It seems like every few years there are a couple of words that we hear so much in the news or in the media that we begin to roll our eyes after hearing that word for the hundredth time. For family law attorneys, the word "co-parenting" is one of those words. We hear it said by judges and we talk to our clients about how to co-parent but I think that the word has been overused to the point of it losing a lot of its meaning. With that said, what does co-parenting mean, how do you co-parent and what are the potential benefits of implementing it in your life? These are the questions that we will seek to answer for you.
Essentially, co-parenting is nothing more than sharing the responsibilities of parenting your child with your ex-spouse. You would be working together with the mutual goal of doing what is in the best interests of your child. This is basically doing the same thing that you would have been doing had you remained married. While the skills used in co-parenting are not always easy to learn, they can be developed with practice.
The tough part about co-parenting is being able to coordinate your efforts with a person that you do not live with, do not see frequently and likely have a less than good relationship with. The irony of ending a relationship or a marriage that resulted in the birth of a child is that while your relationship and/or marriage may have ended, the most important part of your “partnership” is just beginning. Raising a child is the most important responsibility that you will ever have. Co-parenting can help you both to treat it that way and to do so in a way that is child-centered and respectful of one another as well.
Change can be good for your child, but….
If your marriage was failing and you were not able to devote the energy that you needed towards your children then your divorce in many ways is likely going to be a good thing in the long term. However, in the short term, it could cause problems in the immediate sense for your child. The stability of their life prior to your divorce has now been eroded by the family case. What you are left with now is a child who doesn't exactly understand why the divorce happened and certainly doesn't know what to expect.
So, it is your job as the parents to ease your child into the changes that post-divorce life has created. Co-parenting can be a big part of that transition process. You may not want to talk with or interact with your child’s other parent after a difficult child custody or divorce case. That is understandable and is how most people in your position would react to the same set of circumstances.
Keep in mind that your child will do best when he or she has a relationship with both their mother and their father. The knowledge that their parents support them can help your child transition into a new routine and out of a difficult past. Even though you and your ex-spouse no longer live together it is possible for you both to work together on the issues that affect your child. You do not need to do so for any reason other than the love of your child.
How to talk with your child’s other parent after a difficult family law case
Anger, resentment, mistrust, and rage are just a few of the emotions that I have heard many parents express about their child's other parent after a family law case. Especially in the time period immediately following the family law case, you may be some very raw emotions that lead you to believe that you will never be able to interact with your former spouse or partner. I can tell you now that those feelings you are experiencing with either fade or be numbed by the passage of time.
It is crucial that you be able to set aside your differences- at least in front of your children. The chances at your being able to effectively co-parent your children when you fight in front them, or badmouth that parent when he or she is not around are near zero. Your children need to be able to understand that you and your ex-spouse are on the same page when it comes to parenting.
Sometimes I have found that communicating via email or parenting websites like Our Family Wizard can be effective when face to face or over the phone communication will not work. You know your situation better than anyone, so if you think that a phone call will result in hostility do your best to communicate via email. Be careful of what you say, however. I have had many a case where text messages and emails that not too pleasant end are up in front of a judge. Pretend, before you ever send anything in writing to your ex-spouse, that whatever you say will be shown to a judge. That will hopefully cause you to choose your words wisely.
Why you should not want to argue with your ex-spouse (especially in front of your kids)
If my prior warnings about arguments ending up as the basis for another family lawsuit weren’t enough to caution you towards not engaging in this way with your ex-spouse, consider the following reasons as to why you shouldn’t escalate any situation with your ex-spouse.
First of all, remember that your child comes from you and from your spouse, 50/50. A lot of the time when you hurt your ex-spouse or vice versa, your child feels the hurt as well. Your child may be in a mindset where he or she feels the need to protect you and your ex-spouse from any harm. When that harm is caused by their parent this can be a very confusing situation for a child.
