If you are in the midst of a difficult Texas family law case then you are likely to have a lot of things on your mind currently. First and foremost you are worried about your children. How are they going to react to the breakup of your marriage? Will they adapt to living in two households? How is your relationship with them going to be after the case has ended? Will you have to send them to counseling before this is all said and done? Parents will forget about almost every other aspect of their case in favor of concerning themselves primarily with the well-being of their children.
This makes a ton of sense to me. As a parent, I can tell you that my kids are constantly on my mind. I am concerned about how they are going to be raised, how to best lead them and how to help them avoid the things that are potentially harmful to them. In large part, however, I think about how to raise my children along with my wife. As married people we have a distinct advantage in that we can speak to our kids in one voice, unified. As a parent who is or is about to be parenting as a single parent, you will face different sorts of challenges.
This is where the idea of co-parenting comes into play. Co-parenting is the idea that you can raise your kids with your ex-spouse in a way that compliments and reinforces one another. This is one of those challenges which I just mentioned to you a moment ago. Perhaps this is the most significant challenge of them all. The fact is that you are going to have to remain inactive communication with your ex-spouse throughout the young life of your children. This means that although you are spending a great deal of time and money on divorcing your spouse, you will remain attached to him or her regarding your children for a long time.
That is what I want to talk to you all about today. Co-parenting is one of the most difficult aspects of post-divorce life for most parents. After all- you are likely divorcing this person due to their inability to see eye to eye with you and work out problems like adults. Now you are going to be asked to work out problems and see eye to eye with you regarding the most important person in both of your lives- your child.
How you successfully manage this transition, or how you come up short, will determine in large part whether or not your child comes out of your divorce in the best shape possible from an emotional and relational perspective. There are some aspects of your relationship with your ex-spouse that you will not be able to improve upon but if you put forth some effort, and follow the tips in today’s blog post, I think you can improve the quality of your life and that of your child as well.
Divorce is not the end of the road with your spouse if you are a parent
As I alluded to a moment ago, parents of a child under the age of 18 who are getting a divorce are not riding themselves of the other person. While you two will no longer be married, it is not the case that you will no longer have a relationship with one another. Your most important and toughest job is still in front of you. That is, raising a child into a productive, happy, functioning adult. Here is the kicker: you have to do so with a person that you probably do not care for all that much (your ex-spouse) and you have to share most of if not all of, the rights and duties of raising that child with that same ex-spouse. Talk about an enhanced degree of difficulty.
How are you going to go about doing this? Have you given it any thought? If you have, I bet you’ve already considered what it is going to be like to show up to one your child’s events (basketball games, soccer matches, band performances, dance recitals, etc.) and see your ex-spouse there. Maybe that ex-spouse will have a girlfriend with him. Awkward. You didn’t think that you would feel weird about that, but, there you go feeling weird anyways. We’re all human.
The most important thing that I have learned from watching clients and former clients co-parent with an ex-spouse is that you need to get along with that ex-spouse. That does not mean that you need to invite him or her over to your house for dinner once a week. That does not mean that you have to greet each other with a big hug. What it does mean, however, is showing a basic level of respect towards the other person. Kids can pick up on little things and if you can’t at least tolerate your ex-spouse and show some civility that will show your child that he or she doesn't have to act respectfully in all situations. Of course, that's not true and of course, that's not the lesson you want to be teaching your kids. The tough part is acting in a way that you don't necessarily feel great about.
Give yourself and your ex-spouse a break
You and your ex-spouse are supposed to keep each other honest after the divorce. That means that when you follow the rules of your final decree of divorce it should be done to benefit your child. The police, the courts, and your parents are not going to be looking over your shoulders to make sure that you are playing nice in the sandbox. Because of that, there is a temptation to do what you want- rules be damned. After all- who cares if you break a rule and it hurts your ex-spouse?
I will caution you on this, however. You will likely be treated the same way that you treat your ex-spouse. Your actions will be met with similar actions back at you. This can lead to a troubling cycle of bad acts creating more and worse acts. Unless this is something you look forward to engaging in then you should think before you act. Remember the golden rule and follow up.
While we are on this subject. If your ex-spouse typically is a rules follower but has shown up 20 minutes late to drop off or pick up your child, do not immediately call your old divorce attorney to discuss filing an enforcement lawsuit. Stuff happens and you should understand that. Again, if you are quick to yell or curse him out for being late for a drop-off/pick up, how do you think he will react to the first time you show up late for something? Probably just as poorly if not worse.
As a family law attorney, I get to hear about the little actions that parents take (or don’t take) that drive the other one nuts. I can tell you from the outside that these are not major issues. Forgetting to return a sock, not washing a t-shirt, sending your child home hungry late on a Sunday night, etc. These are things that are frustrating but don’t necessarily evidence a lack of respect for your ex-spouse. However, since you are emotionally involved in the situation they feel much more dramatic. My advice would be to take a step back from the situation and assess how bad it is. If you can spare some outrage and anger, do so and move on to the next thing.
Holding your ex-spouse responsible for bad acts costs money and time
The thing about holding your ex-spouse responsible for actions you perceive to being counter to your court orders is that doing so costs money. See, you cannot simply contact the police every time your ex-spouse drops your kids off late on a Sunday. Or, you can call them but they won’t help you. You must file an enforcement action against him to do so. This likely means that you must hire an attorney, go to court, take off time from work, pay court costs, etc. There is no such thing as a free enforcement lawsuit in the world of family law.
Next, I would note that it is no sure thing that you will go to court and have the judge provide you with the relief that you believe you deserve. There is a great deal of uncertainty when you and your spouse leave it up to the judge. If your lawyer sits you down and tells you exactly how the trial or hearing is going to go, I would be very skeptical. The fact is that no lawyer can accurately predict how every hearing he or she attends will end up. You are rolling the dice when you leave it to a judge to decide an important matter related to your life.
Here is why I believe that you are risking a great deal by going to trial or hearing rather than settling with your spouse in mediation. The judge is only going to know a little bit about you due to the information and evidence presented at your hearing. You will not have a week to tell your story. You may not even get an entire day. Imagine trying to pack in an entire portion of your life’s story into a few minutes. Good luck with that. Your lawyer will do the best he can to help you present a good case to the judge but you all will not have an unlimited amount of time.
The decisions made by the judge will effectively give him more power and say so when it comes to your child’s life than you will have in some ways. Sometimes going to court is unavoidable. I am not here to tell you that every divorce case can be settled. What I am telling you is that you need to try your hardest to be reasonable and attempt to settle a case before going to a trial or temporary orders hearing. It is a very rare occasion that someone walks out of a courtroom having accomplished everything that he or she wanted to. Judges cannot craft specifically tailored decisions for you and your circumstances.
Co-parenting means putting your pride to the side
The nice thing about co-parenting is that you do not have to fight a battle at every turn against your ex-spouse. Yes, he or she may do things to get on your nerves. Yes, he or she may deserve to be told what’s what. However, if you approach every potential confrontation from the perspective of what is this going to accomplish for my child? you are more than likely going to walk away from most if not all potential confrontations.
This is for the best. Your pride is going to take some lumps in dealing with your ex-spouse. Keep in mind that his will, too. Both of you are having to consider the opinions of a person whom you divorced. That’s not going to make anyone particularly happy. Remember that this is all for your child, and not for you. You are not going to accomplish truth, justice and the American way in your post-divorce life. Do what you can to maintain some normalcy for your child, put your pride aside and love your kiddo.
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