Co-parenting after divorce is difficult. There's no two ways about it. If you couldn't make the partnership work before the divorce, chances are there are irreconcilable differences in your parenting styles as well. It's just a fact.
Some people have it easier than others. If both parents are willing to put their differences aside for the sake of the children, you may be able to make it work. If one parent distances themselves from the relationship, and limits the amount of time they see the children, it can also work. But in this world where courts are working more and more in favour of both parents parenting 50% of the time, co-parenting cooperatively becomes more and more of an issue.
And where one of the partners is just diametrically opposed to working with the other parent, it's practically impossible.
Unfortunately, I think I may fall into the latter category.
We tried various different ways of parenting throughout the "divorce" period. At first, I tried to work together with my ex, allowing him to come shopping with us, go on walks, even allowing him in my home for Christmas with our son. The end result unfortunately was that he got the impression that I was interested in a reconciliation. I was not. I just wanted to ensure that he was capable and competent enough to care for our then 2 1/2 year old and our new infant daughter.
As the divorce progressed, it began to get nasty. I left the marital home. At the time, it was the best move for me - it made the split more real for both of us. It allowed me to begin to put myself back together after years and years of emotional abuse. It allowed me to parent my children with a little bit of sanity. But it cause more problems - my ex held on to the house as long as he possibly could - because letting go meant admitting defeat.
So in the midst of this, we ended up at our next step. Parenting through our lawyers. For anyone considering divorce - I definitely don't recommend this. It was expensive. It was stressful. And most of all, it caused us both to push so hard back against the other that anything that was decided was so emotionally charged that it generally didn't stick.
It was around this time that I figured out that speaking to my ex only allowed him to continue the emotional abuse that I'd left to get away from. So we stopped talking, except through and with our lawyers. All communication related to the children was passed back and forth with a "communication book" containing essential information about the children only. My children were too small - and I didn't want them involved in sending the messages back and forth. But there was essential information that needed to get across.
My ex lost the book about once a week. So I kept trying - sending notes about what the children were wearing that I expected returned, what medical information he needed to know for their care. And if I didn't get information back, I didn't stress about it. I'd just send a new book next time.
The communication book was a life saver. It allowed me to communicate without emotion the essential things that he needed to know. If he absorbed it, he did, and if not (which was often the case), I tried to let it go.
As the property split was completed and the custody arrangements were solidified, things began to get a little easier. But a transition was necessary. The custody schedule as we'd arranged it was not working. It resulted in too many transitions for the children, and too many opportunities as a result for their parents to have a tense exchange.
So we tried mediation. Only mediation. This was a mistake. There were several compromises I was willing to make, but my ex was not willing to make any compromises - even when they made common sense and were in the children's best interest.
Unfortunately the mediator was unprepared. She'd had a very extensive career, and came to us highly recommended, but I don't think she had ever worked with such a high conflict situation. She didn't have the tools needed to deal with our problems. We attended two sessions. At the first, we came to a schedule that worked with his work schedule and would allow the children an adequate amount of time in each of our homes. But my ex had a number in his head. A percentage. And if the custody arrangement didn't meet this percentage (whether or not his schedule could accommodate it), he would not agree. At the end of the session however, we agreed that he would speak to his attorney, review what we'd looked at and have another session. It became clear in the intervening period that he hadn't reconsidered the schedule or talked to his attorney - and I warned the mediator going into the second session that I didn't think it was going to work. And sure enough, we got into the next session, he said as much. We were in the office for about 15 minutes - decided to agree to disagree and left without any much needed changes to the schedule.
Then came the fun part. My ex had his lawyer draft a letter suggesting that his schedule had changed. It was suggested that his employer had accommodated him so he could work a different shift schedule that would accommodate the percentage that he had in mind. We worked out a reasonable custody schedule based on that shift schedule and moved on.
Except I discovered a few months later that he'd lied. He made it all up. He'd even provided a doctored shift schedule to his lawyer to convince her it was true. The children were technically in his custody over 40% of the time, but he had alternate caregivers talking care of the children about 50% of that time.
The situation was difficult, but not completely untenable. As the children were with his mother most of the time, they were actually getting good home cooked meals and getting to bed on time. We continued to have very tense exchanges, but on the whole, it worked for me for a while. It took some of the stress out of the situation - for me at least. I don't know how my ex did it. It must have been very difficult for him to continue the subterfuge - because I didn't let on specifically that I knew. And he did miss out on a lot of things that he could have been doing with the kids because he was working.
But then we hit another transition. My son was starting school. I moved to a different town. And suddenly, the lie was a little more difficult for him to live up to. And a lot more difficult for me to deal with. We went back and forth with the lawyers again, but it was time consuming, expensive, and to no good end. So we discussed mediation with an arbitration component. We went back and forth on the mediator/arbitrator - and ultimately were able to choose one about half way through the school year.
In our first two meetings with the mediator/arbitrator/parenting coordinator, we settled some of the niggling little problems by mediation. Then we tackled the big one. The schedule. We didn't even bother trying to mediate. We'd both gone back and forth so often (and believe it or not, he was trying to keep up the suggestion of the "new" shift schedule even to the mediator), that we both knew that we wouldn't be able to agree. So we went directly to arbitration.
