For a lot of people, Kramer vs. Kramer is THE quintessential divorce movie, the one that first showed the world how heartbreaking this process can truly be. But I didn’t see that movie until I was well into adulthood. The movie that introduced me to the horrors of divorce was actually Mrs. Doubtfire. Despite being one of the funniest comedies of all time, that movie perfectly captures how heartbreaking it can be for a parent to be separated from their children.
Now, I’m not suggesting that you dress in drag and pretend to be the new housekeeper in order to see your children more. But you may find yourself facing one or more of the same challenges as Robin Williams in this movie. And because they all revolve around the central theme of child custody, this provides an excellent opportunity to talk about the process of negotiating child custody, and to come up with a custody plan that truly is best for the children.
Williams plays voice actor Daniel Hillard, who is dealt a tough one-two punch at the beginning of the film: he gets divorced, AND he loses his job. This is a tough situation to be in, because for anyone to be able to make an argument for 50/50 custody or more, they have to be able to provide a home for the kids that matches or is better in quality to the one in which they are currently living. Tough to do when you’re forced to take an entry level production assistant job at a cable access TV station.
So, if you are the parent that ended up leaving the “family home” then you’ve got your work cut out for you, and it probably is not in the kids’ best interest to fight for more custody until you are in a solid financial and living situation. Make sure each kid has their own room, just like they do at the other home. Find an apartment or house that has enough space for them to live comfortably, and in a neighbourhood of similar quality. In fact, it’s a good idea to find a place that is in the same neighbourhood as their other home. This will cause less disruption for school, commutes, and extracurricular activities such as hockey or soccer.
Many studies have shown that an amicable divorce in which the children spend an equal amount of time with each parent is the best-case scenario. Unfortunately, that doesn’t always happen. Often, one parent will feel a strong urge to “punish” the other parent for ending the marriage, or for other personal reasons. And they will do this by keeping the children away from that parent. I do think that is part of the reason why Sally Field’s character does not allow for shared custody at first. Certainly, the father’s employment and living situation were also factors, but it’s hard not to feel like the mother is being overly harsh on her ex in the film.
This is, of course, a terrible thing to do. What’s best for the children is that both parents are in their lives as much as possible (with some exceptions). Try to keep emotion out of the equation and really think about what is best for the children.
If one of the parents has exhibited behaviour that is not good for the children to be exposed to, then of course they should not be around that parent as much. Physical or verbal abuse, alcoholism, drug use or other irresponsible behavior are all things that should be considered when determining a custody schedule. If your ex has done any of these things, it is worth fighting for less visitation with them until they can change that behaviour.
And that is the most important thing to take away from this: any custody agreement that you enter into at the beginning of divorce proceedings is not written in stone. If you don’t have a suitable apartment yet, you can revisit the agreement in a few months once you’ve set everything up. If the other parent has shown real change in their behaviour by going into rehab, for example, they have “earned” the right to see their children more. And the children will be better off if their parents have shown their dedication to them by doing so.
Custody is one of the most difficult aspects of divorce, and not something that can just be verbally “agreed upon.” Have a lawyer write up an agreement and agree to terms with your ex on what happens with the kids. This will lead to what is absolutely best for them: consistency of care.
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