The experienced BC Family Lawyers at MacLean Law know that one of the hardest parts of splitting up is splitting the time that each of you get with your children. As you read this, the child custody issue may already have “blown up” between you and your ex. They already may have threatened to fight you for custody. Or maybe you are the one who wants to have the children most of the time. In many instances, there is no positive communication left so that you have no idea your spouse’s intentions. Everything seems ok now, but will they be dragging you into court when you least expect it?
Regardless, Senior Family Lawyer Tal Wolf advises that you set these rules for yourself:
Child Custody Tip #1: Stick to the visitation schedule
1. Whether it’s a temporary order while your divorce is pending, or a final order, stick to the visitation schedule in your written parenting plan or court order. If it’s your day or your weekend with the children, don’t be the guy who messages your ex and cancels on your kids. If they are priority, show it! Keep a detailed log or journal of all parenting time. On the flip-side, if the kids live with you primarily, you should diarize when your ex picks them up and drops them off. It may be difficult or even impossible to recreate the parenting time tally 6, 12 or even 24 months after-the-fact.
Child Custody Tip #2: Be active
2. Be active in your children’s lives! Attending parent-teacher conferences, soccer practice, dance and violin classes, karate sessions. Show up to all of the events put on by the school. If you can fit it into your schedule, volunteer in your child’s classroom, and become a coach on their favourite sports team.
Child Custody Tip #3: Be flexible
3. If your child “begs” you to let them go to the amusement park, the beach, to a friend’s birthday party, or a camping trip with their friends on your parenting “day”, be that parent who lets them go. This makes your child happy, and it shows that you are willing to put their interests ahead of yours. Of course, you should also diarize the event, with an explanation for why you decided to let your child have their way on the particular occasion. As kids get older, this type of flexibility becomes even more important.
Child Custody Tip #4: Help your ex
4. If your ex needs your help watching the children because they have to work, or for a job interview, or to care for an ill family member is ill, don’t hesitate to take the children off their hands. This is not an inconvenience; this is an added bonus that gives you more time with your children. And if you want to really impress, you might even offer your ex some reasonable make-up time to show that you value their relationship and time with the children along with your own.
Child Custody Tip #5: Don’t badmouth your ex
5. No matter how you feel about your ex, don’t “badmouth” them to your child. By the way, this also means you avoid doing it within your kids’ earshot! To them it’s all the same. Just let your kids be kids and allow them to enjoy their innocence. If your husband ran off with the babysitter, or if your wife developed an alcohol problem, don’t bring it up in the presence of your children, especially if they’re too young to understand what’s happening. Of course, you need to consider your children’s ages. Even if you have teenagers, there’s probably plenty of details you can spare them so they can worry less and enjoy their teen years more.
There are other rules to live by when you are in an actual or potential custody dispute, to be highlighted in upcoming blogs. For now, following these suggestions will get you well on your way both to improving your post-separation dynamic with your ex, and with your children to boot.
Remember, the BC Court of Appeals (Nunweiler v. Nunweiler, 2000 BCCA 300) ruled long ago that there is no presumption that the status quo, or the current state of things, is necessarily the preferred position once your case is heard. So don’t get too comfortable. When it comes to parenting put your best foot forward regardless of your ex, and make sure to document things as you go along.