Q: When my son was 3 months old, I broke up with his father. There were many reasons. Basically, he wouldn't work, he slept all day, and didn't help with the kids. I worked full time, was a fulltime student, and did everything. Fast forward a year, I decide to give 'us' another try. He improved in the beginning but then things got bad again. I had enough and finally ended it for good. Now fast forward almost another year – he is still messaging me and asking me back. In these last several months he has been charged with harassment and felony stalking. So, how do I co-parent with someone who is impossible to work with? I'm starting to be concerned if my son is even safe with him. What's good ex-etiquette?
A: There are times that co-parenting is impossible. Circumstances are just out of your control. If your child's other parent has been found guilty of felony stalking and harassment, there's not much to do – he will probably go to jail, and then once he's out, a protective order of some sort will be in place. He will most likely be on probation and everyone will be watching.
For the record, there are degrees of protective orders. Some do not allow any contact and a third party must assist in exchanging the children. Others are marked, "peaceful conduct regarding the children" and although there is a protected party and interaction is kept to a minimum, the two parents personally exchanging the children does not violate the protective order.
But, when there is the sort volatility that you describe, you will not be able to co-parent as most who share their children's time would co-parent. You can't discuss everyday matters or problem solve together. You can call each other if a child is in the hospital and both be at the hospital during that emergency, but no casual phone calls to talk about the kids, no, "Please come back," no, rehashing what went wrong or remember the good ol' days. What's done is done and restraining orders can be for a year, three years, even five years if the offense merits it. And, they can be renewed.
This will definitely put a damper on "co-parenting."
Something you may want to consider at this point is communicating through an app. Co-parenting apps have private servers that can be monitored by a mediator or judge. All communication is in writing and if inappropriate things are said, that is documented and your child's father (in this case) would be in violation of the restraining order.
As a reminder to everyone out there in Ex-etiquette Land – everything that is written or posted on social media is admissible in court. This means if you have posted pictures of yourself in provocative poses, getting high at a party, brandishing weapons, etc., don't be surprised if your child's other parent shows up in court with links to the posts looking for custody. The reasoning? If you are using bad judgment, the child may not be safe.
Everything in Family Court is based on "in the best interest of the child" – and, so 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. Email her at the Ex-Etiquette website www.exetiquette.com at firstname.lastname@example.org.)