Friends and Parenting Time

Photo credit: VladoFriendships are an important part of life for kids, but making time for friends can become complicated when your child has divorced parents.  Striking a balance between family and friends is difficult but possible.

Welcome Friends

Let your child know that you respect his or her friendships.  Welcome friends into your home, within reason.  Children need to spend time with friends out of school and if you stand in the way, you’ll face a lot of resentment which will likely get worse as your child gets older.  Talk about friends with your child and make it clear that seeing them is something you want your child to do.  View friends as a wonderful part of your child’s life, and not as something that takes time away from you.

Set Priorities

If you and your ex alternate weekends, it can be hard to give up a whole afternoon to a play date – whether at your home or at the friend’s home.  But it is possible to have quality time with your child while allowing him play dates.  Make it a rule that play dates are fine, say, on Saturdays from noon to four, or any other day and time that is convenient for you.  Also make it clear that there must be time during the weekend for family and that while a sleepover once in a while is fine, every weekend is a bit much.

Discuss Plans with Your Ex

You and your ex should talk about how important it is to your child to see friends.  Your child may want to invite friends over for play dates or sleepovers at the non-custodial parent’s house.  Kids like to have their friends see both of their homes and parents.  Again, the non-custodial parent should set boundaries and schedule things so that there is adequate family time, but also room for friends.

Prepare for Occasions

Expect that your child will be invited to birthday parties and other events, and that these may not fit easily into your parenting plan.  You’ll need to weigh each invitation and talk to your child about them.  Most of the time, kids will want to go, but sometimes they don’t, so it’s always best to ask.  Try to make it possible for your child to attend parties he is interested in.  Your child is sure to miserable if she is the only one in the class who couldn’t go to the pool party.  You and your ex may want to have an arrangement that whichever parent is scheduled for the time of a party is the one to decide if the child is going and to provide transportation.

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Kids Who Are Unhappy About Visitation

It’s something I heard time and time again from custodial parents who were back in family court for modification of their custody orders. “My son hates going on visitation. He gets upset days in advance. Sometimes I have to force him to go. I think we need to stop visitation.” This is a very common scenario and if your child has never once complained about going on scheduled visitation, then you are in a rare minority.

 

What Kids Really Hate

Most kids don’t hate the other parent. They hate the upheaval in their lives and they express it by complaining about going on visitation. At times they make it sound like the other parent is what they don’t like. “Dad ignores me. His house is boring.” “Mom makes me go to bed early. I hate it there.” Again, what the child is reacting to is the situation. Kids who live in one home with both parents have gripes about their parents, but it doesn’t mean those parents are bad parents who don’t deserve to spend time with the kids!

 

Don’t Insert Yourself into the Situation

In most divorces, there are some bad feelings, even years later. There’s nothing wrong with admitting that it might make you feel just the tiniest bit happy if your child is mad at, annoyed at, bored with, or frustrated with the other parent. It’s just what your ex might deserve in your mind if you let yourself admit it. That doesn’t mean you can encourage, support, or even allow your child’s reaction to go on. Your child needs two parents. Neither of you are perfect and your child gets fed up with each of you, but you’re both still going to be in his life. If you haven’t accepted that, it’s time to do so.

 

Don’t Be the Bad Guy

One thing that is particularly hard when you are the custodial parent is having to shoehorn your kid out the door to go on visitation when honestly you would be perfectly happy if your child didn’t have to go (you wouldn’t have to have those arguments about vacation schedules or put up with your ex being late or trying to change things at the last minute).  It’s not fun to be the one forcing your kid to go when he tells you he doesn’t want to. The solution to this is actually quite simple. Tell your child it’s not up to you. The judge has decided this is the schedule and all of you have to follow it. There are no other options. You no longer have to be the bad guy and your child feels like there is a higher power that controls the situation.

 

How to Improve the Mood

Even if you’re able to reconcile yourself to visitation and remove yourself from the enforcer role, it still is no fun to listen to whining or complaining. Try these tips for making the transition easier:

–          When your child comes home, ask him to tell you one fun thing he did.

–          Smile when you hand off your child. Your mood is infectious. If you act like this is a great and happy occasion, it will rub off.

–          Institute a no whining rule. Tell your child there will be no complaining about going on visitation.

–          Make it clear that your child cannot cancel or postpone the planned parenting time. Often whining is an attempt to see if you’ll let the child off the hook. If changing the plans is not an option, there will be fewer complaints.

–          If your child has complaints about what happens at the other parents’ house, tell her that that is something to discuss with the other parent, not with you.

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Tax Time

photo credit: Arvind Balaraman

Taxes are on everyone’s minds as we inch towards April 15. As if taxes weren’t complicated enough, being a divorced parent adds another wrinkle to the process.

