During the divorce proceedings one parent may be designated as the Parent of Primary Residence. The other Parent will have some form of parenting time with the children. Surely there are court decisions wherein both Parents will share residency custody, but such a decision is less frequent.
The Parent who is awarded primary residence is now in an extremely powerful position as regards the life of the children. Daily decisions about schooling, health, and social activities are in large part mediated by the residential parent. Depending upon the age of the children, the Parent with whom they reside has not only extensive decision making power, but can significantly affect the quality of the child relationship with the ‘visiting’ parent.
As a simple example, the residential parent determines whether the child is well enough to have visitation with the non-residential parent. A simple cold, or tooth-ache can be used as the reason for cancelling a visit with the absent parent. Another typical situation involves access to phone calls from the ‘visiting’ parent. Often the non-residential parent will not be able to fulfill court ordered phone time with their child, and the gate keeper is the residential parent. Why not allow the phone call? The answer may be that the child is doing homework, punished, sick, busy on a computer game, or the child just does not want to speak with the calling parent. What is the actual case? Is the denial of phone contact due to malice, or a child suffering flu symptoms?
It is critical that when ordering a residential decision that the Parent awarded primary residence be advised that the role is not one of ownership, and ultimate control. The Parent of primary residence bears the responsibility to advance the child’s relationship with the non-residential parent.
The designation of Parent of Primary Residence does not necessarily mean a determination of ‘better’ parent. The decision has various determinants, such as age of the children, nature of the physical residences, and the work schedule of the parents.
Any existing alienation and bitterness felt by the residential parent must be suppressed so that the children can prosper with the non-residential parent. If the child support payment is late, or short-changed, the residential parent is not to use access to the children as retribution. If the non-residential parent must change the schedule, or comes late, or returns the children late, availability of the children cannot be used as punishment. It is important to appreciate that many children would not agree to the court’s decision regarding primary residence, and as such the residential parent bears an additional burden of having to deal with disgruntled children.
The consequences of divorce are fraught with anguish in the best of circumstances, and that is particularly true when children are involved. Faced with the loss of an intact home, and the comfort of knowing that both Parents are present, the artificial, but necessary fracturing of that life space requires a level of parental maturity that is all too often inadequate.