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Keeping Out the Lawyers

Categories: Fighting the Stereotype, Missing Parent


“So - while I’ve got you on the phone I’m hoping we can schedule time to talk about our parenting agreement.”

I hold my breath and look up and wonder who decided that divot-filled, cottage cheese ceilings were mandatory in the 1970’s.

He’s silent and so I cover the air with scrambling, futile attempts to sound sunny.  Instead I sound like someone has grabbed a human-remote and is starting me, pausing me, stalling and punching me.

“I mean, the in-place agreement has changed, since you’ll be moving here, and we should - well, just so we have proper expectations and Nolan has a routine….” I trail off and hate myself for my meekness when I speak to him, for the guilt I still hold for making a necessary move to save my sanity, my good Motherhood.

He sighs: “I don’t want to talk about this right now.”

“Well, when can we? I am just thinking you have him a minimum once a month, on a weekend, we can be flexible with dates but we should set a -”

“I have to go.”

I hang up the phone and blink, angry at my tears, mad at my emotions. He’s certainly not crying over this. Why should I?


Two years ago, there were two lawyers involved in negotiations on the re-mapping of our lives. I paid my ex some money, we both paid our lawyers money, it was a lot of ugliness and back and forth and thousands of dollars that would be so much better spent on our son’s education, sports lessons. In the end, the agreement was signed off by both of us: once a month, he would fly here to see his son, stay at his parents home close by. Once a month, I would fly to bring his son to him, paying for both of us and any incremental hotel costs. It worked for a year, kind of, but now he’s moving here.  I am glad, for my son, but a little alarmed for me. We need to re-negotiate this arrangement, and after more than a year of supporting my son solo, I cannot afford to do it through lawyers.

I know he’d rather leave it up in the air, to just see his son when it was easiest, most convenient. I, however, would like to have set dates, both for our son’s sake and because it’s extraordinarily helpful, mental-health wise, to have a full weekend “off” each month.

I am keeping my fingers crossed that some way, somehow, we can do this without involving lawyers. Any suggestions on how to maintain civility in the re-negotiation of parenting agreements? I’ll write letters or text or do handstands from the ceiling if necessary.

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15 comments so far...

  • seems like you should have a third, uninterested party help draw this up–what about mediation?

    laura  |  October 1st, 2008 at 8:19 am

  • I don’t know, but from what I’ve read so far about your ex, you need a legal agreement. You can write one up without a lawyer, but I’d personally recommend having a lawyer at least look at it.

    I wouldn’t budge one inch on the amount of times he sees your son, nor the regularity of the dates, until he agrees in writing to something fair. “When I wanna” isn’t fair.

    I know you may be tempted to accommodate him for the sake of your son, but in the long run, your son will be hurt if he has to deal with a father who is inconsistent about his responsibilities.

    Good luck!

    SKL  |  October 1st, 2008 at 12:11 pm

  • I would agree you probably need a legal agreement, but my first thought was since it is difficult to communicate with him verbally maybe if you wrote a formal letter to him outlining what works for you first, he could mull it over without hearing your emotion etc. through the phone. My 2 cents.

    Ashley  |  October 1st, 2008 at 12:38 pm

  • I wish I had some advice for you but I really don’t. I agree with SKL though, get it writing, sooner rather than later. Ex and I have been separated for 5 months now and I finally filed the divorce contested today. Like you, I hoped that we could work it out between us, like mature adults, without throwing away a lot of money on lawyers. My ex feels like he should be able to see the kids (or not) whenever he wants to. He keeps saying that he shouldn’t have to make an appointment to see his children, he shouldn’t have to ask my permission, and he shouldn’t have to rearrange his life to make things more convenient for me. On the surface, those things may not be unreasonable, but the way it plays out for us is that he calls me on Saturday afternoon and informs me that he’s on the way to pick the kids up. If I tell him we have plans or we’re not at home, he gets angry and accuses me of not letting him see his kids. Or his newest trick is to call at night and ask to speak to the boys. He’ll tell them that he’s going to get them tomorrow and take them somewhere fun, then ask to talk to me and inform me of the plans. Nevermind whether I already had plans for the kids…he’s promised them now. And he’ll go a few weeks where he sees them every Sunday afternoon then go four or five or six weeks without seeing or talking to them at all. Then he shows up and informs me that he’s on his way to get them again. He insists that he wants visitation every other weekend, the whole weekend, but in more than five months he’s only actually taken them overnight three times.

    It does keep me constantly on edge and keeps the tension high between the two of us because I never know what to expect. I don’t know whether to make plans alone or with the kids or what. When they’re invited to a birthday party I can’t RSVP because I don’t know if he’s going to show up or not. More than that though, it wears on them. I really think that the kids would be ok if they knew that he was going to see them every Sunday afternoon for a few hours or every other weekend for the whole weekend or whatever. If they just knew what to expect. But they don’t. He comes and goes when he feels like it and they can’t get used to any kind of routine. It keeps all of this so fresh and confusing for them too.

