Dear. Dr. Jann: For four years my husband and I have struggled with other parent to coParent. We cannot force her. She refuses to cooperate in any way, unless it’s convenient to her. We are a family of six, with two being my step kids. We have no money for a lawyer but are saving towards one. You would think with time things would get easier, but they are only getting worse. Please Help! 

By the way, I failed to mentioned that even though there has been a court order intact for years, she still violates it numerous times a week and does what she wants regarding exchanges, medical, etc.

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Dr. Jann: Of course, this can be very frustrating, particularly if you are trying to follow the letter of the order and your ex doesn’t care. From a legal point of view, the best thing you can do is have an order that is “enforceable.” That way if your ex doesn’t follow it, you can call on the police for assistance.

If your order states things like, “holidays will be shared by mutual agreement,” it’s not enforceable. The police can’t look at an order and decide with whom the children should spend the holiday. “Alternating weekends” isn’t really enforceable. If the order is written in 2012, for example, how will police figure out who has the current weekend? They will not refer to four years of calendars and count every other weekend.

When parents don’t get along, it’s best to number the weekends. If you get the first, third, and fifth weekends of each month there is no argument as to what weekend is assigned to you and police can help you enforce it.

You mentioned your ex does not cooperate with exchanges. Most exchanges list “receiving parent” as responsible for transportation. This means the parent who is “receiving” the children is responsible for picking them up.  Enforceable exchanges would list a specific location to exchange the children. For example, “from school.” Other things that may help to enforce an order is to include that if a parent is 15-30 minutes late for an exchange, visitation is cancelled until the next time. This is usually put in place if a parent often “no-shows” and forces the receiving parent to wait. It would also require an exchange at a place where you could get a receipt proving you were on time. If mom is late or doesn’t show up with the kids, the receipt is time stamped and you have proof you were there. Although drastic, if you then call the police, they may accompany you to pick up the children.

In terms of medical requirements, I think you are probably saying mom brings the kids to the doctor without consulting you.  Find out the name of the doctor, dentist, or mental health professional and ask them to also give you a reminder call if the child is scheduled to see them. Follow up directly with the school or professionals seeing your child and don’t wait for mom to give you information.  It sounds like you will be waiting for a long time.

If parents cannot agree and are constantly arguing, the court may intercede. Courts make primary custody decisions based on “the parent who is most likely to share.”  If you are documenting that mom is frustrating visits, you have proof that she is not the most likely to share. The court may deem that her having primary custody may not be in the children’s best interest.

Finally, sometimes divorced parents must be reminded that their kids have two parents and deserve a relationship with both of them. A coParenting class to offer tools to help you parent your children now that you are no longer together may be in order.

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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.”