The thing about marriages that go through a divorce is that, while one relationship ends (your marriage), another is just beginning if you are fortunate enough to have children. Your ability to successfully parent your children after a divorce depends on several factors, perhaps the most important among them is your ability to co-parent your children together with your ex-spouse. This is not a skill that comes easy to most people and it is certainly not something that you will always want to do.
However co-parenting is typically good for your child. He or she benefits from being impacted both by their mother and father. If you believe that co-parenting with your child's other parent will prove to be impossible, you have come to the right place. Not only am I going to provide you with some tips and tricks that can help you to communicate and problem solve better with your ex-spouse, but I am also going to talk to you about specific activities that your child can engage in that you need to emphasize in your co-parenting.
See into the future and understand how important co-parenting is
Many pieces of advice can seem like they are not all that practical when you are going through a divorce. Those are the things that you hear from people who are generally well-intentioned but not exactly good at giving you advice that will apply to you and your family daily. Co-parenting is something that will impact you and your child every day of your lives after the divorce has been finalized. Sporting events, dance recitals, band performances and events like these will bring you and your ex-spouse into proximity to one another.
The biggest piece of the puzzle when it comes to co-parenting is to do your best to get along with the other parent. Nobody is arguing that you should eventually become this person's best friend. However, with some time and practice, I think you can learn to work with the other parent to do what is right for your child even if it doesn't make you the happiest camper in the world.
It's all about keeping things in perspective. If your ex-spouse is 15 minutes late to pick your daughter up for weekend visitation that is not the end of the world. People make mistakes, people have things that are unpredictable happen to them and you are just as likely to find yourself being the parent who has committed once of these offenses. The next time you pick up the phone to chew the other parent out because he forgot a clothing item or didn’t treat you with the “respect” that you think should be shown, remember that he or she may be having a bad day or that you may just be expecting too much of that person at that time.
One thing I will note here is that if your child's other parent has engaged in domestic violence then that is a factor that renders this entire discussion moot. It would be wrong to attempt to work out problems with that ex-spouse is violence is a potential response. You need to keep yourself safe and do the same for your child. You can talk to your attorney about what safeguards you should work to have input into your final decree of divorce.
Going to court is not fun, and you likely won’t have a “truth and justice” moment that you had been hoping for. Instead, going to court will cost you money and cost you time. There are no guarantees when it comes to going to court, and you should be wary if you are speaking to an attorney who tries to guarantee you a particular result when it comes to going to court.
You will be asking a judge- someone who doesn't know your family at all- to decide what is in your child's best interests after only a few hours in their courtroom. Do you think that the judge will be in a better position than you and your spouse to make decisions about your child? Of course not. Even if you and your spouse cannot agree on much of anything in your divorce, I am willing to bet that you can agree that you know what is best for your child in comparison with the judge.
Remember that you are doing everything for your child
It is easy to lose sight of the fact that you are going through all of the hardships of a divorce to better the life of your child. You've likely come to the decision that your relationship is not healthy for you or your spouse, but especially your child. To expose him or her to an unhealthy relationship is dangerous to their well-being. You and your spouse understood this and have decided to move forward with the divorce.
This was a good example of co-parenting. Even though the co-parenting decision that you made was to end the relationship, you still worked together with your spouse to do something that was primarily a benefit to your child. That can be used a bridge to the rest of the divorce process where you could begin to put aside your differences and focus on what is best for your child.
Many people forget about this when their divorce begins, and instead focus on the competitive “me versus you” dynamic of a divorce. It becomes a competition to get as much time with your child and keep as much “stuff” as possible. Depending on your circumstances there could be a great deal of stuff to fight about. Your attorney can either help you to focus on your goals or can help you to lose sight of your goals and focus on other things that are not nearly as important.
As you begin to shift into post-divorce life, remember that if your child wants something that does not align with what you want that it is not necessarily a bad thing. , I am not telling you to ignore your instincts but you should be willing to allow your child time with your ex-spouse if he or she wants that. For example, if your son asks for an extra afternoon with his father in the summer you should think about whether to allow this-especially if his father is willing to transport him back to your home.
The parenting plan and visitation schedule that is contained in your orders do not need to be followed exactly if you and your ex-spouse can agree on modifications along the way. It is not uncommon for parents to trade weekends, extend stays, fill in for each other at events or otherwise change or adapt schedules to accommodate their child. If you and your ex-spouse are having problems negotiating and working together to come up with creative solutions to issues after the divorce is finalized, then you can and should use the possession orders. However, a judge will tell you that they will want you and your ex-spouse to be able to work out issues between yourself rather than going back to court and seeking a modification of the order.
Remember that if you cannot work out a solution to a specific problem you always can fall back on the language contained in your order. There is nothing wrong with sticking to the plan as it was conceived by you all in mediation. However, if you can work together and communicate with each other about issues that arise it is more likely that you will be able to problem-solve together and arrive at a compromise. This is better for your child and your relationship as parents.
Communication is the key
Even if you are unable to come up with solutions with your ex-spouse every time there is a problem, you can at least use the opportunity as a time where you can communicate with him or her. Many ex-spouses lose the ability to co-parent because they are unable or unwilling to communicate with the other person. You do not need to become best friends with your ex-spouse but you need to be willing and able to communicate with him or her about the important issues about your child.
There is a difference between communication and confrontation. If your ex-spouse has done something to upset you then it would be wise to take a step back and consider it from their perspective. I will counsel clients that most people do not do things to upset you or to purposely do harmful things. Instead, most people do things without thinking at all or do things without considering how their actions will impact others.
Little decisions regarding your child can be made individually by you and your ex-spouse. Big issues should require you and your ex-spouse to come together and work out the issues with one another. Your family law order likely requires this. Look to the section on rights and duties and see what rights you each have about medical, psychological and educational decisions. From there you can figure out how much say-so you have over a particular area of your child's life.
There are little things you can do to increase your ability to co-parent in the future. For instance, if you know that your child’s school only sent out one set of graduation announcements, you can do the right thing and text or email a photograph to your ex-spouse so that he knows where and when graduation is. This is something that takes little effort to do but can go a long way towards ensuring that you all have a great chance at finding success at co-parenting your child.
Focus on extra-curricular activities
Be a grown-up and take your child to their activities if the activity falls on your day. Even if it is not an activity that you particularly enjoy. Let's say that you are a mom and don't care if your son plays t-ball. You would prefer that the money be saved for his college education. If your son enjoys playing t-ball then you should support him in playing t-ball. Your ex-spouse may have signed him up for the league but that shouldn't factor into your decision whether or not to drive him to a game or practice.
By going to a game you are not committing to have to sit by your ex-spouse or even interact with him or her. However, if your child sees both of his parents in the stands supporting him during a game that can go a long ways towards boosting his confidence. Remember that he may be feeling a bit unsure of himself due to your divorce. The homelife he had been used to as a child has completely changed. Seeing his family in the stands can go a long way towards helping him mend his self-confidence.
Questions on co-parenting issues? Contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan
If you are interested in this topic please consider returning to our blog tomorrow as we will continue to discuss it with you. The work of parenting is just beginning when your divorce or child custody case has concluded. We would like to be able to share with you some tips and perspective on this subject that we have learned a great deal about by representing the people in our community.
In the meantime, if you have any questions about the material that we wrote about today please do not hesitate to contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan. Our licensed family law attorneys are available to meet with you six days a week for a free of charge consultation. These consultations are a great opportunity to ask questions and receive direct feedback about your specific circumstances. Thank you for your time and we hope you will join us again tomorrow.