My ex husband and I have been divorced for almost 6 years. Needless to say, our relationship as divorced parents has been less than cordial. My son just turned 11. For his birthday, I decided to purchase a smartphone and add the line to my plan, under my name. I am paying for the phone and the plan myself, with no financial assistance from my ex husband. He is demanding the phone number of this new phone and wants to be able to talk to our son whenever he wants. He is able to talk to him through my cell phone or our landline whenever he wants. Do I have a legal obligation to give him this specific secondary number, that is under my name and that I pay for? I feel that keeping my primary phone always open and always available to him to communicate with his son is appropriate. I do not feel that giving my son’s number is wise. I think he is going to call late at night and abuse it. He often upsets our son when they are on the phone together and I need to know when they are talking. Am I completely wrong? Should I disclose this number to him? Any advice you may have would be wonderful, so I know that I am doing the right and correct thing.
The short answer is no. You do not have a legal obligation to give your ex your son’s cell phone number. I do believe, however, that co-parenting means avoiding and defusing these kinds of disputes whenever possible. I am concerned that this is putting your son in a very difficult position. I assume that your son knows his own number, and is now in the position of keeping this number a secret from his dad? I imagine that this is creating stress for him. Perhaps you could give dad the number along with a request that he abide by the ground rules- no calls after 7, etc. If he abuses it, you could then take necessary steps like taking the phone from your son at night, monitoring the calls and text messages, etc. Then perhaps you could send the phone to dad’s house during his visitation and have the same access to your son.
These kinds of issues are always hard to navigate and there is no perfect solution. My advice would be to take a position that does not put your son in the middle of the dispute.
If your custody order includes a provision regarding the frequency of phone contact, there is nothing wrong with attempting to enforce this provision. While I generally advise that you should not use your parenting plan as a strict rigid guide to raising your child, the purpose is to help you resolve disputes. When you can’t agree, your court order is there as a fall back.
If you perceive telephone calls from the other parent as an intrusion on your time with the child, you need to examine why you feel this way. If your ex is calling multiple times a day and intentionally creating disruptions, then your feelings may be justified. If, however, your anger is due to feelings of jealously, you may want to consider whether you are being fair to your child and the other parent. Ask yourself, what harm is being done by giving telephone access to your child’s other parent. If no real harm is being done, you should not stand in the way of the call.
As a general rule, one phone call a day is appropriate. The call should not be used to interrogate the child about his daily activities with the other parent. The child should know when his parent is trying to reach him. The call should not be recorded. The child should be given privacy to talk so that he may speak freely. And most importantly, the child should not be made to feel guilty about wanting to talk to the other parent.
Jessica H. Anderson
Divorce Attorney Reno, NV