Q. My ex and I have two children under 3. She now lives an hour and a half away from me. It was a difficult breakup, and there’s a restraining order against me that lists the kids. I have high blood pressure, and I also had a stroke right around the time she left. Rehabilitation was difficult, but I’m back driving now and working as a teacher full-time. I haven’t seen my kids since March because of the rehabilitation, and I now want them to live with me half the time. My ex is fighting me on it. I think she thinks I’m disabled because my speech is a little slower. What’s good ex-etiquette?
A. There are some red flags here that you aren’t really addressing. You said you haven’t seen your kids because of your rehab, but there’s also the restraining order in place with the kids listed as protected parties. This indicates that you and your ex had problems prior to your stroke. As a matter of fact, those “problems” may have increased your chances of having that stroke. Even so, people with disabilities share custody all the time. That’s not a reason to not consider an equally shared parenting plan. The two biggest red flags? The distance between homes and your domestic violence background. When you live more than 50 miles from each other and you work Monday through Friday, it’s difficult to share the children’s time equally because of the transportation component. Plus, before any time with the children can be ordered, they must be removed from the restraining order. (A restraining order could also affect your employment as a teacher.)
There are different parenting plans that might work for your family, some incorporating both overnights and dinner visits, but they are not based on an equal time share during the week because of the distance between parents’ homes. Teaching school enables you to have lots of vacation time: Spring break, Christmas break and (in some cases) a long summer vacation – that’s where you can pick up more time with the kids, and you won’t have to arrange for childcare if you’re not working.
Finally, there is more here than simply, “What’s good ex-etiquette?” The 10 rules of good ex-etiquette for parents were designed to help divorced parents problem-solve in the best interests of their children. They start with Rule No. 1, “Put your children first,” and also prompt parents not to badmouth each other (Rule No. 3) or hold grudges (Rule No. 5). There are 10 rules in all, and they are heavy on honesty and positive communication. Normally, I would suggest an honest conversation with mom using the kids’ best interests as criteria for all decisions.
However, I’m hesitant to suggest a face-to-face heart-to heart when there is a restraining order in place. You aren’t supposed to talk to each other unless the order has been adjusted to allow you to discuss the children. And if you were found guilty of domestic violence, there could be laws in your state preventing joint custody until you finish various classes required by the court. That’s why, in your case, I would suggest you consult an attorney before you go any further. That’s good ex-etiquette.