Archive for the ‘Parenting Coordination’ Category

Carol and Mike Made Blended Family Parenting Look Easy

December 1st, 2017 by Wanzer Edwards

The Brady Brunch was a classic 1970’s sitcom showing Mike and Carol Brady seamlessly co-parenting their large blended family.   The girls never told Mike, “You’re not my real dad!”  The boys never told Carol they wanted to go live with their mom.  Mike and Carol knew their role was to support the actions of their spouse.  However, step-parents cannot all be Mike and Carol.  Sometimes step-parents overstep their role, or are given a greater role by the parent to whom they are married, with unfortunate results.

Can a step-parent volunteer at the school party?  Sure, so long as both parents have been given the opportunity to volunteer and are unable to do so.

Can a step-parent attend medical appointments?  It depends.  If the spouse of the step-parent cannot attend, and the other parent plans on attending, it may or may not be a good idea.  If information needs to be relayed regarding how to do a breathing treatment, or monitor the progress of ADHD medication, for example, and it would be helpful to have the same information heard by someone in both households, so long as the relationship with the other parent will not negatively impact the doctor’s ability to treat the child or create a scene, the step-parent may attend.  It’s important to note, however, that a step-parent cannot make medical decisions for the child.  Only parents can do that.

Can a step-parent attend a child’s sporting event?  So long as the step-parent behaves appropriately and does not embarrass the child to create drama with either parent, yes.

Can a step-parent provide childcare for the child if the parent who should be exercising parenting time will not be home for parenting time?  Unless there is a court order that states that parents must be personally present for parenting time, if the step-parent and parent live together, then yes.  If a household family member related by blood or marriage resides in the home and is available to provide the care, which would include a step-parent, then they may do so.  However, if the parent is going to be gone for most or all of the parenting time in question, common sense would suggest that perhaps the parent who will not be home should offer to switch weekends with the other parent for a time when he or she will be home, if possible.

Can a step-parent discipline a child?  If corporal punishment such as spanking the child, especially with a belt or switch, absolutely not.  If parents discipline with timeouts or taking away privileges, this may be best left to the parent to set out the punishment; however, the step-parent may assist with administering the consequences and/or not giving in until the punishment period is over.

Obviously, if a step-parent has a good relationship with the parent to whom they are not married, then of course they may be included in as many school activities, extracurriculars and medical appointments and even discipline as the parties find appropriate.  It’s only when the step-parent creates conflict with the other parent or between the parents and does not facilitate a positive experience for the child that rules and boundaries need to be discussed or even included in a court order.

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.