Child Exemptions

At this time of year, I get a lot of questions about the dependency exemption for children and which parent gets to claim it. Your divorce decree may specify how this exemption is to be taken. Some parents alternate years. Sometimes one parent always gets it. So, first check your divorce decree. You should follow what it orders. However, you are permitted to change this if you both agree to do so. You may be in a situation where one parent earns a lot more than the other this year and the exemption will be of more value to that parent (always check with your tax preparer to find out if and how you will benefit from taking the exemption). If you want to shift the exemption to the other parent, there is an IRS form that allows you to do so.

Default Rule

If your divorce decree does not specify which parent gets the exemption, the IRS does. According to the IRS, the parent who has the child for the most nights in the year is the parent entitled to take the exemption. Period. It has nothing to do with who pays child support or how much is paid or what kinds of expenses the child has. This is the default rule to follow.

Head of Household Status

Head of household status is separate from the dependency exemption. Even if your ex takes the dependency exemption, you may qualify for head of household if your child lived with you more than half the time, you paid more than half of your household expenses, and you are unmarried. As always, check with your tax preparer to make sure you qualify.

MSAs and HSAs

Although the IRS has a hard and fast 50% rule for the dependency exemption, it is possible for both parents to claim children for the purposes of Medical Savings Accounts (MSAs) and Health Savings Accounts (HSAs). If you have one of these employer-provided benefits, check with your tax preparer about claiming your child.

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What to Do with the Diamonds?

photo credit: Graeme Weatherston

If you’ve recently separated or divorced, you’ve probably taken off your wedding rings. You might also have some other jewelry items your spouse gave you that you no longer wish to wear.  But what should you do with them? There are a surprising number of great options that will allow you to get those rings out of your jewelry box and off your mind.

Save for the Kids

Some women choose to save their jewelry for their children or grandchildren.  A family heirloom can have a lot of emotional value in later generations. And resetting a family diamond for an engagement ring can save your kids big bucks. If you decide to hang on to your jewelry for family, store it out of sight in a safety deposit box or in a box in your file cabinet.

Restyle for Yourself

You can have gemstones reset to make pendants, earrings, new rings, or other pieces of jewelry. Giving an old gem new life can help you feel as if you’ve taken concrete steps to retool your own life.

Get Cash

Gold can be sold to local jewelers for good prices. There are also some sites that specialize in helping you turn your wedding jewelry into dollars. IDoNowIDont.com, Ex-cessories.com, and ExBoyfriendJewelry.com allow users to sell their jewelry – and even vent a bit. The cash can be used to pay divorce costs, help you afford a new home, or buy a few decadent things just for you.

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How to Create a Parenting Plan

Photo Credit: nuttakit

Once you have a basic custody agreement decided (or ordered by a court), you still have a lot of work to do in order to create a workable parenting schedule. If you have a court order that specifies alternate weekend and one night per week visitation with the non-custodial parent, you might think there’s nothing for you to do. Setting up a parenting schedule is actually rather complicated and requires you and your ex to sit down together (if possible) and hammer out the details. If you don’t have a court order and want to work this out on your own, then you also need to find time to sit down and work through it.

Map It Out

You each need to bring your own calendar to the meeting, as well as have a calendar showing all of your child’s sports events, school events, and extracurricular activities. You should place a large blank month by month calendar on the table in between you. Using pencil, start by plotting in all the visitation for the next month. Then compare these dates to your own calendars and your child’s calendar. Look for conflicts. For example, if you need to go out of town on business on a weekend you would normally have, it would make sense to swap weekends so your ex has your child at that time. If pick and drop off from visitation falls in the middle of a soccer game, dance practice or birthday party your child goes to, you need to adjust the times.

Moving Forward

Once you’ve worked through one month, try plotting out the next two. Work through that, then set up a tentative schedule for the rest of the year. Keep in mind this has to be tentative and subject to change. It’s really hard to know what is going to be happening in December when you are scheduling in March. Plan to be flexible and make adjustments as you go.

Holiday Schedule

Next work on the holiday schedule. If you have a court order, it might spell out who has which holiday, but you’ll still need to make some adjustments. For example, if your ex has Thanksgiving this year but the Saturday and Sunday after it would normally be his weekend, it might make sense to switch out that weekend, so you will have some time with your child on that holiday weekend. If your ex has Christmas Eve, but that falls on a weekend that would be yours, you’ll need to remember that holidays trump regularly scheduled weekends.

Make Changes Together.

Try to be flexible with each other. Remember that you can make any changes to the visitation plan that you both agree on – and in fact courts want you to do this rather than filling up the docket with trivial things like this. If you can work it out on your own, you absolutely should do so. If you’re worried about your ex pulling a fast one, you can enter a stipulation into court to get the change made official.

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