You’ve weathered divorce season, and you’re readjusting to a single life completely different than you knew it before. Instead of the carefree lifestyle you remember when your only responsibilities were to yourself, you’ve now got little people to worry about, an ex you can’t write completely out of your life since they are the other parent of said little people, and an entirely new set of financial considerations as you exchange money with that ex for those little people. After you’ve had to make grand, exhausting decisions about stuff like custody and residence and tax filings, nothing seems more appealing than simply getting on with this new reality of being a newly divorced parent.
But have you thought about the little things?
Every divorce is the product of conflict. To what degree will vary greatly, as will the ability of the parents to come to reasonable solutions. My own divorce could not have been more amicable: I drew up and filed the papers myself, getting it done for a couple hundred dollars, and celebrating the finalized decree by going for a drink with my ex-husband. For the sake of our own sanity and the well-being of our daughter, we were committed to keeping things civil.
With apologies to Robert Burns, the best laid plans of mice, men, and divorced parents often go askew. For all our confidence that we could co-parent without conflict as newly divorced parents, we soon discovered that the smallest disputes led to the biggest arguments. Hubris, it seemed, preyed upon our best intentions.
Take my daughter’s school as an example. Under our agreement, I paid tuition and dropped her off in the morning while my ex-husband picked her up at the end of the day. If she wasn’t picked up by 6 p.m., the school tacked on a $5 penalty. If she wasn’t picked up by 6:15, it was $5 per additional minute. As the parent who got the bills from the school, imagine my surprise when I’d see a slew of extra charges for all those times dad was running late.
Maybe it was an extra $15 in October or $50 in March. Instead of just paying for my daughter’s education, I had to weigh whether it was worth a potentially bothersome process of collecting sometimes piddling amounts from my ex or if I should just pay up to avoid the headache of dealing with him (while reserving the right to privately seethe). In the big scheme of things, it might have been nickel and dime stuff, but it was still charges attached to my name for his actions—I’d thought the divorce ended that problem for me.
The problem was we didn’t have a clear designation of how we’d handle things that didn’t fall neatly into categories like monthly support payments or visitation schedules, the usual considerations that get put into a child support order. For example, we knew that we’d trade off the cost of getting our daughter new eyeglasses each year. What we didn’t account for was what would happen if our daughter lost or broke her glasses. Who’d pay to replace them? The parent who had custody at the time? The parent who was due to buy the next annual pair? Should we be obligated to share the expense?
Similar considerations can be applied to any number of seemingly minor things that could easily transform molehills into mountains. How will holidays, vacations, and family gatherings get allocated? Do the parents need to agree on the cost and time commitment of extracurricular activities? If the parents are of different faiths or even different churches, how do they share spiritual ‘custody’ of the children? Are disciplinary practices going to be mirrored? Will one parent’s punishment get enforced by the other? Will both parents have consistent bedtimes and meal routines?
The fact is we all have sore spots, seemingly trivial things that get under our skin and find their way out in fits of frustration. For me, it was constantly dealing with getting reimbursed for minor expenses here and there that really added up. While I wouldn’t recommend every newly divorced parent follow my lead and start a company to address the problem, it’s worth taking some time to think about the little things you know set you and your ex off and finding a way to manage the issues with cooler heads.