As soon as the first child in elementary school gets a cell phone, odds are that your child will come home and ask for one as well.  But should you get one?  Do they really need it?  If not now, then when?  The answer to this question is different for every family.

If your child will be riding the bus home to an empty house, a cell phone would be extremely useful in the event they cannot get into the house.  If you, like many families, no longer have a landline and the child will be home alone for ANY amount of time, a cell phone is absolutely required.  If a child will not be alone and will have access to a landline and/or a parent’s cell phone to contact the other parent, then a cell phone may be premature.

So, you’ve decided to purchase a cell phone for the child.  Just as there is no requirement to get Johnny a Cadillac when a Honda Civic will do – or even to purchase a car for Johnny at all! – there is no requirement that parents provide the latest version of an iPhone.  Parents may select a phone that does not support apps or the internet; instead, a parent may simply opt to provide a phone in case of emergencies.  Parents may also opt to purchase a phone with pre-paid minutes, so that the child’s data use is limited.

BUT, parents who are no longer in an intact family should discuss providing a phone to the child before one parent unilaterally provides a phone.  Especially if a non-custodial parent provides the phone without discussion and agreement, the custodial parent may, at best, view the phone as an interruption or, at worst, an attempt to monitor the child’s, and possibly the other parent’s whereabouts or communications with the child.  Both parents should discuss rules in both parents’ homes such as time when the phone will be off limits each evening, where the phone will be charged (such as a common area and not in the child’s bedroom after hours), and if it is acceptable to take away the child’s phone as punishment.

Ultimately, the best time to allow your child to have a phone is when you and your co-parent both decide it’s time.

Your Initials are Not A.T.M.

September 1st, 2017 by Wanzer Edwards

Parents who have children preparing to graduate from high school may either agree or be ordered to contribute to the child’s *reasonable* expenses for college.  Typical expenses that are divided may include tuition, room and board, mandatory fees (such as technology, course/lab and parking fees), books, travel expenses (such as a vehicle for the child and vehicle insurance), cellular phone expenses, and health insurance.  Further provisions in agreements or court orders may include limitations on how long parents are responsible, such as for four years or when the child obtains an undergraduate degree, whichever first occurs.  Or that the child must attend a public in-state college, such as Indiana University or Purdue.  Or even that the child must maintain a certain grade point average, to keep the child focused and studying.

So what happens if a child decides he wants to transfer to a more expensive school and decides it’s too far to walk to use the campus meal plan?  If both parents agree that this is appropriate, then there is no issue.  However, if parents do not want to chip in for the groceries and the additional cost of the new school, then that is on the student to make up the difference.

What about study abroad programs?  While these may be once in lifetime opportunities and may actually be part of the child’s major, the cost can be substantial.  As such, these are typically not a requirement for graduation and would be more of a “perk” rather than a reasonable expense.  Again, if both parents agree to fund the opportunity, they can, but if the child can achieve his or her degree without the program, it is okay to say no.

What if the child wants to join a fraternity or sorority?  Again, this is not a must on every campus; however, for many schools, if a child moves into Greek housing, this is a cost that replaces their room and board and may in some cases actually be less expensive than paying campus room and board.  The other “hidden” costs may include everything from membership dues and parlor fees, to the costs of specific events and sportswear that the student may elect to purchase, or not.  These fees can be easily pushed to the child and should be seriously considered before the student becomes a pledge.

A carefully worded agreement regarding the child’s college expenses and the parents’ expectations can help head off any potential disagreements before they begin, and help set expectations for the student.  If you don’t already have detailed college expense language in your court order, consider contacting Wanzer Edwards before your child graduates from high school.

Long-Distance Relationships

July 1st, 2017 by Wanzer Edwards

The Indiana Parenting Time Guidelines (“IPTG”), Section IV recognize that parents may live too far from one another for parenting time to occur with great frequency, such as every other weekend.  When the distance is too great to transport the child during the week or on weekends, parents may opt to provide parenting time for the non-custodial parent during Spring Break, Winter Break, whenever the non-custodial parent is in the area where the child resides, and with the bulk of parenting time occurring in the Summer.  If Mom moves to Florida and Sally wants to finish high school in Indiana, we can all agree that distance is factor, and Mom’s parenting time would likely be limited to school breaks.

However, what if Mom just moves to Louisville, Kentucky?  Is that far enough?  In short, the answer is, “it depends.”

