Splitsville: The Extreme Importance Of Having An Emergency Plan – And A Will

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Welcome to Splitsville. This weekly column will focus on parenting after a divorce, break-up or one-night stand that didn’t end like a Katherine Heigl movie.

When most people imagine separated parents, they immediately assume that the couple was married and has since filed for divorce. I guess it’s our classic family trope living in our heads that just assumes everyone was married when they had kids. As numerous articles have pointed out with various moral motives, that is increasingly not the case. More young women are having children out of wedlock than in, these days. And for many of these couples, that means that they haven’t yet had a reason to go to court or discuss issues like what would happen in case of an emergency.

For a long time, I was one of those people. I chose not to go to court with my daughter’s husband. We worked out our situation on our own, where my daughter lives with me full-time and visits her dad when his schedule allows. We agreed on a child support payment that’s used to save for our daughter’s college expenses or other big expenditures. We talked about discipline practices, holiday schedules and every other guideline you can think of.

You want to know the one conversation we never had? What happened if I died.

It seems like a morbid discussion to broach. No one wants to think about the horrible happening. We want to live on in ignorant bliss pretending like life is fair and safe and never takes young mothers out of the world. That’s not true, but we like to think it is.

Two years later, once I got married to my now-husband, my daughter’s father and I had to sit down and discuss what might happen in the case of a horrible emergency. And it was that conversation that makes me so supportive of laws like the one up for consideration in California, that would allow more than two parents to be legal guardians of one child.

The custody of children is always a difficult subject, but it would be easier if step-parents could get some legal recognition to give them rights and visitation, in the event that the biological parent passes away. In a situation like mine, where my daughter has grown up with two fathers, who she both calls “Dad,” it’s difficult to decide who has custody of her should something happen to me.

These emotional conversations can get ugly. They can hurt feelings. They can cause frustration and anger and stress. But they need to happen. Because even worse than all that stress would be the battle that wages after a child loses a parent and has various people trying to secure their place in the little one’s life.

The simple truth is that every parent, married or never-married, together or divorced, needs to have a will setting up what will happen for their children in the case of an emergency. No matter how unnecessary you think it is, no matter how great your last doctor’s check-up was, tragedy still happens. Parents need to have a plan in place that will help their child deal with such a horrible occurrence.

In my experience, the three-parent law would’ve been extremely helpful in setting up a situation for my daughter that would benefit her best. Unfortunately, the controversial proposal hasn’t made it’s way to Indiana yet. But I’m hoping it will. And I’m hoping that it will inspire more families to prepare themselves and their children for the worst. Just in case.

(Photo: Lane V. Erickson/Shutterstock)