Like many divorced women, you may be hoping you never have to talk with your ex again after the divorce is finalized. But this just isn't a reality if you have children together. Even if the children are living with you, there is a good chance that you share joint legal custody with your ex. And that means that major decisions about medical, educational, and religious issues will need to be decided together. But what if every decision involves a major battle? If you find yourself dealing with a difficult ex, the following tips can help…
By Brette Sember
Many custody cases end with the parents being given joint decision-making power about their child. This usually makes the non-custodial parent feel better about the split of time and is a way to being the case to a resolution. Joint decision-making usually includes major medical, educational, and religious issues. While the court tells you that you have to make these decisions together, it does not tell you how you're supposed to do this if you can barely speak to each other.
Don't assume that just because you've been at odds with each other because of the divorce that you will be unable to work together as parents. Likewise, don't assume that because you've been able to agree about your child up until this point that this will continue. The divorce changes how you relate to each other, how you feel about each other as parents, and how you interpret each other's signals.
Make an Effort
No matter where you're at with your ex, the first thing you should do is make an effort to honestly work together. Hopefully you won't have any big decisions to make for a while, since you will likely continue on the same path for your child as you have been.
When an issue does come up, whenever that happens (tomorrow or a year from now), handle it as if you are both reasonable people (even if your ex is not and has never been!) and honestly try to reach a consensus. This means discussing the issue, hearing each other, and coming up with a decision that you can both live with.
Ok, so you've tried being a reasonable person and gotten nowhere. Unfortunately, decisions about your child may be the last weapon your ex can wield against you at this point. When your discussion blows up into a fight, revert to the written word.
Pretend you are writing a business memo. Write out an email to your ex laying out the issue at hand and the options. Offer pros and cons of each, include expert advice that you've obtained (from your child's doctor, therapist, teacher - anyone you've consulted) and which pathway seems best to you. Remind your ex that you both want what is best for your child. Ask for an answer by a specific date. Then don't send the email. Save it and come back to it tomorrow. Read it again and make sure it sounds calm and neutral and is not inflammatory. Then hit send.
If your ex does not answer, resend with a neutral note reminding him or her. If your ex responds with angry vitriol that does not move you towards a decision, you can try again, or you can appeal to a family member or friend who can talk to your ex for you. Sometimes an intermediary can help your ex focus on the issue instead of his or her feelings about you.
If your ex simply completely disagrees with your opinion on what to do, it is worth a phone call to try to find common ground. What can you agree on? Crossing some things off the list can bring you closer to a compromise and allow you to focus on in exact issues in dispute (for example, your ex may not have a problem with your child going to mid-week religious education classes at your new church, but may object to your child attending weekly services there if he wants the child to come with him to his church on his weekends). Pull the threads apart and find out what the real problem is. Agreement breeds more agreement, so once you find something you CAN agree on, you'll be more likely to move forward positively.
Getting to a Solution
If this of this gets you nowhere, you have two choices. You can make the decision yourself. If your ex has a problem, you have documentation that you tried to reach a joint decision and could not. If your ex wants to take you to court for failing to work together, he doesn't have much of an excuse, particularly if the decision needed to be made quickly.
Your other option is to get involved with the legal system. You can go to a mediator who can help you work through the issue, or you can call your lawyer. Calling your lawyer doesn't necessarily mean you're heading back to court. Your lawyer can call his lawyer. Often this is enough pressure to move things forward to a resolution. If that doesn't work, you will have to go to court, where more attempts at settlement will happen, resulting in a court decision if you can't agree. No one wants to go back to court, but often it's just easier than going back and forth on something you will never agree about.