Children And Trigger Points

09/25/2012 12:20 pm ET Updated Nov 25, 2012
Sad looking girl with her fighting parents behind her
Sad looking girl with her fighting parents behind her

Over the years, I have seen many divorces in which right after the final judgment is entered, the parents agree to disagree on child-related issues. There are certain issues that parents seem to continuously disagree on, prohibiting them from getting along and moving on with their lives. Here are some examples:

1. Extracurricular activities. I had a case recently where the mother enrolled her son in one baseball league and the dad enrolled him in another. The result is that the child is missing games in each league and there is no consistency. How is that good for the child?

2. Summer camp. One parent wants the child in summer camp, and the other parent is against it. Let's say the parents get over the hurdle and agree to enroll the child in summer camp, but one parent decides that the days that the child is with him or her, the kid won't be attending camp. Again, the fight continues and the child is the one caught in the middle.

3. Cub Scouts and Girl Scouts. One parent may enroll their children in organizations such as these but the other parent refuses to participate and refuses to make sure that the child goes to his or her activities. Again, the child is hurt by being put in the middle and by the pettiness of divorced parents who cannot move on.

4. Dance/Gymnastics/Karate and other activities. Again, one parent will enroll the kids, the other parent will disagree and a battle ensues. I have seen many judgments of divorce that say that the parents must agree on all activities, and that they will share the costs. If they don't agree, then one parent can opt to enroll the child but must pay the costs. This solves part of the problem, but does not resolve the issue that when the child has these activities, each parent should be responsible for making sure that the activities are attended. Too often there is a dispute over pick ups, drop offs and attendance. I have even seen a situation where one parent not only refused to go to a recital, but made it difficult for the child to attend it. What are these adults thinking?

5. School. I have seen numerous battles about where the children will be attending school. This happens every summer and fall. Will they be staying in the same school district? Will they be home schooled? Private school? Public school? Will they be in a parochial or other religious school? These are issues and should be talked about during the divorce. They should not be allowed to fester. In too many cases, they become trigger points for the continuing battle. One solution I've seen is that if one parent is willing to pay for parochial school, and both parties agree in writing, then that becomes an enforceable obligation going forward. If one parent is willing to pay for a prep or private school, or there is an agreement for sharing these expenses and it is in writing as part of an order or Judgment of Divorce, courts will enforce it. Home schooling versus public schooling can also be an issue.

6. Attendance. I have seen many cases where one parent is not good at getting the child or children to school. The result is that there are many instances of tardiness and/or absences. This is something that must be addressed. The child or children are the ones being hurt here. School is important and children should not be late; parents should make sure that schedules are coordinated so that schooling is a top priority.

7. Homework. This is an issue that often festers, along with school notices. I seen a lot of cases where one parent is not advised on the homework assigned. Homework is usually brought home in a backpack or book bag, and parents should check that backpack or book bag every night. Make sure that your child's homework is done. Make sure that everything is kept current. Communicate with your former spouse about these issues.

8. Science Fairs and other special projects. There should be communication and coordination regarding school projects. One parent may be overseeing the project and the other parent may be lackadaisical and not doing anything. Other times, one parent will sabotage the other on science fairs and special projects. Put your children first. Stop fighting.

9. Medical issues. Medican issues are often contentious. There may be battles over the need for orthodontia work, the need for certain elective medical procedures, whether or not the child should be on ADD/ADHD medicines or even if such a diagnosis is true or not. A child's need for tutoring or counseling may also be trigger points for battles. Again, what is best for your child? Do you have to take these cases to court? If you do end up on court, you may spend many thousands on dollars on attorney fees -- much more than the actual costs of these medical procedures or special needs.

10. Allergies. A new partner may bring pets into the relationship; some children are allergic to pets. This is definitely something to watch out for. What about children who are allergic to certain food substances? Or smoke or dust? These can become issues after divorce. I have seen cases where people have had air filtration and testing done because their kid developed allergies or asthma, either because one parent smoked or adopted a pet after a divorce.These are all trigger points for conflict long after the divorce is over.

You must always ask yourself, what is in the best interests of the children? Can we, as adults, put our children first and somehow stop the fighting? Too often, the answer is no. That is why some of these issues become trigger points that will be litigated for years -- long after the divorce is final. It is te result of one or both parents not being able to move on or not being willing or able to let go. A good solution may be to appoint a therapist of attorney to be a guardian and represent the children; they may assist in making the tough decisions, and they have the authority to make recommendations to the court. This can be an expensive tool, but it can be a powerful one and I have found that it can be very helpful.

These are some of my thoughts regarding the endless battles involving children. What are your thoughts and comments?