Dear Dr. Jann: My ex-husband and I have shared 50/50 custody with our 5-year-old daughter since she was 2-years-old. Last year we signed an agreement that became our current court order. It stated our daughter will go to kindergarten in my area and live with me during weekdays and him on weekends–just for the duration of the school year. The Summer schedule is different. This seemed like the best solution since he recently moved over an hour away. The problem is he has now changed his mind and doesn’t want to honor the agreed upon court order. How do I handle this? What’s good ex-etiquette?

Dr. Jann: Good ex-etiquette begins with “Putting the child first.” (Ex-etiquette for Parents rule #1) and that suggests a frank conversation using your child’s best interest as the catalyst for any decision.

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It sounds as if you’re saying that dad agreed to one parenting plan, but has recently changed his mind and wants to continue to share your child’s time equally during the week and drive her to school on his days with her. If this is so, it’s time for Dad to take a closer look at what he’s proposing.  What worked for a two-year-old often does not work as a child grows older.

Kindergarten is every day and rarely a full day–so there will be daily child care to consider if mom can’t step in to pick the child up after school during the child’s time with dad. Plus, if dad takes her to school from his home the child will have to wake up an hour earlier and be transported in the car for at least an hour each way. That’s not in the best interest of the child.  It’s in the best interest of the parent who moved after the divorce.

So, what’s the most practical solution? If you’re looking to make this child’s life stress-free, move closer to one another.  50/50 custody is difficult enough on both child and parent than to add distance to the mix.

But, the logistics of living an hour away from your child’s other parent can get really complicated.  The kids resent the time spent in the car, make friends and participate in after school activities an hour away, and with time may balk when it’s time to go to the other parent’s home.  I’m not suggesting you live down the street from each other, even though I did live down the street from my husband’s ex for that very reason, but living in the same school district will allow both parents to support the child’s school work and extracurricular activities without putting undue pressure on the child.

Living close to your ex is when good ex-etiquette really comes into play. It allows both parents to be at Back to School Night or their child’s soccer games, but you may also frequent the same hot spots. Your life will be right out there in the open and ex-emotions can run high.

That’s when Ex-etiquette for Parents rule #1 becomes your mental mantra.  Say it with me. “Put the kids first… put the kids first.” Make their needs bigger than yourself. It’s the only solution that works—and that’s good ex-etiquette.

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About Jann Blackstone

Jann BlackstoneDr. Jann Blackstone specializes in divorce, child custody, co-parenting, and stepfamily mediation and is often called the “Relationship Expert for Today’s Relationships” because of her “real life, down-to-earth” approach to relationship problem solving. She is the author of six books on divorce and parenting, the most popular, the Ex-etiquette series featuring Ex-etiquette for Parents: Good Behavior After Divorce or Separation. She is also the author of the Ex-etiquette syndicated column and a frequent guest or consultant on television and radio talk shows, including Good Morning America (ABC), The Today Show (NBC), Keeping Kids Healthy (PBS), the Early Show (CBS), and The Oprah Winfrey Show. She has been the featured expert in many magazines, including, Child, Parents, Parenting, Newsweek, Family Circle, More, Good Housekeeping, Redbook, BRIDES, Woman’s Day, and Working Mother Magazine.

In 1999, Dr. Jann founded and became the first Director of Bonus Families®, a 501 (c) (3) non-profit organization working to change the way society views stepfamilies by supplying up-to-date co-parenting information via its Web site, counseling, mediation, and a worldwide support group network. They prefer to use the word “bonus” to the word step. Step implies negative things; however, a “bonus” is a reward for a job well done. “Bonus…a step in the right direction.”