by Brette McWhorter Sember
The new year is a time when you may feel inspired to start a diet, begin exercising, take control of your finances, or organize your closets. It's also a good time to have a "re-do" on your relationship with your ex.
Take some time to think about your parenting plan, how you relate to each other, and your financial arrangements. Instead of just putting up with things as they are, isolate the problems, the kinks, and the annoyances in your situation. Make a list of what is wrong, what needs to change, and what can be improved upon.
If you confront your ex with your list, it will simply be a list of complaints, yet another clash between the two of you. If, however, you go through your list and think of possible solutions or alternatives to the problems, you'll instead be inviting discussion and cooperation. Try to come up with solutions that benefit everyone if possible.
If you're feeling that the visitation that happens every weekend from Saturday afternoon to Sunday afternoon is too much, since you never get solid weekend time with your child, you could propose that instead your ex have your child every other weekend from Friday afternoon to Sunday afternoon. He'll get a longer period of time, which may make it easier for him and your child to settle in together, and you'll get two completely free weekends a month, as well as two full weekends with your child. Everyone wins.
Another example involves child support. In these tough economic times, child support is more important than ever for you to receive, but may be harder than ever for him to pay. There are some creative solutions to consider. One way to make child support easier for him to swallow is to arrange for him to directly pay for certain things. For example, instead of paying you $100 in cash, have him instead pay for that month's tae kwon do bill for your son. One big problem with child support is that fathers often don't feel as though it is actually benefiting their children.
A third example involves a common problem – communication. So many divorced parents have a difficult time talking to each other about even the smallest things. Often bitterness from the divorce has lingered. In other cases, the parents become very distant from each other since they never really interact and they come to assume the worst about each other. If you're in this kind of situation, asking your ex to call a truce can help you get on more civil footing. Say that you plan to respect him and be civil and you hope maybe he can do the same.
Once you have some problems and possible solutions, present them to your ex in the right way. Don't tell him, "this is what we're doing from now on." Get him involved in the process. Ask for his input. Maybe he has some other solutions to the problems you have isolated. He may also have some other problems he wants to put on the table. Be clear that you are trying to improve things.
The new year is also a good time to sit down together and look at the year ahead and make some plans. Maybe you know you want to take your child to visit relatives in July or perhaps he knows he will be traveling for business in March. Talk about arrangements for these situations. You should also discuss how your child is doing. Maybe your son is interested in baseball, so signing up for Little League may be the way to go. Hiring a tutor might be something to consider if your child is struggling in math. Perhaps your daughter is ready to think about college – talk about who will take her on college visits and how you can both manage the costs of education. In short, take some time to think about and talk about your child together in a cooperative manner. It can help set the tone for the entire year.
Brette McWhorter Sember is a retired family attorney and mediator and nationally known expert about divorce and parenting after divorce. She is the author of:
• "The Divorce Organizer & Planner"
• "The Complete Divorce Handbook: A Practical Guide"
• "How to Parent with Your Ex: Working Together for Your Child's Best Interest"
• "No-Fight Divorce: Spend Less Money, Save Time, and Avoid Conflict Using Mediation"