Splitsville: Always Be Prepared To Go Back To Family Court
Welcome to Splitsville. This weekly column will focus on parenting after a divorce, break-up or one-night stand that didn’t end like a Katherine Heigl movie.
My daughter’s father and I never went to court for an official ruling on custody agreements. It was a personal choice we made and it’s resulted in a system where he can choose how involved he is in his daughter’s life. This system obviously wouldn’t work for everyone, but it’s the one we chose.
That being said, I did choose to speak with a family law attorney, simply to make sure that my daughter and I would be protected if her father decided to change our agreement later. I wanted to make sure that I wasn’t going to be in trouble in the future if he changed his mind about wanted some form of custody. The lawyer gave me one very firm piece of advice, “Record everything.”
After four years of separated parenting, I have to admit that I still keep a record of everything that happens between my ex and myself. I mark down in my day planner every time my daughter sees her dad. I make a record of any child support payments I receive, though this is pretty straight forward because I keep them in a separate savings account for my daughter’s college education. And if we get into an argument, I print out the records from my cell phone text messages and keep it all in a file. I rationalize the whole thing with a “Just in case…” mentality that excuses my obsessive record-keeping as simply following our attorney’s advice.
Recently, I was talking about my little file with another separated mother. She too had received advice to keep detailed records of interactions, visitations and money received. She too had a file thick with calendars and conversation records. For years, she’s been silently preparing, just in case she ever needs to defend herself in court.
The further into separated parenting I get, the more I wonder if we ever stop worrying about the stability of our family arrangement. After four years, you would assume that my daughter’s father would have made his move if he was really planning to sweep in and demand joint custody of our little girl. And after four years of visiting once a month, would a judge really let him switch things up now?
Yet, that lawyer’s warning hangs in the back of my mind. “Record everything,” just in case you need to defend yourself and your parenting. It’s like preparing for a parenting audit that might come at any time. Maybe it won’t matter that my daughter is happy, healthy and succeeding in school. I still might have to prove that I’m doing everything possible and deserve to retain primary custody of my little girl.
Even as I admit to my obsessive records, I wonder if I’m not dooming myself to a contentious relationship with my daughter’s father. By compiling evidence, am I tempting him to challenge me? Am I setting up a difficult confrontation that might never happen if I was simply accepting our situation and working to make it as functional and honest as possible?
It feels dishonest and petty to note down every time my daughter spends an evening with her father. I know that he has a difficult schedule to contend with and that my daughter cherishes that time together. Do I need to make a note of it in my trusty Day-At-A-Glance? By preparing for an eventual return to family court, I’m worried that I’m dooming my daughter and myself to that fate. At the same time, if his circumstances change and he chooses to change our current agreement, I would hate to be unprepared.
What do you think? Should parents always be prepared to defend themselves their custody arrangements? Do you keep records just in case you have to make a trip back to mediation?