Q I have two boys. Their dad and I are divorced and we have both remarried — their dad first, and me a couple of months ago. Their father has always had very inconsistent work hours and works a lot of overtime, and I think his schedule really affects the boys. As they get older they're becoming more disorganized and not doing as well in school. I'm thinking about going back to court to change the custody agreement, but before I do, I'd like to know what's more important — their dad having them when he can, or the stability of knowing where they're going to be during the week?

A Actually both, and because that's the answer, it just reinforces the need to use good ex-etiquette when problem-solving with Dad. Looking to change the children's scheduled time with the other parent is often the first place divorced parents look when facing a problem with the kids, and that may not be the right answer. In this case, he's always had inconsistent hours. That means if the boys' behavior has recently changed, there's probably more to this than an inconsistent work schedule. More likely the additional changes, such as your divorce, their dad's remarriage and your remarriage just a couple of months ago have had an effect as well.

Both you and Dad may have to make concessions to help the boys adjust. Dad may have to admit that his inconsistent hours make it difficult on the boys and look for ways to adjust his work schedule. You may have to be more flexible. This could mean that you may have to become more cordial with his new wife so that you can better coordinate scheduling efforts. (Bottom line, it means you may all have to do some things that you don't want to do to make it easier on the kids. Good Ex-etiquette for Parents Rule No. 10: "Compromise whenever possible.") You have the solutions already. You just have to decide to cooperate and put them into practice.

Although good ex-etiquette always starts with the biological parents, it doesn't end there. It's not you against the boys' dad. It's all of you for the kids. If you all put the kids first (Good Ex-etiquette for Parents Rule No. 1), between four unselfish adults you'll be able to find a solution. That's good Ex-etiquette.