Resolving Custody -- and Ex's Anger

My divorce was final three years ago, and yes, I gave up custody of my nine-year-old son to my ex-husband. I was having personal issues -- I got involved with someone else very quickly, coupled with the stress of the divorce, and I decided it was in my son's best interest to live with his father. Now that the smoke has cleared, I want to see my son more often, but my ex is so resentful he makes it very difficult. We will make plans and he doesn't show up. He seldom consults me about decisions that affect our son. I know I made poor choices in the past, but what can I do about it now?


Jann Blackstone-Ford

Author of Ex-Etiquette for Parents: Good Behavior After Divorce or Separation, and Director of Bonus Families, a non-profit organization... Read more

Emotions run high when a couple decide to divorce, but after things calm down a little, there is often a time when the couple try to reconcile. It appears your ex is angry because you got involved with someone else very quickly after your separation and didn't give your relationship that second chance. He may be seeking revenge by not cooperating when it's your turn to spend time with your son. Ironically, the one that will be hurt is your child.

You asked, "What can you do about it now?" You have to build a new working relationship with your ex. This may sound ridiculous, but you have a child together and your ex-husband's unresolved anger is affecting your relationship with your son. A child needs both parents, and unless we are convinced the other parent will harm our child in some way, it's our obligation to help keep all lines of communication open.

Rebuilding a relationship and rebuilding trust is not something you can do overnight. First, start by being honest. Have you told your ex that you know you "have made poor choices in the past" and that you are trying to make amends for your poor judgment? Saying that doesn't necessarily mean you are looking for reconciliation; however, your admission to your contribution to the demise of the relationship may be the first step to healing his anger toward you.

Second, understand that you can't control your ex's behavior. It's his choice to be vindictive, and the more frustrated you become, the more your behavior will appear irrational and validate his anger. If you want to keep the conversation free of negative emotions you must control yourself when reacting to something he says. This means that you'll have to put all the bad feelings aside and respond only to the problems at hand. Emotional exchanges might get you started fighting about the divorce again, not about seeing your son.

I have a little trick. Before you react to anything said, ask yourself, "Is this in the best interest of my son?" If so, then respond accordingly. You will find that when you put your son's welfare above everything else, your reactions will be more just. And with time, when your ex can no longer guide you into arguments, he will stop.

If you have tried and you simply can't have a civil conversation with your ex, I suggest mediation. Your ex's resentment may diminish in time, but you really don't have time -- your son is growing every day and needs both Mom and Dad to help in that growing process. A mediator is a third party who is trained and certified in conflict resolution and compromise. He or she will help you and your ex examine your disagreements and draw up an agreement or new visitation schedule that better suits everyone needs. Most mediators are not lawyers and cannot give you legal advice, but they are trained and certified to keep you pointed toward your problem-solving goal so that an agreement can be made. To find a mediator in your area, simply search for "mediation" on the Internet, or look up "mediation" in the Yellow Pages. The lawyer who handled your divorce will also have a list of qualified certified mediators.

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