Co-Parent Dad: Tales of a Second-Class Parent
I'm going to try not to sound like some bleeding heart but, in reality my heart is bleeding - you just can't see it. I've been keeping a few secrets from you and it's been hard. I understand if you want to break up and never come back to my site again, but I really think you should hear me out.
I've been struggling with something for the past few months that I feel like I need to let out or I'm going to burst. This whole co-parenting thing is a lot more difficult than I thought it would be! Yeah, nice revelation there, huh? From coordinating schedules, school responsibilities (and school...um, challenges - to say the least - more on that some other time) and even just dealing with the every day has become such a headache in my co-parenting relationship with my son's mother. On my side, it all stems from the divorce agreement I signed a few years ago or rather, what ISN'T in the agreement that should be.
Primary Parent, Secondary Parent
Attorneys are NOT created equal - I learned that lesson the hard way. My divorce lasted nearly 3 years and left me feeling completely drained and devalued. I felt at the time as if it were sucking the life straight out of me. It was partly my fault for dragging my feet at first; I'm not exactly sure why. But then once the ball did get rolling it felt like a knife was being stuck into me at every step of the process. I was worn out. I couldn't take it any more. So, I settled on things I probably shouldn't have just to get it over with and for the pain to stop. Little did I know, the legal-ease at the time would stack the chips against me even more than I realized (or than my attorney explained).
At the time, Florida divorce law still used what many consider legacy wording that provides for a 'primary' and 'secondary' parent. The wording has since shifted from the primary/secondary to what they call parenting plans now. The core language is more equal now than just a few years ago. The language of primary and secondary are no longer used. Unfortunately, I'm stuck with the status quo unless I can successfully modify my agreement.
What did primary and secondary mean, exactly? Well, I was responsible for child support, naturally. I've never missed a payment yet and never will, God willing. I'm responsible for providing health insurance and 58% of uncovered medical expenses. Not a huge deal - that's not what bothered me at all. What did bother me is that I had been relegated to the parental backseat. For example, I have to request time with my son on holidays well in advance. I understand the need to schedule in advance but, "Can I see my son from 3pm - 6pm?" isn't something that a parent that's been involved since the beginning should be required to ask of the 'primary' parent. The best part? "Nope!" can be the answer with little recourse on my part - and it's happened. Twice.
It's All Downhill From Here
In March of 2011 I filed a petition to amend my custody and child support agreement for a few reasons:
- First, I wanted to get that skewed verbiage changed. I'm a good dad and I want to be treated like a parenting equal.
- I want a fair shake in parenting my son.
- I shouldn't have to ask permission to see my child - that right should be a given for me. I really think that's best for my son as well.
- I want more time with my son - and he wants that too. I asked him before I filed. There was no sense in trying to change things if he didn't want them changed.
When both parents are 'fit' parents and they live within relative close proximity of each other is there a (good) reason why time with the child(ren) shouldn't be split 50/50? I can't think of a single one. My son needs a strong father-figure in his life and a positive, supportive mother in his life as well. I think he's owed that much.
My Story Isn't Over Yet.
This story isn't over yet, obviously. It's just getting started. I know a lot of others are going through something similar, so I'll try to share some of my experiences along the way, as I work through my quest to modify my support and visitation agreement. If you've got experiences of your own when going through a divorce, please feel free to share them in the comments below or you can contact me directly if you'd like to keep things more private.
Thanks for being there for me. I'd like to be there for you, too. Are you caught up in a skewed co-parenting situation as well? What are your experiences in dealing with the courts during a divorce or when filing a petition to amend your support agreement and/or parenting schedule? Do you think both parents should, by default, have equal rights unless there's a clear reason for them not to?
I'd love to hear about your situation, too. Please share your thoughts in the comments below.