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Joint custody mother wants to know what are reasonable phone rules for contact with child

Your Question:
First, thank you for this website and your common-sense, brutally honest answers. I have two questions. First, is there a point at which phone contact crosses the line from "reasonable" to obsessive and excessive? Let me explain...My former husband and I share 50/50 legal and physical custody of our 7-year old daughter. She spends half of each week with each of us, with alternating long weekends (Ex: Tues-Thurs. nights with me one week, Wed.- Sat. night w/me the following week). Our parenting plan states we are each allowed reasonable phone visitation. I live 2 1/2 blocks from my ex. and we have very frequent contact with each other, almost daily, and sometimes several times a day (frankly, I think he makes excuses to contact me for silly things that he could figure out himself). We both try to speak to our daughter every day for a minute, usually in the evenings. However, if I know her and her dad are doing something together, and I don't reach her, I don't obsessively call until I do. I figure she's entitled to have a life with him, and I don't need to constantly insert myself into their time together. She is old enough now that often when something happens that she wants to share with one of us, she picks up the phone and calls the other parent whenever she feels like it, which we are both fine with. My concern is with how frequently her dad calls her. I feel there should be a balance between both of our desire to talk to her and both of us being able to have a life and routine with her without having to be interrupted by phone calls all the time. Neither one of us has ever restricted phone contact, but nor do I feel that I have to answer my cell phone in the car, at the mall, while we're visiting family, during holiday celebrations with family, while at the beach, etc. the instant he calls. Especially since I've always let her call him at will, and if we're otherwise occupied and see the he's called, I have her call him later when we get home. However, he tends to get obsessive, and if I don't answer my cell phone, will call every 30 minutes or so, both at home and on my cell phone until he reaches her. One time recently he called on a Saturday while she was outside playing with friends, and I told him I'd have her call him later. It ended up being a busy day with a visit to my in-laws later, and she fell asleep on the way home that evening. I noticed that while we were gone during a 5 hour period, he called the house 5 times. He picked her up the next morning at 8:30 a.m. as scheduled. The next day I called to speak to her, and he said she was "busy" coloring , and she'd have to call me later. He then asked me how I liked being treated this way, and he'd be sure to have her call me back as quickly as I did the day before. By the way, my cell phone is company issued, and I pay for all personal calls made or received on it. I've told him this, and asked him to keep calls to my cell phone to a minimum, but he disregards this. I've also asked him to call before 8 p.m. on school nights, as she's in bed by 8:45, and we're doing bedtime routine (baths, reading, etc. by 8:00. Many times if he's busy, he'll call as soon as he becomes available, with no regard for the time. He's called as late as 10 p.m. before, and many times has called after 9 p.m. and becomes annoyed when I say she's asleep and will have to call him in the morning. It isn't ucommon for him to speak to her early in the evening, and then call back 2 hours or less later to tell her good night. Honestly, I think he calls so frequently more because of control issues with me, rather than needing to connect with her. Any suggestions for setting some reasonable boundaries for his phone calls without him feeling like I'm restricting his access to his daughter? Keep in mind, she knows both of our cell phone and home phone numbers and is free to call either of us on either number whenever she feels like it. She also walks to school in the mornings with kids that live next door to her dad, and usually stops to give him a hug and tell him "hello" every school day morning. So, it isn't as if he isn't fully involved in her life, and doesn't ever get to see or speak to her.

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My Answer:

I think you describe a man who's calling an unreasonable number of times.

That said, with your one example, let's not kid ourselves and claim that there was NO time (in the car, at any place) where you could have said, "Hey sweetie, daddy called while you were playing... how about giving him a call real quick."

It was more important to you to control the situation and make him wait. Maybe you did it out of resentment for him calling so much, or maybe that's just who you are. But that's the situation with that example, right?

I suggest you say, "Look, it seems like there's some frustration with calling our daughter, so let's set some ground rules that are reasonable... so we can keep the peace between us."

Propose to make it stipulated orders, if he wants, to demonstrate how serious you're taking it and want him to take it.

My suggestion:

1. Child may freely call either parent, as much as she wishes.

2. Either parent may call once per day while child is with the other parent.

3. Parents will have child return any message left between 9am and 7pm, as soon as reasonably possible, not to exceed a wait of 3 hours, so that child may talk with parent who called.

Something like that should solve everything (and it's probably very close to what a judge would feel is reasonable).

If you can't come to middle-ground terms, you two will increasingly play the phone games, get frustrated, and harm the co-parenting relationship that is so important to your kid.


This website gives common sense advice that is not intended to act as legal guidance nor psychological guidance. The author is neither an attorney nor licensed psychologist. For specific legal guidance or specific psychological guidance, consult with a licensed professional.

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