(Here is a reality-testing article to hand to parents when they're thinking of splitting. - diane)
When Spreadsheets Meet Play Dates: The Logistics of Postdivorce Parenting
By Sue Shellenbarger
18 November 2004
The Wall Street Journal
(Copyright (c) 2004, Dow Jones & Company, Inc.)

IF YOU THINK YOU'VE GOT time-management problems, consider the plight of Pres and Emily Montoya.

Several times a week, Emily's 6-year-old son Antonio moves between the home of the Montoyas and that of Emily's ex-husband and his new wife -- who also care for two additional sets of children from previous marriages. Complicating matters: The Montoyas are both professionals who travel for their jobs.

How complex do things get? Once, when a dispute broke after Antonio's dad failed to take Antonio to an activity the Montoyas had set up, the four parents had to hire a professional mediator to resolve it. Now, the two sets of parents track Antonio's schedule on an Excel spreadsheet. To defuse tension, they negotiate changes monthly.

A sharp rise in complex postdivorce parenting setups is creating a time-management maelstrom for stepfamilies. While custody setups during the past often had a child living with one parent and visiting the other every other weekend or so, the trend now is toward more equal parenting time and more frequent house-to-house moves by children. Seventeen states have passed laws during recent years requiring divorcing parents to make equitable written parenting plans; four states, Maine, Mississippi, Missouri and Louisiana, actually specify a preference for "joint physical custody," with kids' living time split between parents.

The goal, giving kids time with both parents, is a lofty one. But negotiating these Byzantine setups for many divorced parents is like walking into a buzzsaw. The schedules, with labels like "5-2-2-5" and "4-3-3-4" to denote the number of days a child spends at each house in succession, are mind-boggling.

Beyond that, time-management conflicts often arise as a proxy for deeper issues, including ex-spouses' resentment, anger and guilt, says Rich Chaifetz, a neuropsychologist and CEO of ComPsych, a Chicago employee-assistance provider that often fields requests from stepfamilies for help. "The scheduling is typically as good as the relationship between the ex-spouses," he says.

To avoid having to talk with their ex-spouses, some divorced parents swap information online or by e-mail. Others hire a mediator or sign up for a new kind of stepfamily-training program that is springing up, in part to solve this problem. Still others throw their careers overboard to start their own businesses, just to get the flexibility they need to make their kids' ever-changing schedules work.

Couples like the Montoyas are bending over backward to provide their kids time with each parent. Antonio's weekdays and weekends are about evenly split, in a rapidly alternating rotation between his two Greeley, Colo., homes. After Antonio's father dropped the ball on one of Antonio's activities, the two couples sat for six sessions with a mediator, talked through the tensions, and hammered out a scheduling process. Now, they secure mutual consent before signing Antonio up for anything. The guiding principles, Mr. Montoya says: "Calm down and think about your kids."

A Chicago marketing manager shares a Yahoo online calendar for scheduling with her ex-husband and his new wife, who care for her daughter one night a week and part of each weekend. Another divorced mother, a Chicago bank manager, e-mails a four-color Excel spreadsheet back and forth with the father of her two children, ages 10 and 12, and his wife. Orthodontist appointments and tutoring, camps and holidays, nights with friends, nights at their dad's, nights at their mom's, nights when the girls split between the two houses -- all are posted in dazzling complexity and updated often.

"We tried a paper model, but then you get five different iterations, and which is the one you end up with, and where did that copy go?" the bank manager says. With the e-mail version, "I can tell you from now through the end of 2005 where my kids are going to be."

Dara Wegener-Volker was wrapping Christmas presents for her three stepchildren when they unexpectedly arrived three days early at her Andover, Minn., house. The kids' mother and father had misunderstood each other when scheduling "a week with dad." Later, the kids had to return early from a planned Texas trip with their mother, to squeeze in holiday time with their paternal grandparents.

"That miscommunication on the calendar turned our Christmas into a nightmare," says Paul Volker, Ms. Wegener-Volker's husband. To avert such problems, Mr. Volker dreamed up an idea for an information-sharing Web site; OurFamilyWizard.com is now used by 2,000 divorced parents to share calendars, records, contacts and expense logs with ex-spouses.

New training programs are cropping up. In Avon, Conn., psychologists at Beacon Behavioral Services, a mental-health counseling and consulting concern, offer one called "Parents Equally Allied to Co-parent Effectively," or PEACE, that teaches parents co-parenting skills.

Some parents are starting new careers to make shared parenting work. Mimi Azoubel Daniel and her husband alternate weeks with his two children by a previous marriage, 13 and 16. To get the flexibility they need, they both quit careers in advertising and started their own businesses. They spend up to three hours a day during their "on" weeks driving the kids to and from school and activities in the neighboring school district where their mother lives. And they plan everything, including their own 3-year-old's activities, around the stepchildren's schedules, says Ms. Daniel, who lives in Baltimore.

Yours, Mine, Ours: Resources for stepfamilies
  -- Stepfamily Association of America: This advocacy group, at
SAAFamilies.org, provides information and support.
  -- OurFamilyWizard.com: A Web site with tools enabling divorced parents to
share scheduling, medical, school, sports and cost-splitting information
about their children, for $99 a year per parent.
  -- Mediation: Trained mediators are available by attorney referrals or
through some state Web sites such as njapm.org in New Jersey, or www.NCAPFM.com
in North Carolina, for fees of roughly $100-$200/hour.
  -- PEACE, or "Parents Equally Allied to Co-parent Effectively," a skills-
training program available in Connecticut, New York and Pennsylvania. 860-

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