    So I’ve finally given up and we’ll do this the ugly expensive way. I’ll be watching for any words of wisdom on how to avoid that but I think for us there is no choice. I hope that you and your ex can work it out without lawyers this time but if you can’t, bite the bullet and get it writing one way or another…for your sake and your son’s. Good luck!

    Barb  |  October 1st, 2008 at 12:40 pm

  • My Dad and stepmom used a mediator…

    You really do need a weekend “off” each month…praying you guys work it out (somewhat) amicably.

    Angella  |  October 1st, 2008 at 2:13 pm

  • Wow, Kristin, another great post! After taking a deep breath (how can he be so damn immature??)… I agree with everyone here: get it on paper ASAP.

    Your readers’ advice about getting a mediator is very right on. Hopefully, he’ll agree to meet with a mediator, clear and simple, without lawyers.

    It seems like your ex has a hard time communicating on the phone? That’s why getting everything down on paper is crucial.

    Map it all out: weekends, holidays, birthdays.

    Many of the divorcing couples I know communicate almost solely by email. They have an online calendar set up. They can go in there to check dates, update. It works.

    You are such a great mama!!

    Single Mom Seeking  |  October 1st, 2008 at 2:46 pm

  • Yes, to the mediator or someone like that. Yes, to getting it on paper. Yes, good for you for trying to work this out and keeping your son’s best interests as your priority.

    And man…”I don’t want to talk about this right now?” WTF!?! Could he be a shittier father? I suppose if he was abusive physically, in addition to psychologically and financially, that would be worse.

    Good luck with this.

    Groovymarlin  |  October 1st, 2008 at 6:47 pm

  • What is the percentage of possibility that he will continue to do as he pleases, despite what any piece of paper says he should/must?

    If you get an agreement on paper, and he violates it, what will you be motivated to do about it?

    What would you actually be able to do about it?

    Try not to enter a contest in which there is no prize.

    Virtual hugs,


    Judie Ashford  |  October 1st, 2008 at 8:10 pm

  • In an effort to be partially fair (keeping in mind this column is only my biased opinion) - my ex moved from the only city he’s ever known - and all his friends - mostly so he could be closer to his son. That effort means a ton, and also makes me think I need to be somewhat patient before pushing any issues (like a parenting schedule) too much.

    Thanks for your comments, as always.

    Kristin D  |  October 2nd, 2008 at 7:56 am

  • Kristin, you know we love you, but with all due respect, I have to say this. That your ex wants to do right by your son should not earn him kudos from you. Has he sent you a card lately thanking you for being there for your son all the time? Would it ever occur to you to “not” be there for your son? So if your ex has a little bit of that in him too, that is only to be expected.

    He still needs to be respectful to you and your son, including respecting your time and your priorities, as I’m sure you do his.

    Spending time with his son is a benefit to him. If it wasn’t, he wouldn’t be moving close by. I thought you also said his folks live nearby. So please don’t start out on the defensive here. I feel if you don’t make it clear up front what your reasonable expectations are, you will be disappointed.

    Well, good luck with whatever you decide.

    SKL  |  October 2nd, 2008 at 8:05 am

  • Invest in some sort of legal agreement, be it via mediator or lawyer. It will pay dividends you cannot even imagine.

    Robyn  |  October 2nd, 2008 at 10:45 am

  • His reactions to your very logical, and reasonable requests, always infuriate me. I do not understand him.

    This is not great advice, but (for US clients) has a lot of documents at the ready, like divorce, etc. But I don’t see anything for custody agreements, which makes me think this is a thing best handled with attorneys.

    So, in the meantime, call him, set a time to have a phone call. Make him commit to something. And then, when that call takes place, with a written list of what you want in front of you, go through it point by point.

    Good luck, lady.

    Tamara  |  October 2nd, 2008 at 4:08 pm

  • It might be easist not to renegotiate the current arrangement, but to just change the language to reflect the change in location. Keep the same schedule, except instead of once a month FLYING somewhere, you are DRIVING your son to his grandparents house.

    SoftwareMom  |  October 2nd, 2008 at 6:47 pm

  • ps. If your ex wants a different schedule than the current arrangement, he should be the one to start the conversation.

    SoftwareMom  |  October 2nd, 2008 at 6:49 pm

  • It’s so frustrating, isn’t it?

    I would just warn you to be careful. You don’t want to mess things up for yourself when you do map things out. I made the mistake of setting everything in stone and then when I actually needed my son’s dad to watch him, his response was, “I’m sorry, but that’s not on the schedule.”

    Erica  |  October 8th, 2008 at 4:05 pm