- Extracurricular activities (such as competition-level sports) are a common point of disagreement. In extracurricular activity matters, the Court tends to defer to the parent who is in favor of the activity, if that activity is deemed in the child’s best interest. However, they generally will not force the other parent to help pay for the activity.
- It is very important for co-parents to be able to communicate, if it is at all possible. The inability to communicate can make small issues into large issues very quickly.
- If parents are having difficulty communicating, or if one parent is particularly difficult to communicate with, there are apps that can facilitate co-parenting communication (such as Our Family Wizard, or OFW). Co-parents can also make use of a parenting coordinator, who mediates all communication between them and decides on small disagreements to avoid going before the Court.
One of the most common but sometimes less-important issues that co-parents tend to get caught up in is extracurricular activities.
In the cases I deal with, many of the children involved are participating in competition-level sports, such as gymnastics or team sports. These are activities that the child has been participating in intensely for quite some time, and the child is often approaching a professional level in the sport. We get fights among co-parents about these kinds of activities quite a bit.
The disagreements vary, but the most common ones I see involve the questions of:
- Whether the child should continue participating in the sport
- Who should be paying for the costs involved with the sport (i.e., whether it should be split equally between the co-parents)
- Whether it’s acceptable that the activity is cutting into the parenting time of one or the other parent.
This last question has been particularly common in my cases. When you play these very involved sports so intensely, it may start to eat up the parenting time of one parent in particular. That parent objects to their parenting time being infringed upon that way and would like the child to stop playing the sport.
However, in many of these cases, the child has been playing the sport for years, which for them is a large portion of their life. They may be very attached to the sport and may have a lot invested in the sport. They may be at or approaching a pro level or participating in competitive travel teams that go to different states, and they may not want to give that up.
As a rule, the Courts don’t particularly like to get involved in disagreements about a child’s extracurricular activities, mostly because they don’t actually know what to do in those scenarios. It is not quite within the Court’s wheelhouse of decision-making and is much more of an issue that they would prefer to be handled within the family.
If a child truly seems to want to continue with a sport, and if the sport is truly enriching their lives or is seen as in their best interest, the Court will usually defer to giving the pro-sport parent the sole decision-making authority over all sports decisions.
It should be noted, however, that they typically will not require the other parent to help pay for the sport if they do not support the child’s continued participation.
Why Is It So Critical To Have Good Communication With A Co-Parent? What Is At Risk If You Don’t Have Good Communication With A Co-Parent, Even If You Don’t Like Each Other?
It’s very important to maintain good communication with a co-parent, just because it makes everything go more smoothly.
In the most contentious cases that I work on, the biggest issue between the co-parents is almost always the inability to communicate. Sometimes this inability to communicate makes very small, very petty things into major issues. This is especially true if the parties literally refuse to communicate with one another or aren’t allowed to do so because of Orders of Protection.
For example, I have different cases with parties who either refuse to or aren’t allowed to communicate, including simply texting each other. In one of these cases, one of the co-parents was running late and the other parent came and picked the children up five minutes early. The party running late was mad because they wanted to be able to say goodbye to the children. They had just worked a long shift, and they wanted to be able to see the children before they went to their other parent’s house but weren’t able to make it in time. This caused a huge amount of anger and upset from both parents, which turned into a major conflict.
Of course, this could have all been avoided if the parent simply texted each other and were able to communicate about the situation.
Lack of flexibility and inability or unwillingness to communicate about issues—even small issues—can turn into pretty major legal conflicts, which generally tends to anger judges and make them impatient with you in the long run.
Some Parents Have Co-Parents That Are Very High-Conflict Or Otherwise Very Difficult To Communicate With. What Are The Best Options For Communicating With A Co-Parent Who Just Can’t Seem To Have A Simple Conversation?
It can be very difficult to attempt to co-parent with someone who cannot communicate reliably or respectfully, or who is prone to make attempts to communicate into opportunities for conflict.
There are a few pieces of technology—specifically, apps—that I have actually seen work very well toward facilitating communication between co-parents when there is difficulty communicating for whatever reason.
The one that I have seen used most successfully is called Our Family Wizard (often referred to by users and people in this industry as OFW). The OFW app is an alternate messaging app that makes it so that you don’t have to use text or email to communicate.
All of the communications over OFW are cracked and can be printed out. Communications start out with reminders to assume that everything you write is going to be seen by the Court, which can seriously mitigate the propensity to send conflict-charged messages if a person is angry or heated.
If you’re thinking this sounds like Big Brother, you’re right, but in a good way. Sometimes people need Big Brother watching them when they just can’t communicate with their co-parent without being rude.
Oftentimes in my cases, when there is a major communication problem, I will be that there is one party that is perfectly fine and can communicate with their co-parent normally, while the other party is always very rude.
That’s usually when I’ll tell the parties that it’s time to use Our Family Wizard to communicate. I find that it is useful in these cases not only as a source of accountability and evidence for the Court, but also as a coach in real time to help tone down particularly hostile or conflict-heavy language.
In Your Experience, What Are The Most Effective Ways To Potentially Minimize Ongoing Or Future Conflicts Between Co-Parents?
In my experience, if the parties get along well enough and there’s not been any kind of Order of Protection or similar issues, minimizing conflicts is often simply a matter of maintaining open lines of communication. What this means can vary depending on the situation.
Some co-parents can benefit from a check-in at regular intervals. This would be co-parents agreeing to a phone call or an email exchange each week, essentially giving an update or overview of what’s going on and any pertinent subjects that need to be discussed.
This keeps the line of communication open and makes a clear and accountable space in which to make various issues or updates known. It also avoids situations in which one parent accuses the other of not telling them something, as there is a very specific space where that information ought to have gone, and if it didn’t, then it’s on the parent who did not bring up the necessary information in that space.
If co-parents struggle with speaking to each other without triggering conflict, there are even templates set up that you can use to give updates about various subjects.
If something like a weekly check-in simply isn’t possible between co-parents for whatever reason, then I often suggest retaining a counselor to help with communication.
Another option for this sort of mediated communication help is to ask the Court to appoint parenting coordinators. As long it’s agreeable to both parents, the Court can appoint parenting coordinators to help them communicate about the essentials when it comes to their child or children. Parenting coordinators can both facilitate communication and decide on disagreements on small matters rather than taking those matters to the Court.
It should be noted that in these scenarios, all communication between co-parents goes through these parenting coordinators. This is a rather intense option if it is at all possible for co-parents to communicate on their own, but in situations where that is not possible, and the oversight of a parenting coordinator is necessary, it can be very helpful for co-parents to make use of the service.
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