Your child's self-esteem may be at an all-time low around the time of your divorce. Children develop an identity by first understanding where they come from and who their family is. You and your ex-spouse are the guides for doing so. If you continue to fight with one another you are doing nothing to build up your children. When so much of their self-worth is tied to their family and the parents you are doing a huge disservice to them when you engage in behavior like this. Some degree is disagreements are inevitable after a divorce but you should work with your ex-spouse to reduce the frequency of these issues coming up.
Focus on your kids, not on each other
It has always struck me that a not insignificant part of the reason why ex-spouses tend to fight with one another after a divorce is that there is some degree of affection for the other person buried beneath the animosity. I realize that you have focused on your spouse for an extended period of time during the family law case, but that is in the rear-view mirror now.
What you are left with is a relationship that is no more, and children that are still here. The kids need to be parented to the best of your abilities. Having the excuse that you just had to go through a difficult divorce or child custody case is not valid. Your kids don’t ultimately care about that. They care that they are meeting their developmental milestones, doing well in school and adapting to the normal changes in life that all kids experience. If you spend your time sniping at your ex-spouse you are not helping your child in any of these areas.
Let bygones be bygones
The fact that you are arguing with your ex-spouse about a relationship that is now over with is a huge waste of time. Not only that, it is an emotional vacuum cleaner. It sucks the emotion and the energy right out of you. All of that energy could have been utilized differently- towards raising your child for example. Think about, years from now, looking back on your relationships with your kids as they were growing up and feeling the regret that you could have done more for them had you not been devoting too much time and energy to re-litigating your failed relationship with their other parent. I don’t think that this would make you feel too good.
Keeping up with your kids is a good thing
An inevitable part of co-parenting is that your children are not going to be with you all the time like they used to be. They will now be splitting time between your home and that of your ex-spouse. With that, you will find that they will develop separate routines that have nothing to do with you. They will develop relationships with people that have little to no influence on. This can be a helpless feeling for many parents who to that point had been involved in every aspect of their child's life.
What can you do to remain a part of your child’s life even when he or she is not with you? The simple answer is to choose to make an effort to communicate with your child’s other parent and to stay involved with what is happening when your child is with that parent. I understand that the other parent may not be as receptive to this idea as you are. However, many parents find that by communicating with the other parent they can get updates on how the child is doing even when he or she is not with them.
Just the facts, ma’am
If you can remove the emotion out of the equation when discussing your children with their other parent you can get a leg up on the co-parenting process. Divorce is, in many ways, a business transaction. You are best served by removing your personal feelings and evaluating a case as a businessperson would. Looking at what is best for your child and what is reasonable when dividing up assets is a winning formula for many people who go through a divorce.
You can apply the same mindset to co-parenting after your family case has come to a close. Approach interactions with your ex-spouse like you do with interactions in the workplace. Imagine that you are just having to get a job done and not involving yourself in emotional discussions. If you do so, you can get the facts of the situation, make decisions and ultimately do what is best for your kids without getting bogged down in arguments or issues relating to your divorce.
Schedule a time to talk with the other parent once a week
This is one that can be very difficult not only because of the emotions that come with communicating with your ex-spouse, but also because we are all busy these days. However, I have found that if you are able to carve out a fifteen minute period of time each week to discuss the goings on with your children that will be a good thing. Problems with school work, a medication that your child started taking or any other details can be shared in this conversation.
Questions about co-parenting? Contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan
If you have any questions about the material that we have shared with you today please do not hesitate to contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan. Our licensed family law attorneys offer free of charge consultations six days a week here in our office. These consultations are a great opportunity to get an honest assessment of your case form an experienced attorney.
Our attorneys and staff take a great deal of pride in being able to represent our clients in courts across southeast Texas. To learn more about our office or to schedule a time to talk to us about your case please contact us today. We are honored that you would choose to spend part of your day with us today reading our blog post. We hope to hear from you soon so that we might share with you how our office can help you and your family.