We exit the courtroom, and hang back as my now-ex spouse walks ahead. My attorney turns to me, heavy files in her hands, “You’re officially divorced,” as she passes me the dozen or so pages the judge had just signed.
I ask, “now what?” I look down at the first page of legalese I’ve seen drafts of before, “what does this mean.” In my hands is a parenting plan I didn’t really believe in and a child support order I knew wouldn’t be followed. Outside of that, I have an ex I couldn’t trust and a son who depended on me for his love and care. “What now?”
“You’re divorced now, but your ex is still a part of your life for the next 12 years at least as your little one gets older. He’s your ex because you don’t trust him right now, and maybe that will change. Until then, you should…” In the next fifteen minutes, standing in the courthouse hallway, my attorney gave me a crash course on being divorced and why it matters.
Several months have passed now and despite having visitation every first, third, and fifth weekend – my ex maybe sees his son once a month. He doesn’t always call. He sometimes checks in. We’ll see.
Now, several years later, the parenting plan has dates and deadlines, so each year I sit down with a new calendar and mark out visitation weekends, holidays, and vacation times per the parenting plan. Throughout the year, I use that calendar to include school events, doctors appointments, soccer games.
The calendar is taped to my fridge door. On the first Saturday of the month I make sure his dad gets a text of what the month looks like for his son. It doesn’t mean he will show up for art night at the kids museum or to the dentist appointment, but he can never say he doesn’t know.
At the start of the school year, I always send a text with contact information for our son’s teacher, doctor, dentist, soccer coach, and baby sitter. Most of the information is the same, but I make sure his dad always has it.
When he fails to pay child support on time, I make sure to reach out and ask in the nicest way possible. Even knowing he wouldn’t pay his portion of the x-ray costs when our son sprained his ankle at soccer practice, I sent it to him anyways.
In that fifteen minute crash course in the courthouse I learned three lessons on co-parenting that I always try to remember, even when it is one-sided:
1) Always communicate, and never take my ex’s silence for granted or an indication he doesn’t want a relationship with his child.
2) Give my ex the benefit of the doubt, not for his sake, but for his son. My son deserves to know I tried.
3) Think about what is fair for my son and his father, before what is fair for myself. If I can give them time together, my son deserves it most.
Its been six years now since that hallway conversation of “now what” with my lawyer. Following through with those lessons wasn’t always easy. Often times, it rubbed against the grain of what I wanted to do or my instincts. But overall, for my son and my sanity, it was necessary to have a lesson on how to be divorced.
I’m so thankful I asked my divorce attorney, “Now what?”