Jan Faull, MEd, on how to maintain a custody agreement with an uncooperative ex-spouse.
Q. My ex-husband and I have a fairly decent relationship, but he never seems to follow the "rules" of our custody agreement. He's constantly late picking up our 5-year-old son, and he often asks to switch weekends with me. Honestly, most of my problems with him have to do with scheduling, which seems minor in the scheme of things. He is a good and kind father, so I don't want to escalate this into a war. But I really want him to get his act together. What should I do?
A. This situation isn't going to magically improve. It's up to you to take charge of the situation and develop a plan. As you do, proceed with a matter-of-fact, businesslike approach. Your son's father doesn't see the problem. He's functioning under this system quite nicely. He's not going to all of the sudden change unless you take action. He's blindly inconsiderate. Voice your appreciation that he's a good attentive dad while taking a stance by choosing one of the following three options:
Option #1: Roll with It
You can let it go. Accommodate him as best you can. Accept that he'll be late and help your son adjust to this fact. Work his lateness into your planning. You would take this avenue if you fear a war between you by trying to do otherwise.
If you do take this approach, acknowledge it to him, "You know, you're quite often late and typically you're changing our schedule. I've decided that that's okay with me. I can live with it for the sake of our relationship as we parent our son together."
You can even go so far as to call him early on the day when he's supposed to arrive and ask him how late he thinks he's going to be. Additionally, you can call him a month or so in advance and say, "You have our son on the 2nd and 4th weekends, will there be any changes? I need to know now and won't be able to change plans later in the month."
Option #2: Compromise
Negotiate with him by saying, "I recall that in the last month you've been late four times and you've changed our parenting schedule three times. While I want to be flexible, it's difficult for me to plan my life around your tardiness and scheduling changes. What can we do?"
If you can negotiate a more flexible agreement without involving your attorneys, that would be ideal. If you know a neutral third party who can offer balanced and objective guidance as you develop a reasonable solution, invite that person to your parenting negotiation table. Your goal here is to work a reasonable amount of flexibility into your parenting plan.
Option #3: Turn Rigid
If he's not willing to live closer to the terms of the parenting plan, you might need to adhere to a more rigid approach by saying "no" when he requests scheduling changes or leaving your designated meeting place if he's more than 30 minutes late.
If you take this option, you'll probably need to involve your attorney. Your former spouse is supposed to adhere to the legal parenting plan. It might take the legal system imposing rigid rules on him in order for him to change his ways.
While it's difficult to hold exactly to the black-and-white terms of the agreement, the way it's being executed now, you're feeling taken advantage of and that's not a good feeling. Your former husband needs to make his time with his son top priority and he needs to respect your time and schedule. Decide which option will be most effective to reaching your goal and stick with it.
Jan Faull, MEd, is a veteran parent educator and the author of four parenting books, including Darn Good Advice -- Baby and Darn Good Advice -- Parenting. She writes a biweekly parenting advice column for this site and a weekly parenting advice column in the Seattle Times. Jan Faull is the mother of three grown children and lives in the Seattle area.
Originally published on HealthyKids.com, December 2006.