At the beginning of last Wednesday’s custody hearing the judge asked if the divorce was final yet, and Steve’s lawyer had replied unpleasantly, “Oh it’s just getting started.” Her words and tone evoked images of exhausting drawn-out court battles and endless legal combat. It was a depressing thought.
But unless the Silkotches were going to fight me on more than just the child custody front, I was pretty sure they didn’t have a very solid position to fight from. They had acted out of anger and spite, and it showed: the custody schedule they’d demanded makes absolutely no sense in our situation. Our residences are separated only by a shared fence; the kids can easily walk from one to the other. So why should they have to see only one parent for days at a time, or sit in some sort of child-care situation instead of at home with me while Steve is working? The new custody plan actually gave them less time with BOTH parents. I was pretty confident that the court would see the senselessness of it.
So first we had the Parenting Orientation Program (POP), and after that mediation would be scheduled to help us try and come to an agreement, and then a court hearing to decide the matter. I was ready to fight for the kids’ best interests, but I wasn’t looking forward to the process.
Today was the POP thing. There were quite a few other couples there, most sitting separately like us. Do you know what none of us brought? Our mothers.
Except Steve, of course.
There are so many things I could say about that, but I think I’ve said most of them already. Let’s move on.
At the beginning of the presentation the speaker said that it would be done in two parts, with a break in the middle. After the first part, any couples that were in agreement about custody and visitation could go down to the mediation room and have a legal agreement filed, and skip the second half. Oh, for the simplicity of that.
So I sat through the first half of the program, and then the break came and the speaker urged the couples to get together and try to come to an agreement on their own before the second half began. I glanced over at Steve and his mom.
They were both nodding at me: they wanted to come to an agreement. I was astonished.
Steve gestured for me to come over to where they were sitting, but I indicated that he should come to me. I had nothing to say to Cheryl.
He came over, and we began negotiations.
Our original agreement, the one that had worked fine for the past 15 months, was too vague for me to put my trust in anymore. “Free visitation whenever Steve wants on three conditions…” could add up to him demanding that the kids sleep at his house every night. I wanted every detail in writing this time.
There were a few things that I intended to stand my ground on no matter what. The kids must be allowed to attend church and Youth Group meetings every week. When Steve is working, the kids must either be with him or with me. The original three conditions must remain in effect. Everything else was up for negotiation.
Steve was very much in Amicable Cooperation Mode, and in about 15 minutes we’d reached an agreement that made us both happy. He got his afternoon visits back (with specific limits on how late the kids will stay on school nights and on non-school nights), and in exchange for those he gave up the Thursday nights he’d wanted during his non-custodial weeks. His custodial periods will still begin on Thursdays, but after the Youth Group meetings. I offered him a choice: bring the kids to church on Sundays, or let his custodial periods end on Saturdays at 6pm. He chose the latter. The original three conditions are back in place, and now apply to both of us.
We went down to the mediator’s office and had it all made official. And just like that, the battle appears to be over. I don’t think we even have to go to that final hearing in August, since nothing’s being contested anymore. A few more routine forms to file and this will all be behind us.
Considering how crappy the rest of the week has been, this was a pretty fine ending.
Next: Camp Wynola!