A guest post by Bob Kornitzer
Co-parenting following a divorce (or following the split-up of a non-married couple) presents unique challenges to both parents; but especially to the dad who is now assuming an active parenting role in functions that were previously the sole domain of mom. A good example rests in dad’s interactions with his child’s pediatrician and the child’s health-related needs. Not only is active involvement in the child’s day-to-day medical needs a foreign subject to many newly divorced dads, but there are unique legal issues that I see frequently in my practice as family law attorney that cannot be ignored. For my illustration, I am assuming that dad has joint legal custody (involvement in major decisions involving the health, safety and welfare of the child) and also physical parenting time with the child.
Dad must keep in mind that he needs to be pro-active in learning everything about the child’s health-related needs. This means understanding any special problems of the child, researching those problems, joining the child at medical appointments and being part of the child’s medical decision process. A mom who is used to solely handling this role may not take kindly to what she perceives to be an intrusion into her historic parenting role. She may resist and either actively or passively leave dad out of the “loop”.
It is up to the newly active dad to sometimes bite his tongue, be diplomatic, but be persistent and consistent in participating in the child’s medical needs. Dad has the legal and moral right to help care for the child’s needs, but if dad is not consistent and active, he will effectively erode and minimize his role in the future. It is one thing to talk the talk, but dad must walk the walk.
The importance of cooperative consistency plays out in critical custodial issues. For instance, the more active a dad is in being involved with attending pediatric appointments, the more he will be recognized by the child, the mother, the pediatrician and potentially by the courts as a necessary ongoing component of the child’s life.
Keep in mind that even though I am using medical involvement as my example, this extends to all areas of a child’s needs such as education, sports, activities and religious training. Many divorcing dads who fought so hard to have the right to be active in their child’s lives then turn around and effectively give up that right by reverting to an uninvolved status that may have been prevalent during the marriage. This undermines dad’s legal strength in the future if a) he is seeking additional parenting time or b) mom is seeking to reduce dad’s parenting time. Very critically and not understood by most dads is that being a very involved dad may be the most effective method of preventing your former spouse from relocating to a geographically distant location with the child. When it comes to having meaningful rights to be an active parent, “use it or risk losing it” may be the mantra that dad needs to keep repeating to himself.
Mr. Kornitzer is a partner at the law firm of Pashman Stein and the Chair of its Family Law Department. His practice focuses in all aspects of family law including divorce litigation, mediation, arbitration, post-judgment litigation, custody, relocation, domestic violence, premarital agreements, assets protection agreements, grandparents rights, spousal and child support. Mr. Kornitzer can be reached at 201-488-8200 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.