Q. What would family court think of my ex, a mother who prompted our separation (we were never married, but have two children together) and then three months later proceeds to move in with my brother? What’s good ex-etiquette about that?
A. I don’t know the specifics of your case, and I have learned from years of experience to never form an opinion until you hear both sides. But for all intents and purposes, it has been my experience that the family court would not react to your ex’s decision. Truthfully? They see it all the time.
The courts don’t want to raise your children. They expect the parents to do that. When you can’t agree and you bring it to court, that is when a judge will decide, but that decision is based on law. Although morally questionable, what you describe is not against the law in most states. A handful of states still have laws on the books offering various fines and restrictions if you move on too quickly when you have been married, but I know of none that have those restrictions if you were never married. (Remember, I’m not an attorney.)
In states where no law has been broken, although a judge might reprimand the parties from the bench, the main concern is the safety of the children. If they are not “safe,” Child Protective Services would most likely be involved, and that adds another layer to the story.
Some might question the children’s emotional “safety” under these circumstances. Unfortunately, it’s difficult to determine the emotional aspects. Safety is most often determined by outward scars and bruises.
So as reprehensible as you feel your ex’s behavior was, I don’t believe the courts will intercede. My suggestion is to keep the lines of communication open, no matter how you feel. That means look for ways to communicate calmly. Respond when she calls about the kids, and never badmouth her in front of the children, no matter what you think of her. The last thing your children need right now is two parents bickering about things they probably do not understand.
Finally, under the circumstances, I suggest you do go to court, but to put a parenting plan in place so you can successfully share the children’s time and keep arguing to a minimum. Routine and stability are important for children, especially immediately after a breakup. The not knowing where you will be and with which parent can be very confusing. A parenting plan will assign days and times, and they will then know when they will be with mom and when they will be with dad, and hopefully be able to settle in more quickly. It will also reduce the time you and their mother will spend negotiating things that could erupt into arguments.
You are right in the middle of your breakup turmoil. It will not be easy for anyone. The most important thing, no matter how angry and hurt you are, is to be a stabilizing force for your children. That is good ex-etiquette.
Dr. Jann Blackstone is the author of “Ex-etiquette for Parents: Good Behavior After Divorce or Separation,” and the founder of Bonus Families, www.bonusfamilies.com.