Step Up or Step Out: Rethinking Your Ex's Access with Your Kids

Image via Jenny Downing (Creative Commons license)
Image via Jenny Downing (Creative Commons license)

I am paid to “fight for custody” of children, to represent parents who want the majority of access with their children ... sometimes at a great cost.

I watch clients walk through divorce and then live out the consequences of their choices. Many times, clients will not tell me what they want, but rather what they don’t want. For example, “I don’t want HIM to have MY babies any more than the law allows.”

Clients attempt to articulate that they want the other party to suffer, not to let their ex benefit from this divorce by allowing them to have their darling children more than the “standard” dictated by law. In Texas, where I have my family law practice, standard possession allows for first, third and fifth weekends, 30 days in the summer and an alternating holiday schedule. Similar standards exist in most other states. However — these cookie cutter statutes are merely a starting place, not the gold standard.

Victory does not rest in the party with the most access. In fact, there may be no victory in the near future due to trends toward expanding time for both parents. Courts are trending toward a more 50-50 schedule as there has been an evolution in parents’ gender roles, workplace duties, and equality in both the carpool line and the board room. Some states, such as Florida, begin their version of standard access with 50-50 and only deviate if there is a finding that the parent is not safe for the children.

With that in mind, I challenge every client who asks for the other party to have limited time with their kids. Such requests are rarely focused on what is best for the children, but instead on the desire to “win” by the parents.

Be careful what you ask for. There are many issues to consider in evaluating whether to ask for and expect standard access.

  1. Give the other parent a chance to fail/succeed. In marriage, often one parent is the primary caretaker, taking the children to doctors, preparing meals, and assuming most household tasks. However, with divorce, it is unknown how the non-primary caretaker will function in the future. In my experience, parents need a chance to “step up or step out.” Give the other parent a chance to be the parent that you wished they were when you were married. After a period of time, the novelty of schedule wears off. You will see if she exercises all of the times in your schedule, or whether this fight for more time with the children was a power play.
  2. Children need both parents. Children deserve their moms and dads-even after divorce. While it is uncomfortable for parents, kids want to see both parents consistently. Research has proven that regular contact with both parents leads to many positive outcomes for children, and, in fact, prevents bad behaviors in children of divorce. So, putting pride aside, consider allowing the other parent more time not for a win for the parents, but a win for the children.
  3. You might actually want a break, Ask yourself, “is this truly sustainable?” In the future, you may want to date. And even if you swear off the other gender entirely, you may simply just want a moment to think without the hustle and bustle of children. Consider your future life, and don’t be short sighted. When considering what parenting time you want to ask for in your divorce or modification, look before you leap.

Overall, think about your future, what your children need, and the potential in your spouse to parent better or worse than you ever expected. You may be surprised when your ex steps up to the task or shocked when they exit.

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