We received good advice early on in the divorce process to separate kids and money. For us, this meant hiring a separate mediator for the custody agreement and a separate mediator for the financial settlement.
The goal with separating the two agreements was that neither of us would be tempted or able to use the kids as leverage in the financial discussions. Going into our divorce we both supported the other as a parent and agreed that a 50/50 split was best for the kids and for us.
We met with the child mediator several times and hashed out an overall structure for our time-share arrangements with the kids. He provided valuable coaching on best practices with kids and divorce. Here are the steps we took and where we are now.
First, we opted to do a nesting arrangement for a couple of months so the kids could process the news of our separation and not have to move houses right away. The way this works is the parents cycle out of the family home and the kids stay put. We found a reasonable one-bedroom apartment about a mile away and did our best to provide a seamless experience for the kids.
Two months after sharing the news with the kids, I found a great rental three blocks away from the family home and we agreed to have the kids begin to switch houses. This was a big adjustment and we met several times with the child mediator to come up with a plan that was good for the kids and equitable between us. We started with an every other night arrangement so the kids could get used to the new place. Then we moved to every two nights and now have an arrangement known as the two, two five, five (where the kids are at each house for two nights and then each house for five nights.)
All of this is documented in what we call our Parenting Plan. This is a written agreement that serves as the backstop regarding custody if we cannot agree. We have tried to put everything in there -- weekly schedule, holidays, vacations birthdays. It is a cumbersome document and I hate to read it. Though I won't be throwing it away quite yet. The document has been helpful to set expectations with both of us about how to work with the other parent. We have begun to reference it in emails to ground each other in the backstop position. My husband sent a good one the other day that said, "The PP says this. . . would you be open to this instead?" By grounding his email in our agreement I immediately opened up and wanted to be flexible.
Our goal is to be more flexible than what is stated in the agreement, though we are not always capable. Scheduling can be extremely complicated with two working parents, work travel and trying to keep time with the kids equitable.
My husband and I have been able to hold it together in front of the kids (for the most part) which has enabled us to both stay active with them even when it is not our night. We both attend their sporting and school events and collaborate on shared time for holidays and birthdays. When we are in a good place, I see that this time with us all together is good for the kids. When the tension between us is high, I see the impact of our stress on them and question the value.
Co-parenting is hard, especially when there is a history of not being able to work through things amicably. This is where I remind myself that he loves our kids as much as I do. If we remain grounded in what is best for them we have a chance at reaching good outcomes.
As we head towards Mediation in 27 days I am reflecting on the decision to get divorced and the process so far in hopes that I emerge at peace with myself and the choices I have made along the way.