My chief complaints? First and foremost that he continued to lie about exactly what shift he was on and that I wouldn't accept without proof from his employer. Second, that the schedule continued to have the children passed from pillar to post with no good idea where they were going to be the next day. Third, that the schedule as it stood continued to present an issue as it resulted in too many tense exchanges between their parents that the children really didn't need to see.
His prime objective? To achieve a percentage.
And to my surprise, the mediator was able to find a solution. Was it the solution I wanted? Well, she actually ended up pushing his custody up to 50%, which I had a little trouble accepting. But, she ensured that he'd told the truth about his schedule. She made a schedule that was easy even for the children to understand. And she eliminated the tense exchanges almost entirely - custody changed on school days at 8:15 in the morning. The other parent would pick up the child after school - without us even having to lay eyes on each other.
So that part - the arbitration - worked.
We continued to use her services for parenting coordination. One mistake, I think, was agreeing to pay her $25 for each e-mail that we sent either to her or to each other copying her or she sent to us. This was part of the parenting coordination service. It was supposed to help us to resolve small arguments outside of our meetings, and she was going to give us tips on how we might be communicating improperly, which my ex sorely needed.
To some extent, for my purposes, it worked. Before each meeting I'd send her an agenda of the items I wished to discuss. This helped keep us on track and keep our meetings short and sweet. If I was having a problem getting him to live up to an agreement, I could e-mail her for clarification and she'd e-mail back with what we'd agreed.
But my ex didn't use it the same way. He'd e-mail her when he'd forgotten what he agreed to, insisting that we rehash something we'd already discussed and made a final agreement on. Like the daycare we'd agreed for our daughter in April. She'd gone the previous year, and we agreed that it was important for her to have some stability and the additional learning and social opportunities would be beneficial. Until August, when he e-mailed the parenting coordinator and suggested that since I was on maternity leave, we should take her out. When we'd already signed a contract. And really, the first e-mail was ok. I just responded that we'd agreed that it was important for her, that we'd already signed the contract, that we'd already paid for the first month, and reiterated again - that we'd already agreed. That should have been end of it. Only $75 between the e-mails from him, from the parenting coordinator, and then from me. Then he sent 2 more e-mails. Just to the mediator. Who again parroted what I said. Two more times. $100 more dollars. Of which I was responsible for half. And really, if that was the only time, I could have overlooked it. But there were more times. To a tune of $800. Of which I was responsible for half. And that was just for the last bill that covered an 8 month period of the two years we saw her.
Another issue was his inability to retain what we'd agreed to. Each meeting as I sent the agenda to the mediator, at least 1/2 of the items had been covered before but continued to be at issue.
And then there was the outright lying. We agreed that the children's bed time would be between 8-8:30. We went over with the parenting coordinator what the consequences of a late bed time were for our elementary school children. Difficulties concentrating. Poor school performance. Exhaustion. And each time he'd say - yes - the children are in bed by 8:30 every night at my house. And yet they'd come home to mine absolutely exhausted. Daddy doesn't have a clock. We watched all three Indiana Jones movies after school and dinner. And the black circles under their eyes. Falling asleep after they came home from school. Difficulty concentrating. And to my poor learning disabled son - this is a real problem.
Somehow he couldn't understand why I couldn't trust him on this. Even though he'd been shown to have lied on the shift schedule. For a year and a half.
And yet I was supposed to swallow - "Yes, in bed by 8:30. Every night." He even smiled as he said it.
And that is just one example. There were other things. Maybe little things, but other things. I can't visit my sister who lives just two hours away because it means crossing the boarder. After two trips further abroad that had each cost me $1000 more than I'd expected due to legal costs, I'd hoped to get him to sign off and let me leave for a long weekend without having to get written permission from him. No game. I told him I'd let him know each time I was going and provide contact details - but I didn't want to spend the money each time. He had to put out the same amount of money (if not more for his Bay Street lawyer) before. And it wasn't even his trip. But no game. As if since I hadn't run away with them by that point, I would suddenly get the financial wherewithal and emotional steeliness to leave my home, my community and my job.
I wanted to register the children in shared activities. As they were in my house on the same day only once every two weeks, it was impossible to register them if they'd only be attending on my days. But he made that impossible too.
And vacations - well that just got stupid.
And so, when I thought we'd come to the end of the usefulness of our meetings. When the only things that I had to bring back were things we'd already covered, time and again, I said enough.
Because there really is nothing I can do about it. We can pay money and discuss again and again - but it's not going to change.
And surprisingly - his behaviour started to change. I don't know if it was because someone explained to him my letter to the mediator and explained that if he'd agreed to things perhaps he should stick to his agreements. Or perhaps it was the idea that he'd have to start paying his lawyer again. I don't know. So far the changes have been small. He's been more efficient at his e-mail communications - using the format we agreed with the mediator. He hasn't been baiting me as often - keeping communications short and to the point. Of course, it's only been a month. And he's slipped a couple of times already. But we'll see.
So was it worth the $12,000 over two years? Probably even a quarter of that, but it did accomplish something. Will I consider going back if we come across one of the "bigger" problems? Yes. I'd be foolish not to. For one thing - it's still a heck of a lot cheaper than lawyers. Just for one meeting and minutes though - no e-mails. And only for the problem we need to discuss. Would I recommend mediation/arbitration and parenting co-ordination to others? I have and will continue to. I think it can be a very effective tool. Especially if you have two partners who are committed to doing the best for their children. Even if it wasn't 100% effective in my case.
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