Taking a Hard Stand with an Ex-Spouse
by Carl Pickhardt Ph.D.
Circumstances can arise when custodial parents must act for the child’s best interests in ways their ex-spouse may not like.
In the process, anger can be provoked and conflict created, with custodial parents taking stands that the ex-spouse may consider offensive or unjust.
What kinds of stands? The most common two are for child safety and for child support. In both instances, custodial parents (because they have custodial responsibility) must look out for the child’s welfare by monitoring conditions and treatment while on visitation and by assessing ongoing financial needs at home.
Taking issue with the non-custodial parent’s conduct is not easy when that former partner feels that what happens during visitation is none of the custodial parent’s business. Nor is it any easier to take issue with monetary contribution when the former partner believes the initial settlement for child support should remain the final one. The non-custodial parent is wrong on both counts. Custodial parents have ongoing responsibility for evaluating safety of visitation and for ensuring the child’s adequate support at home.
Custodial parents need to speak up to their ex-spouse about visitation concerns that the child only feels secure voicing at home. “I’m left alone too much. I get frightened about what might happen.” These kinds of statements must be taken seriously. Custodial parents should first listen and then ask the child tospecify what is happening or not happening to cause these feelings.
After telling the child what they are going to do, custodial parents must then inform the non-custodial parent about conduct and circumstances that are causing the child to feel unsafe. These concerns should be expressed in terms of reported behaviors andreported situations that occur. Although the non-custodial parent may respond with information that modifies the child’s report, it is with the child’s feelings that the custodial parent is most concerned.
The custodial parent is not interested in making accusations against the ex-spouse, but is wanting to help make visitation feel as comfortable as possible for the child. To this end, the custodial parent is giving the non-custodial parent information that may be useful in making visitation a more positive experience. The custodial parent needs to send his or her ex-spouse this message: “I want you to know that I value your time with our child and want that time to be beneficial to you both. This is why I am sharing this information with you now.” Approached in this supportive manner, in many cases the non-custodial parent will make modifications that improve the quality of visitation. Of course, what the child reports working well on visitation should also be shared with the non-custodial parent so he or she can be aware of what positive practices to continue.
Where the non-custodial parent reacts in denial about the child’s reported sense of danger, however, stubbornly refusing to admit that visitation is exposing the child to risk of injury, custodial parents may have to take a protective stand by enlisting the help of relevant social authorities. Sometimes just knowing that outside officials have been notified is enough to cause the non-custodial parent to behave more responsibly.
To knowingly place the child in visitation at the effect of neglect, abuse, alcoholic drinking, other substance problems, or recklessness when with the non-custodial parent is irresponsible on the part of the custodial parent. He or she, aware of the dangers, is sending the child in harm's way.
Being asked to raise existing support payments often affronts non-custodial parents. They feel they are already giving enough. Besides, if they raise their contribution, they don’t get any more benefit in return. If remarried, their new spouse may resent this additional drain on resources he or she feels should be devoted to the new family, not the old.
In making this request, the custodial parent is best served by documenting the existing need. Present the following:
1. The schedule of basic expenses required to support the child at the time of divorce.
2. A revision of these expenses based on how they have increased as the child has grown older and inflation has raised the cost of living.
3. An addition of special unanticipated expenses that have arisen since the original settlement.
4. A statement of how the custodial parent has had to spend more on the child too.
A request to raise child support is evidence that the custodial parent also has to contribute more than before. All he or she is really asking is for the ex-spouse to share in this increase.
© Carl Pickhardt Ph.D. 2004. All Rights Reserved.