You would think that this is stating the obvious, but when it comes to a couple who are transitioning from living and acting as a married couple to being detached from one another legally (and in every other way), it can be a very difficult thing to accept. In fact, it is downright painful and, at times, worse than being married.
When you are married there is an expectation that the parties will let each other know where they are going to be, if they will be coming home for dinner, working late, what they may be doing if their spouse is not with them and, yes, who they may be spending that time away from home with. Some may view this as having to “report” their comings and goings, but I view this as common courtesy and respect for the other party. You would tell your roommate if you weren’t going to be home for dinner, so why not your spouse? It is also being open and accountable to your partner and true to the marital commitment you made to each other.
Where is the Off Switch?
There has to be a balance. Too much (making one party feel like they’re accounting to a probation officer) or too little (breeding suspicion and a feeling you are hiding something) communication are common reasons for marital breakdowns. That behavior does not, by some miracle, stop just because the parties have decided to divorce. There is no “off” switch.
That becomes a BIG problem when people are in the process of negotiating their settlement terms, or are now co-parenting their children post-divorce, and one or both parties continue to expect the same level of accountability or expect the other to “fill in” last minute as they had before. As a mediator to divorcing couples, I coach parties about letting go of their “married status,” not just in name but in the way they conduct themselves. You are now a single person or single parent. The right to know or the need to know is no longer applicable unless it relates to the children.
Does This Sound Like You?
In one of my cases, the ex-wife claimed a need to know where her former husband was at all times – who he was with, where he was staying if out of town (whether on business or leisure) – just in case there was an emergency with the children (including on her custodial days). She expected him to provide her with notice if his plans changed and to call her to communicate that change immediately (again, including on her custodial days). I make this distinction because non-custodial parents of minor children have the right to know where their children are and who they are with. The non-custodial parent has the right to know that the children are safe, and the right to reasonable access if the non-custodial parent or children wish to communicate with each other when they are not together.
As a non-custodial parent, the kids are NOT with you. Parents in shared custody arrangements, as in this client’s case, arrange their work and leisure commitments so that they fall on non-custodial days – and as such they can work later or take time for themselves with friends or new partners. What they do on those days typically has no bearing on the well-being of the children and as a result is really none of the business of the former spouse.
But What About Emergencies?
All of the parenting plans I help parents create have explicit communication protocols established between the parties that govern communications for day to day decision making, during vacations or absences with the children, or even longer absences of one parent when the children are not with them. Those protocols include: the method of communication depending on the purpose, response time, planned communication intervals for certain decisions, ensuring parties have current contact information (including employers), and how to escalate the urgency of contact during emergencies. In today’s world of technology, folks are readily accessible. Unless you are climbing Everest and cell reception or satellite phones are not working, you can usually be reached within 24 hours, God forbid there is an emergency or a life and death decision concerning a child. To anticipate this, I have parents work out a “Plan B” for someone to cover for the custodial parent in case the other parent cannot be reached and a child needs critical medical attention. The parents agree that the custodial parent will make the decision on behalf of both parents if the other can not be reached to participate in the decision.
Time to Let Go
You are stuck in the past if you are still behaving like my client. I know it is difficult to let go, especially when it has been a long term marriage or relationship, and the hurt, anger, and maybe some ego runs deep. Believe me, I’ve been there. As humans, we are creatures of habit and we keep doing what we know. But for you, your spouse, and your children to be able to move on and be free to heal, you have to come to terms with letting go and making peace with it and focus on what you really need to know and do.
Written by Mary Krauel, CPA, CA, EMBA, CDFA, owner and senior negotiator of PRM Mediation.