The IPTG do not provide a benchmark for how long of a commute between parents’ households constitutes “distance” which would trigger the Section IV, “Parenting Time When Distance is a Factor” provisions.  Four hours seems like it’s far enough, but what about two hours?  Again, we can all agree that given that midweek parenting time per the IPTG is for 4 hours, or overnight if appropriate, that if a parent lives 2 hours away, it is unreasonable for a child to drive 4 hours round trip for a 4 hour parenting time opportunity.  And spending the night for a midweek is unreasonable if the child will have a 2-hour commute before school in the morning.  But what about weekends?

Most parents agree that a 2-hour commute for weekend parenting time is not onerous, given that the parties may elect to meet one another halfway.  However, when a child is involved in activities in the community where the custodial parent resides, either the non-custodial parent’s time will be cut short in order to allow the child to participate in the activities, or the non-custodial parent will be travelling to see the activity, or little Sally may end up missing her activities every other weekend.  Given the child’s age and the activity, this may not be impactful.  However, if Sally is part of a team sport, she will be letting her team down and the older she gets, she may end up being punished or benched if she fails to show up every other weekend.

While time spent with each parent is ultimately most important, also important is the child’s opportunity to grow up unaffected by her parents’ divorce, engaging in important social and physical activities and developing normal friendships with her peers.  Careful attention should be paid to any decisions not only to require parenting time outside of the child’s home community, but also to enroll the child in activities which would compete with weekend parenting time.  While distance isn’t legally a factor, it is a practical factor that must be considered, with the child’s time and childhood experience to be of top importance.

The Hills Have Eyes . . . and Ears

June 1st, 2017 by Wanzer Edwards

It’s Friday evening at 5:45 p.m. and Sam’s Dad arrives to pick up Sam for weekend parenting time.  Sam hears the doorbell ring, hears his Mom answer and then hears the voices get louder and louder.  He goes downstairs and sees his parents in the foyer.  They are yelling at each other and he hears his name several times.  Dad is mad that he’s not ready.  Mom is mad that Dad didn’t bring a check for medical bills.  Dad is accusing Mom of always starting arguments.  Mom is mad that Dad is fifteen minutes early.  Sam hides in another room feeling ashamed that he makes both his parents so unhappy and that he is the cause of all their fights.

Parenting time exchanges are sometimes the only face-to-face time that co-parents get.  The temptation is to use that time to discuss parenting issues, delve into old arguments and exchange payments for parenting expenses.  But that assumes that the parenting time exchanges belong to the parents and can be used for getting the sometimes tense business of parenting completed.  What if the child owned this time?  How would that change how it is used?

It’s true that parenting time exchanges are sometimes the only face-to-face contact between co-parents, but also consider that exchanges are the only times that a child sees his parents together.  If parents use this time to settle differences or discuss difficult issues, the child sees parents who cannot get along.  Worse yet, the arguments are all about the child or issues related to the child.  It’s hard for a child to understand that he is not somehow at fault.

Treating parenting time exchanges as periods of time which belong to the child helps to protect a child from becoming part of and blaming himself for the differences between his parents.  Those differences often spring from issues which originate in a prior romantic relationship between the parents which does not directly involve the child.  Since the child is the reason that former spouses or romantic partners are still in contact, the poor communication and hurt feelings left over from the romantic relationship make their way into the parental communication.  When parents treat the time as belonging to the child, it becomes clear that the leftover feelings from a broken romantic relationship have no place.

There are simple rules that parents can implement for parenting time exchanges which acknowledge that it is a time that is important to and which belongs to the child.  First, parents can ensure that the child is ready physically and emotionally for the parenting time exchange.  This includes packing any belongings which will travel with the child.  It also includes speaking positively about the parenting time about to occur with the other parent.   Lamenting out loud about how much you will miss a child only serves to make the child anxious and unsettled.

The second rule that parent can implement is to always greet one another with a hello and a smile.  This simple interaction between co-parents can put a child at ease and eliminate the tendency of children to worry about their parents or to take responsibility for the moods of their parents.  It is unlikely you would treat a child’s teacher badly in front of your child even if you were not a particular fan of the teacher.  Adopt the same philosophy about parenting time exchanges.  Even if you are not the greatest fan of your co-parent, act cordial.  It goes a long way toward making your child feel safe.

Third, parents can commit to handle all the business of parenting like exchange of money, scheduling and rescheduling and decision discussions outside of parenting time exchanges.  If you prefer to have those discussions in person, schedule a time to have coffee with your co-parent.

There is no reason Sam should blame himself for the poor behavior of his parents, and this is not likely the intention of either parent.  It is up to parents to be the adults and to take the actions necessary to protect the emotional well being of their children. Model good behavior even if you are faking it.  The impact on your children will be worth it.