Strategies for Successful Co-Parenting After Divorce: A Legal Perspective
One of the most difficult aspects of a divorce or separation is learning how to co-parent with someone you have a strained relationship with or with someone who has a completely different parenting style than you do.
Here are some basic things you can do to help improve co-parenting:
1. Put Kids First – Set Basic Rules
Your adult dispute is not a matter for your children. Your children did not cause the problem and they cannot fix the problem. Commit to setting aside your differences, in the specific moments when you need to focus on your children. Agree not to put your children in the middle of disagreements and avoid discussing or fighting about adult topics in front of your kids. Do not inadvertently take out your frustrations on the kids or change the things you would typically do for them.
2. Try Co-Parenting Counseling or a Co-Parenting Class
Don’t be afraid to seek professional support. Seeking professional support does not mean you are a bad parent, or you can’t get through it on your own. But why should you go through it on your own? You are not the first person to have this problem and you won’t be the last. There are experienced counselors who specialize in this type of counseling and they can help improve your communication skills and give you tips on how to work with the other parent, in a way which is most beneficial to your children. There are also good parenting classes which address co-parenting. If you feel your children need support during the transition, consider counseling for them too, or consider family counseling
3. Read Co-Parenting Books
There are many great co-parenting books and other on-line resources. Some suggested books are:
Mom’s House, Dad’s House: Making Two Homes For Your Child, Isolina Ricci Ph.D (there is also a children edition to this book)
Putting Children First: Proven Parenting Strategies for Helping Children Through Divorce, JoAnne Pedro-Carroll.
4. Commit To A Mode Of Communication
Different people like to communicate in different ways. Find a communication mode you both can agree upon. For some, in-person meetings end up in arguments, for others, in-person conversations are most effective. If you both like to text, schedule chat times. Google has an option where parents can share a calendar. This is helpful if both parents commit to putting kids’ activities and events on the calendar. You can keep track of your custody schedule this way too.
If you are looking for something with more features, Our Family Wizard (“OFW”) is a website/app that has several tools to help co-parenting communication. OFW allows users to: set up calendars, send specific requests with requested response deadlines, send general communications about the children, keep track of child expenses, maintain important information such as medical and educational matters and it has journal capabilities. The nice thing about the website is that it fosters kind communication and prevents a person from claiming they didn’t get communication. The website tracks log-in history, what messages were viewed and whether responses are made. For high conflict custody cases, you can even grant access to your attorney and Courts can view your communication as well. Messages cannot be deleted. Because of this additional oversight, people tend to speak more respectfully to one another and address concerns as they are raised.
5. Don’t Make Unilateral Decisions
In the midst of frustration over co-parenting conflicts, some parents at one point or another decide that they are simply going to make the decision themselves, without consulting the other parent or even against the wishes of the other parent. I’m not talking about the where do we go for dinner decisions, but decisions like where a child attends school, or whether to medicate a child, or what activities the child may participate in.
While making a unilateral decision may create a short-term solution, this most likely will result in more serious future problems. Keep in mind that once you engage in this behavior, your co-parent will be upset and most likely will start to engage in similar behavior. Trust will be lost and resolving problems becomes much more difficult. Children will start to struggle with boundaries and may even take advantage of the situation.
If you are in a Court process, this behavior is strongly discouraged, and sometimes is legally prohibited. If you cannot find a way to be equal co-parents when it comes to decisions, you could lose the right to do so, or lose custody time or be sanctioned in some other manner. This is why the other suggestions throughout this article are important.
6. Limit Third Party Co-Parenting Interference
Parenting decisions should be made by parents. This is especially true when the divorced or separated couple transitions into new relationship. While step-parents or other significant relationships should have a positive impact on your children, this does not mean the role of the natural parent should be discarded, diminished or devalued.
7. Find Ways To Create Consistency In Both Households
If bedtime at one parent’s home is 8:30 and bedtime at the other parent’s home is whenever the kids want, it should not be surprising that this will negatively impact co-parenting, as well as impact the kids. Likewise, if there is no discipline in one home and its super strict in another home, you will see problems. Find a way to create consistency in both households. It’s okay not to agree on every little thing, but basic rules and daily routines should be as similar as possible.
It’s challenging enough for kids to learn how to navigate transitions from one home to the other. You and your co-parent can make this easier by being on the same page. This will also help your children understand that their behavior should be consistent in both places and it will help prevent children from favoring the home which they think is more “fun,” which really means the home in which they can get away with negative behavior.
8. Be Flexible & Reciprocate
Schedules change. People get sick. Work responsibilities overlap custody time. Your kids will want to do things with friends that were not pre-planned. Special events come up. Life happens! While some families require a rigid schedule, a healthy co-parenting situation is one in which both co-parents recognize that sometimes the schedule needs to be adjusted. If both parents can be courteous in this regard, the children should be able to enjoy all those special moments and be well cared for when the other parent may not be available.
If you and you co-parent can be flexible, the second part is to also reciprocate. Co-parenting will not be effective if you request changes, which are permitted by your co-parent, and then you don’t return the favor when one is asked of you. While it is unreasonable to expect that every request can be accommodated, if you do withhold custody for unreasonable reasons, do not expect that your request in the future will be considered.
9. Be Aware Children Will Test Boundaries – Keep A United Front!
Sometimes kids can be the enemy to co-parenting. They will seek things from the parent they think will give them what they want. Your children will also want to please the parent whose custody they are currently in and may say things just because they think it will make you happy. Learn how to spot these issues! These situations can cause extreme tension between co-parents and may cause problems where none really exists.
If a child raises an issue with you that you believe the other co-parent would not agree with, discuss it with your co-parent. Likewise, if a child raises an issue with something that happened in the other co-parent’s home, discuss it with your co-parent before jumping to conclusions and give your co-parent the opportunity to consider the issue. This does not mean you should ever use the kids to communicate for you, but it means you should go straight to the source and respectfully talk it out. Your children will learn that even through you do not live in the same place, both parents will work together to resolve problems and/or make decisions.
10. Recognize there will be times when you do not agree, and that’s okay. Be resilient and keep at it, even in tough times. Your children are worth it!
Through it all, it is important is to be able to communicate in a respectful manner and to work through the conflict to resolution. If a discussion gets too heated in the moment, take a break and discuss it again later. Try to remember the good qualities of your co-parent in happier times and act in a manner which helps bring out those good qualities. Be the co-parent you want the other parent to be, whether they return the conduct or not. This does not mean you should allow the other parent to walk all over you so to speak, but if you act irrational, you are not helping yourself achieve the result you want. If you focus the narrative in the direction of what is in the best interest of your children, and not what each co-parent prefers individually, you may find you can reach agreement.
Pittsburgh Family Law Attorneys
Liberty J. Weyandt, Esquire leads the Family Law Practice at The Lynch Law Group. She is dedicated to assisting clients who are seeking solutions to complex family law matters. Please contact Liberty at (724) 776-8000 or firstname.lastname@example.org for more information about custody or for information on other family law matters.