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Co-parenting after a divorce: Can it be done?

Many parents who go through difficult divorce cases spend the entirety of that divorce constantly going through all of the problems that their spouse has caused. Whether they are problems related to financial, family or other matters there is a seemingly unending list of grievances. Some are probably justified; many probably could be overlooked in other circumstances. The point is that if you let it happen, your mind can be populated by a great deal of negative thoughts about your spouse during a divorce.

That is normal to an extent. Obviously, you wouldn’t be going through this divorce if everything was just peachy at home. However, a parent needs to think long term as far as how their spouse, and they are going to transition into post-divorce life. This is a huge part of your case that I think many parties and their attorneys simply overlook due to the constant barrage of deadlines, issues, court dates, mediation settings and general stress associated with a divorce. 

We lose sight of the fact that while a divorce may seem like it is going to take forever to complete, it will not. Your divorce will conclude in relatively quick fashion. After that it is you, your child and your ex-spouse who are left to determine the course of your child’s life from that point forward. The divorce is not the period at the end of the sentence. Rather, we can look at it as a means by which you and your ex-spouse get a second chance to raise your child in the best way possible considering the circumstances. 

The way that you all can maximize your child’s learning opportunities after the divorce is to engage in a sincere effort to co-parent. Co-parenting is a term that is thrown around a lot nowadays, but it is nonetheless very important. We introduced this topic yesterday, so I recommend that you go back and read our thoughts on this subject contained in yesterday’s blog post, as well. 

We can start today’s blog post by remembering that no one decision or one event will shape the remainder of your child’s life. If you or your ex-spouse make a mistake in parenting, if you yell a little too loud or are impatient where you should have shown restraint that will not permanently scar your child. What does have the potential to leave a permanent mark on your child is the inability of you and your ex-spouse to be civil and respectful towards one another on a long-term basis. 

Your children are watching you more often than you think. Those “little” habits that you are not proud of but don’t think that anyone else notices? Your child notices. So just think how your child sees you and your ex-spouse relating to one another. It is not an easy thing to get along with an ex-spouse. I understand that. However, you can almost always be respectful. You can always keep your opinions to yourself on matters that relate to your ex-spouse but do not relate to your child. Be decent to one another. 

Do what’s best for your child- not what’s best for you

This is something that I think most parents would say that they attempt to do in their daily lives. Putting your child first is something that comes naturally to most parents. However, it can become more difficult when you have an ex-spouse whose motives are not always clear. You may assume that your ex-spouse is doing something just to spite you rather than for the betterment of your child. 

Do not become spiteful of your ex-spouse. For instance, if your child wants to spend an extra day at their father’s house over summer vacation you should be willing to allow that to happen. Obviously if you have other plans for your child that is something that should take precedence, but if not, you should think about allowing your child to do this. Clearly it is what she wants to do and has risked upsetting you by asking permission to stay at her father’s an extra day. In the interest of co-parenting I would recommend you consider the request. Odds are good that when your ex-spouse sees you at least think about it, he is more likely to do the same when the shoe is in on the other foot in the future. 

You do not need to fall in love again with your ex-spouse. You do not need to develop a new appreciation for him or her. I am not asking you to actively try to do anything like that. What I am suggesting is that by doing your best to see things from their perspective and to give him the benefit of the doubt you are taking huge steps in co-parenting well. You do not have to like one another to co-parent well, but you do have to have a functioning relationship.  Tolerate one another and that will lead to good things for your child. 

As it pertains to your court orders, you and your ex-spouse can come up with agreements on the fly that trump the language in your court documents. You all do not have to hold steadfast to what the orders say just because a judge signed it. Keep in mind that the court order does act as a fallback option for you all in the event that you cannot agree on a change, but in general you all can create your own mini-orders just by being able to tolerate one another, put your child’s interests ahead of your own and communicate on a basic level. 

Communication is key

I’m willing to bet your and your ex-spouse’s inability to communicate with one another was a major factor in your divorce. Every marriage has problems and challenges that arise from time to time. However, if you cannot communicate with your spouse about those challenges and problems that you have no chance at having a fruitful marriage. Talking through the problems, arriving at a mutually agreed to solution and then accepting the consequences of your decisions are the hallmarks of a good marriage. 

