Sometimes what it takes to succeed at something is not to give more effort, but to give less. Allow me to explain. When we think about achieving a goal one of the first things that pops into our head is what we need to do to accomplish that goal. For example, if we want to pay off debt we would probably need to organize a budget and then figure out where we can trim our spending. Excess money would then be applied to the debt. In a matter of months (or years) your debt should be eliminated by utilizing this method.
The key to accomplishing the goal of paying off debt is you changing your behavior by doing something. You are having to take your habits and alter them by replacing them with other habits that are oriented towards paying debt. You can wander into debt, but you can't wander out of debt. It takes a certain amount of effort and conviction to reverse course and move into a debt-free life.
Now, how does this relate to co-parenting? Whereas in many areas of life we need to spend more energy to accomplish a goal, in the area of co-parenting it can benefit you more if you spend less energy. As in, instead of holding onto emotions and using those emotions to fuel your behavior concerning your ex-spouse, you should let go of those emotions. Move on from the relationship or marriage and focus on what is to come.
You can look at it this way: the relationship that you have with your ex-spouse is now a business relationship more than anything. If you were aware of it, you should have already started thinking about the relationship in these terms when the divorce first started. Now that the divorce is behind you, it should be easier to just think of him or her as a person with whom you share a mutual goal.
That mutual goal is to do your best to raise a child who can become a productive, happy, functional member of society. You don’t have to have anything but a mutually shared goal of doing this with your ex-spouse. There doesn’t need to be love, admiration, respect or anything but a desire to serve your child well. Therefore, having any emotional attachment to your ex-spouse is unnecessary and at work can be very harmful.
Bad things may have happened that led to the divorce. It is possible that some very bad things happened. For most parents you can and should look past the divorce and move on to what you can accomplish now. Your windshield is bigger than your rear-view mirror for a reason, after all. Continuing the relive the memories of your divorce serves no good purpose as far as I'm concerned. Those memories will not magically turn into positive ones the more you think about them. If anything, they will cause you to become more and more bitter and jaded towards your ex-spouse. This will cause co-parenting to become virtually impossible.
You can only control yourself
Even if you are putting on a brave face and attempting to co-parent without the distraction of your divorce, there is no doubt that your ex-spouse is going to do things associated with your child that bother or annoy you. Their choice of activities for your child, their inability to remember to bring back all of your child’s belongings at the end of a visitation period, the people your child is exposed to, etc. These are probably habits and traits that are not new.
Even so, if you get bogged down in the little things you will not be able to focus on the big picture issues associated with your child. Just like you did during your divorce you will need to ask yourself whether or not something is worth taking up your time worrying about. Does the action that you are concerned with impact your child in some meaningful way, or is it more or less an annoying habit that causes you to remember why you and your ex-spouse are no longer married?
In the few opportunities that you and your ex-spouse may have to personally interact with each other it can be a valuable lesson to your child to show that his parents can get along cordially. Being civil with him or her can be a great example to your child about how to behave around someone with whom you have a complicated history. On the other hand, if you cannot get along with your ex-spouse it may be a negative lesson for your child. Fighting and bickering over years can show your child that it is appropriate for him to do the same. That likely is not the lesson you want to be teaching your child.
When you (or your ex-spouse) starts to date
In no other situation can it be harder to follow the advice that I have just finished giving you than when you or your ex-spouse begins to dip your toe in the dating pool. There is always going to be a history between you and your ex-spouse. If nothing else, you have a child together. However, the emotional components of the marriage will almost always rear up when that person begins to date. You may find that you have feelings associated with this that you had not anticipated.
It is important that you keep your poise once you learn that your ex-spouse has started dating. I can’t tell you how many times clients have told me that all it took was one funny glance from their ex-spouse’s girlfriend to set them off. Do not let the relationship eat away at whatever bond of co-parenting that you and your ex-spouse share. It is easy to say that, and difficult to practice. But that’s just it- if you practice at this I am confident that you will learn how to maximize the opportunities that you have to be a good example to your children.
Unfortunately, one side effect that I have seen when a parent starts dating after a divorce is that the new partner often has their ideas about how a child should be raised. Those viewpoints may start to bleed into your ex-spouse's philosophy. What can end up happening is that modification or enforcement lawsuits may be filed if any issues arise about your child.
You can do your best to minimize any opportunities for lawsuits to be filed, but you can only do so much. My advice would be to always follow the court orders unless you have a firm agreement with your ex-spouse to informally modify them for a certain period or a certain purpose. Be strong if need be and remind your ex-spouse that the orders are there for a reason. Most new partners will stay out of issues related to your child, but be patient if you find yourself having to counteract two people instead of one. You do not have control over what your ex-spouse does in many regards. Dating is one of them.
Do you need to force your child to see their other parent?
This is a question I that I receive with some regularity. You've just spent a rather lengthy period negotiating custody and visitation orders with your spouse. Now that the divorce is done and over with the last thing you want to do is have yet another issue to fight about. However, if your child doesn't want to go to see your ex-spouse during those visitation periods you have a decision to make. Do you force him to go or do you not?
The bottom line is that your child doesn’t have a choice in the matter. The court orders award both you and the other parent periods of possession. It is your mutual responsibility to facilitate those periods of visitation. Physically forcing your child out of your house and into the vehicle of the other parent may not sound like fun to you, but it may be the option that you need to take.
Keep in mind that the remedy for your ex-spouse is to file an enforcement lawsuit against you if you violate a portion of the court orders. Not making your child available for visitation is a potential violation. It is not a defense to state that your child didn't want to go. While I am not telling you that your child locking himself in the bathroom isn't a difficult circumstance to get through, you may find yourself having to explain that to a judge if it becomes a regular occurrence.
At the very least, you can strongly encourage your child to attend visitation periods with their other parent. You can tell him that he is going to have fun and that he should give the visitation a chance. The older your child is the tougher it is to sell your child on this concept, but it is your job to do so.
You can make it a lot easier on yourself by not speaking badly about your ex-spouse in front of your child. Even backhanded remarks about him or her while you are on the phone with a relative or friend can be picked up on by your child. You may not think your child is listening or that he or she understands but even the tone of your voice can clue your child into what you are talking about.
Change is tough for you and tougher for your child
The other thing that I would mention is that through all of the changes that you are experiencing in your life, your child is experiencing that many changes and more. Both of their parents are going through something really tough. Whereas you have your adult life, your job and other activities that you can use to distract yourself, kids tend to focus on something that bothers them. Your child cannot jump in their car and go for a drive, either. He or she goes to school and then comes home to someone’s home- yours or your ex-spouse’s. There is no relief for your child. The stability of their past life has been upended by your divorce. Remember that as you engage with their other parent on issues relating to co-parenting.
Change means that there will be a time of transition for your family. The transition may take only a few months, or it may take years. Different families have different circumstances. Your main job is to focus on what you can do to ease that transition for your child and to show him or her a good example of what an adult does in difficult circumstances.
I can think of no better way to do this than to work with your ex-spouse when it comes to co-parenting. The rewards of doing so may not show themselves immediately but what you do now can reap benefits for your child down the road.
Questions about co-parenting? Contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan
The attorneys and staff with the Law Office of Bryan Fagan thank you for your time. We are happy to be able to share some pointers associated with family law with you. We understand that you have limited time and appreciate your sharing some of that time with us today.
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