Before I explain what/how it happened, I will tell you this – I was the primary custodial parent and I had “more time”…And in the end, I was not giving up “my” time so he could keep all of “his” time given I was the one who had “more time”.
We did go to court when our daughter was 15 because she wanted to spend less time at her dad’s. It was not our last option. At the end of the day, the judge ruled in favor of our 15 year old daughter’s desire/request for parenting time with her dad be reduced and flexible for change at her discretion. Primarily because her dad’s insistence he get each and every minute he had “a right to per the agreement”, and at my expense since I had “more time”, so not in all circumstances would it be viewed as “malicious intent”. Actually, it was in way — on HIS part, not mine.
His actions/demands were viewed as self serving and without regard to our daughter’s rights, and focused on the quantity of time in disrespect to the quality of time, and in disrespect of my time. Per the judge, “You [my ex] very clearly are not concerned about what is best for your daughter at this stage of her development, or to co-parent amicably, but rather more concerned with your own personal needs and wishes, that of which your daughter is not responsible for.”
We are responsible for following the order, but we can make changes to the order if we both agree to do so without going to court. The state of Georgia allows a 14 year old to decide (absent certain circumstances) with whom they want primary residence to be with; they will also allow, under certain circumstances, to allow the child to decide whether to see the other parent or not.
When you get divorced in Georgia you are required to attend a seminar about learning to co-parent and doing what is healthy and best for the child. Among the standard things one might expect, rights of the child were discussed. Things like “life and personal development” and “expression and participation”. The presenter made very clear it was important for each parent to remember, parenting time was not for the benefit of the parent, but for the benefit of the child. Parenting time is also the child’s time. Quality of the time you spend with them is more important than the quantity of time you spend under the same roof with them. As children get older, we as parents need to recognize the needs of the child will change and the parenting agreement may need to be modified from time to time. What was best for a 4 year old, isn’t best for a 10 year old, isn’t best for a 14 year old type thing.
In my particular situation, my ex and I split our time 40/60, with each of us having equal time every other extended weekend Wednesday to Monday. As the primary custodial parent, I had the “extra” time Monday (after school) and Tuesday (before and after school). If we were 50/50, he’d have had 4 more days each month, I’d have had 4 less days each month – not withstanding school breaks and summer which were split equally.
Considering time spent at school, my time at work, her after school activities, & homework, the actual “extra” time I was benefiting from to spend with her was a few hours at best…sometimes only a few moments once she joined Company (ballet) – ballet was immediately following school (and she car pooled with another parent as I was still at work), would not get home until 9:00, eat, shower, do homework, and off to bed. As she advanced, even weekends could be taken up by rehearsals and performances, generally multiple weekends in a row, so both her dad and me missed weekend time with her as a result.
We equally shared all of the major holidays and school breaks, taking turns each year – with him for Christmas in odd years, me in even years, etc. The breaks superseded the regular parenting schedule.
Weekends were “prime time” — for our time with her and her time with us…time to see and do everything that couldn’t be done during the week due to school, dance, and work. Family…friends…events…sleep overs…birthday parties…dating (one day). As she got older, these activities and events became more important to her — and any psychologist or developmental professional will agree it is a normal and important part of growing-up for a child to become more independent and autonomous from the parents.
She missed countless birthday parties (not just friends, but half siblings, grand parents, and other family), sleepovers, outings with friends, and even having friends come over because her dad did not want to give up “his time” with her. He would tell her he only got to see her 11 days a month (neglecting to recognize the school breaks and summer) and I could give up my time for her to do all of those things since I got more time with her than he did. She could go if I would trade with him — in essence, so he could keep 100% of his time and I give up my time.
Sorry, but a few hours OR moments as it may be on a Monday or Tuesday evening are in no way comparable to a Saturday or Sunday free from the obligatory requirements of school or work, after school activities, bedtimes, etc. That is NOT a fair trade – for me to give up a weekend prime time because I get a few extra hours on a Monday or Tuesday is not the same. A 24 free-hour day (Saturday or Sunday) is not the same as 3-hour (often less) free day on a Monday or Tuesday.
It wasn’t just “making-up” the few hours or half day she wanted to be with friends, it was the whole weekend or nothing – want to go to the birthday party on Saturday? “Fine, I’ll trade the weekend with your mom and you can go then. If she won’t trade, you can’t go.”
I would do it though. I did it for her. I did it because she had a right to have those “life and personal development” experiences. I did it because she had a right to personal “expression and participation” in her own life. I did it because I remembered the parenting seminar for divorcing parents. I remembered it wasn’t just my time, but her time too.
When she was younger, we didn’t “trade” very often, but it did happen at least a handful of times during the year. As she approached her teen years, her desire to want to do things outside & independent of dad OR mom increased and the necessity of “trading time” became a topic/occurrence more often. I was getting the short end of the stick…and my daughter began questioning why it was always me giving up “my time” for her. Not only was I giving up time in trade, but time on “my” weekends for her to do things then as well. She felt guilty for wanting to see her friends, go to a sleepover, or the mall. Sad a 14 year old would feel guilty for being a “normal” & healthy teenager.
Keep in mind, she still wanted to see her dad (and me) and spend time with us – she just needed him to let go and be more flexible, more understanding…not make it a “his way or no way” situation…she didn’t want to give up experiences and participate in being a teenager simply because it was her dad’s time.
She also began to resent her dad for insisting he and he alone got every single one of the minutes that were “due him by the court” and it was harming their relationship more than making it stronger. It wasn’t about equality, it was about control. She got tired of having to live her life around her dad’s time. She got tired at always having to think about whether it was dad’s weekend or mom’s weekend when she was invited to do something. She began to get angry that if she wanted to do anything, plans already made would get messed up. She got tired of constantly choosing between equally important activities to her — “Do I want to attend my friend Izzie’s birthday party (on mom’s weekend), or do I want to give that up so I can attend my friend Rhiannon’s birthday which is on my dad’s weekend and I can only go if mom trades next weekend and that will ruin going to Izzie’s birthday because then it will be on dad’s weekend…and if mom trades again, now it is two weekends I have to make up with dad and what if something else comes up? Life is all about choices, but this was ridiculous and it wasn’t as if she wouldn’t see her dad at all for the whole weekend, or wouldn’t stay home for a special occasion or something — she WAS flexible, he was not.
I got tired of it too because it meant I was losing time with my daughter, not due to her wanting to be a normal teenager, but because he was a booger and wouldn’t let her be one on “his” time. Plus, after a while, when I saw and realized the torment and anxiety it was causing our daughter, I stopped and I called an attorney. She suggested we try talking to dad first and we did. I did, my daughter did, we tried together…but he was adamant and said we would have to take him to court, he wasn’t giving up any of his time.
So we did…and he lost…and he hurt his relationship with his daughter even more. He did it to himself by clinging onto what he wanted and felt he deserved without regard for his daughter’s development needs or wants. He put himself as the priority, not his child.