You may have spent the months of your divorce talking through your attorneys to one another, but once your divorce has concluded you and your ex-spouse need to be able to talk to one another. I don’t use the word “need” lightly, either. It is essential that you all communicate well with one another. This is not optional. Your child’s well being and sense of self depends on your and your ex-spouse’s ability to be civil and share information well. 

There is a difference between being communicative and being confrontational. Let’s talk about each. When you communicate with your ex-spouse you are transmitting information via the spoken word. You are physically speaking to that person. Meanwhile, your ex-spouse is able to take in and process the words that you say. In return, he responds back. There is an opportunity to have an open dialogue one another. You can improve upon the ideas of the other and also clarify them so that there are no misunderstandings about any problems you are experiencing. 

On the other hand, I would advise you to not be confrontational. You can begin with every intention in the world of being communicative and end of being confrontational instead. Confrontation occurs when we do not allow ourselves the patience and restraint to communicate, and instead deliver monologues to the other person. If you were upset that your ex-spouse said or did something, but did not allow him to give you an explanation then you are entering into a confrontation with that person. The opportunity for conversation has likely passed you by. 

If you have problems communicating with your ex-spouse, I would recommend that you utilize technology to your advantage. Text messaging is a good way to communicate simple messages without having to pick up the phone. I would caution you, however, in engaging in long text message conversations. As a family law attorney who has read many of those text-chains, I can tell you that they are tedious to read and even more tedious to be involved in. If you feel like your text message is turning into a textbook simply tell your ex-spouse that you would prefer to speak to him about the issue rather than send a thousand text messages. 

The other tip that I would share with you on communication is to be direct with what you are asking for. If you need your ex-spouse to send your child home with their rain jacket all you need to do is to ask for that to be done. You do not need to remind him that he forgot last week. The emotional pound of flesh that we try to take with us in situations like that rarely often comes and when it does, it never really feels as good as we would like it to. Ask for what you want and be prepared to give an explanation if your intent is not obvious. 

Decision making on some issues needs to be done as a team

If you are deciding where to take your child to dinner you do not need to call your ex-spouse for their input. However, if you are trying to make a big decision in relation to your child you can and should do so as a team. Again, it may feel weird to think of your ex-spouse as a teammate of yours but that is exactly what he or she is. You are working together to accomplish the mutually held goal of raising a productive, happy and functional human being in the form of your child. This was the most important part of your marriage and will continue to be the most important part of your lives as unmarried parents. 

Look to your court orders to see what you are obligated to do as far as sharing decision making responsibilities. You may not even have to consult with your ex-spouse on a certain topic but you can gain some goodwill for yourself if you do anyways. Remember that ultimately you and your ex-spouse can do whatever you want in relation to your child, so long as you agree to whatever actions you end up taking. The court order is a fallback provision, the net beneath the trapeze artists, if you will. 

Be considerate of your child’s activities- even if you are not necessarily a fan

If your ex-husband got your child into softball as a little girl, coached her teams and generally was the point-person when it came to that subject you should be respectful of this. Your child is a player on a team and has responsibility not only to herself but to her teammates and coaches to attend team functions. 

So, if your child has a softball practice during your week of possession you need to take her. Even if you don’t care about softball a bit. Even if you don’t feel the responsibility to take her due to it being her “father’s thing.” You are showing your daughter that by not taking her, that the commitments she makes in life can be broken. This is a bad precedent to set for your child. Help your child honor their commitments by taking her to practice and games just like if she were with her father. 

Co-parenting is tough, raising a child without the assistance of the other parent is even tougher

I’m here to tell you that you are going to want your ex-spouse to be an involved, active participant in the life of your child. It is for the best (in the vast majority of situations) for your child to have an involved mother and father in their life. It is a great deal of pressure on you to be a single parent. Do not make decisions that purposefully block out the other parent. Keep each other involved, communicate as frequently as you can and always put the interests of your child ahead of your own. That is what co-parenting is all about. 

If you have any questions about the material contained in today’s blog post please do not hesitate to contact the Law Office of Byan Fagan. Our licensed family law attorneys offer free of charge consultations six days a week where we can answer your questions and provide you with direct feedback about your specific circumstances. 

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