A few weeks ago, I volunteered for my son’s school field trip. When I arrived, I stood in a group of several other parent volunteers. We talked as we waited for the bus to arrive with the children, and we quickly discovered that all of us were divorced. The discussion quickly turned to what seems to be a struggle for many co-parenting situations: what to do with children’s belongings in a divorce.
One parent said she constantly gets text messages from her ex: “Did you send my coat to school with him today?”
Another parent said his ex is extremely particular about the belongings she purchases for the children and is always concerned about making sure the clothes she sends them in get sent back to her house.
Another parent said children’s clothes tend to go to the other parent’s house and stay there.
All are common issues when parenting in two different homes, and all of these struggles ultimately come down to how parents answer one question: Who has the rights to children’s belongings in a divorce, the parents who bought them or the children?
The image above is the statement directly from our 50/50 Parenting Plan: “The children’s belongings (clothes, toys, etc) are theirs and the children are free to take them back and forth from parents’ homes.” If you are truly thinking about the best interest of the child, the answer to the question of who has the rights to the children’s belongings should be the children.
Imagine you were still married, and your child opened a much-wanted new gift from you. The next day the child was going to stay home with the other parent while you went to work. Would you allow the child to play with their new gift even though you weren’t with them? Of course you would. Why then, do parents treat children’s belongings in a co-parenting relationship differently?
Many parents that go through a divorce become possessive of the children’s belongings that initially came from their home, but what that speaks to a child is that the child does not really “own” anything. Having this kind of mindset, we are telling our children that everything they have been given is actually either mom’s or dad’s. This can cause the child to further resent their situation and even to resent the parents, especially as they get older.
To help alleviate this strain placed on your child, here are some new ways to think about a child’s belongings after a divorce:
- Think of the other parent’s home as an extension of your child’s home. Your ex’s home is simply another part of your child’s home. If you use this visual, you’ll start to see both homes together as a collaborative effort in housing your child’s belongings.
- Stop thinking in terms of “mine” and “his/hers” but in terms of “our child’s.” No matter who purchased the item, it was given to your child, and the item should be referred to as the child’s, not mom or dad’s. This website from a law and mediation group has a great list of “do’s and don’ts” when it comes to children’s belongings in a divorce. All of the advice is great, but one of my favorites is this: “For common stuff – including clothes- try not to worry about what comes back and what doesn’t. The clothes are not yours. As long as your children get to wear them, it really won’t matter where they are “housed.” Really, it won’t.”
- Don’t let money be an issue. One reason parents tend to feel possessive of children’s belongings is that they spent their hard-earned money on the stuff. However, in most co-parenting plans, both parents are responsible for spending money on items for the children. Even if the clothes you bought your child are more expensive or more the style you prefer, and they end up being worn when the child is at the other parent’s house, your child is still using the belongings you purchased. If anything, your child is able to use their belongings more often when they are allowed to wear clothing or take a favorite toy or two from one house to the other.
- Ask your child’s input. Clearly a child cannot pack ALL of their belongings and lug that back and forth to each home. Certain items like breakable or very large items don’t travel easily. However, it will give your child a sense of cohesiveness and support if they are allowed to have a small amount of control in which of their items they want to keep where. Maybe you bought them a doll that they prefer to play with using a tea set that’s at the other parent’s home. Ask your child what outfit they want to wear to the other parent’s house. Small gestures like these allow a child to feel that their “stuff” truly is theirs and helps to foster a sense of security and ownership of their belongings.
- Communicate in advance if you need a particular item. If I somehow ended up with all of my son’s hoodies in our home, my ex would let me know he needs some and I’d re-divide them, giving him half of the hoodies. If School Spirit day is coming up and the school shirt was last worn at our home, I make sure I wash it and send it with my son in time for the day he needs it. For special occasions, it’s okay to ask for the child to wear a particular outfit, but give the other parent enough notice of the specific date you’ll need it. Be respectful. Ask, “Did you have an opinion about what Lexi should wear for Picture Day? I’d really love if she wore the new outfit my mom bought her. I think that might be at your house,” instead of “Send my outfit back that my mom bought her, because I want her to wear it for Picture Day.”
Before we leave our home to take my boys to their other home, I ask them, “Is there anything you want to bring with you?” Most of the time, my 12 year old just wants his phone (which his father and I agreed on and pay for equally). My 6 year old sometimes will bring six stuffed animals, sometimes just a chapter book he’s reading for fun, and other times he doesn’t want to bring anything. I let them choose which of their clothes they wear, as long as it’s weather appropriate. Allowing our children to feel ownership in their belongings provides them with a little bit of security, even though their stuff is split between two homes.