"On the plains of Oklahoma, with a windshield sunset in your eyes like a watercolor painted sky, you'd think heavens doors have opened."
Fly Over States

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Christmas Miracles and Visitation Disputes

Something that always catches me by surprise are the ways parents find to argue when it comes to visitation. They pick that time to spit and snipe, hit below the belt, bring up their former partner’s mistakes, point out that they are owed child support, criticize a former mother-in-law, argue over who is going to transport the kids, who is going to feed the kids, who is going to be present during the transfers - usually with the kids right there listening to the whole thing.

There is no end to the negative creativity displayed by some parents about the transfer or during the transfer, but some of the most common issues are:

1. Who is going to transfer?

Now, this makes sense when the parents live a long distance apart and it takes significant time and money to get the kids from Point A to Point B and back again. Usually, this is resolved by the parents reaching an agreement.

The cases that frustrate me are the ones when the parents live within five or ten miles of each other but go to the mat over who is responsible to pick up and/or deliver the kids. There is no doubt in my mind that in short distance situations (probably 95% of the time) this is primarily a power issue. I regularly see parents complain about the cost of the gas money involved (do the math and then come tell me how ten – twenty miles twice a month is going to break anyone). In the presence of the children, no less. The obvious “fair” solution is to have one pick up the kids and the other one retrieve them. Alternatively, the parents can transfer at a half way point taking into account traffic problems. Amazingly, this frequently has to be negotiated and I've seen parents insist they can't afford the gas money yet are willing to shell out $250.00 per hour to their counsel to make that argument. I frequently see the noncustodial parent end up agreeing to do all the transportation because the custodial parent won’t budge.

I think it is disgraceful.

2. Physical altercations during the transfer.

It amazes me how often parents come to blows during visitation transfers. Grabbing children out of the arms of the other parent happens regularly. Ditto for throwing keys at the other parent. Do you think this is happening in a calm, soothing tone of voice? Of course not. The children are wrestled from one to the other to the tune of cursing, screaming, accusations and threats.

We frequently have the transfers take place at police station parking lots because parents tend to be on better behavior when there are cameras tuned on them.

Again, disgraceful.

3. Lack of punctuality.

There are few issues that create more ill will than a parent habitually showing up late. One parent is forced to wait, frequently in a public place, while the other parent arrives at their leisure. In the aftermath of a bitter separation or divorce, being trapped at the whim of an inconsiderate former partner can quickly bring things to the boiling point. Caught in traffic? Surely slack should be cut for something that is unavoidable. I agree. The problem is that for some individuals, they are ALWAYS caught in traffic, or the car broke down, or they had to work late, or some other emergency has kept them from showing up on time. If you were to check, you’d probably find that many (although not all) of these parents tend to be late to work, to the doctor, to parties, probably to their own wedding. Fact is, they don’t “get” how detrimental this is to their ability to co-parent. It is one thing to be late to a party. It is another to be late when it undermines the precarious balance that is essential to a good co-parenting situation. There is never any substitute for mutual respect and consideration.

4. Bringing the new boyfriend/girlfriend to the transfer.

Does anyone really need to be told this is terrible idea? Apparently so. The new boyfriend frequently attends to protect “his” woman from dad who (according to mom) is a real villain. Of course, what is really happening is that mom is rubbing dad’s nose in the fact that she has a new guy. The new boyfriend should run as fast as he can in the other direction.

Alternatively, the new girlfriend attends to make sure mom doesn’t steal dad back. Pretty pathetic, in my opinion. That being said, this stealing of men back and forth is sport for some. I've talked to these men and the truth is, many of them are dogs. (I wish the women could see them shrug, grin and say, "What is a guy gonna do?")

5. Forgetting to send stuff back from the transfer.

It amazes me how many parents refuse to let the children take their toys to the other parent’s house for visitation. The reason given is that the toys frequently don’t make it back home. Likewise, children are sent wearing cruddy clothing because the cute stuff doesn’t make it back in the child’s backpack. The noncustodial parent invariably insists this is exaggerated and that the toys and clothing always make it back. Eventually. The custodial parent’s solution is to simply not send any more toys or nice clothes. This seems like an easy problem to solve with a little dilligence but, for some reason, that is too much to expect for some parents. So Little Betsy and Junior don’t get to take their Christmas presents or birthday presents to the other parent’s house because the parents can’t work this out.

6. Not sending homework back.

This is a common problem in which the noncustodial parent doesn’t make sure that a child does her required reading or other homework assignments. This is exacerbated when the child visits during the school week. These days, a common teaching practice is to have the parent sign a sheet showing that they are aware of the child’s assignments and that the child accomplished the assignment. The parent is supposed to sign the sheet and send it back to the school with the child. Sometimes, a noncustodial parent doesn’t seem to understand that this system is in place or that it is important. Even when told. Invariably, the noncustodial parent wants to put responsibility for being “told” on the custodial parent. Regardless, even when told of the assignments, they frequently don’t get them done or returned when the child goes back home. As a result, the custodial parent becomes extremely frustrated and frequently seeks to stop weekday visits.

Most Judges don’t take kindly to parents who don’t do what they should to make sure children succeed at school.

My advice to the noncustodial parent (especially those who want to blame the other parent for not reminding them) is to not put the custodial parent in the middle. He or she should directly contact the school (many schools allow the parents to see their grades, attendance and homework assignments online) and get to know the child’s teacher. For many parents, as long as they think it is someone else’s responsibility to parent THEM, they won’t step up to the plate. It is a fact of life, unfortunately, that the ones who think homework isn't important rarely start channeling an adult. You don't usually see consistent improvement.

Where I am going with all this is that I frequently see what amounts to A “Christmas Miracle” when it comes to visitation. Parents who lay awake at night trying to figure out how they can permanently remove the other parent from the child’s life (without getting caught) suddenly find it within themselves to be gracious and generous when it comes to Christmas. It is as if they remember that Christmas is just too important to destroy for their children.

I wish that same spirit governed the rest of the days of the year.

I’ve been working a bit on quilting Jezebel’s quilt and rearranging my sewing room (I do this every few weeks). I’m getting used to my new video camera. You can look on some videos on Youtube under videos of Evelyn the Samoyed. My account name is Pennyquilts, if you’re interested.

I hope you are having a lovely holiday.


Stephanie D. said...

I see you got a small bit of her singing on one of the videos!

Lisa said...

Ahhh gee do you know my son's ex? Or do you know my step daughter?
My son's ex uses my grandson as a tool against my son. My son has only seen his son 6 times this year the last being Thanksgiving weekend.
My step daughter is a piece of work. She lives during the week with her boyfriend at his mom's and with her mom on the weekend when she has her son. My grandson just told us he didn't get anything from his mom for Christmas, "But that's ok Grammy she loves me and will get me something bigger next year" that came out of his 6 year old mouth.

Nancy said...

I'd forgotten about some of the irritations I used to deal with when my son was small...the one about belongings not making their way back hit home with me. I made his clothes when he was in grade school - his choice of fabric, made into "jams" as he called them, a matching t-shirt, and he was proud as could be to have a cool, unique outfit. My ex's mom would send him home in tattered shirts and shorts (he actually told me one day she shopped for him at the Goodwill store and yard sales), with his new clothes packed in his suitcase, reeking of cigarette smoke. Grrrrr.....was it so hard to wash his clothes and let him wear them home again? Over a two-day weekend, this must've been too much to ask.