The papers are signed, the assets divided, and the logistics all worked out. Everything’s done and over and you never have to see your now-ex ever again, right? In some cases, the answer is a resounding yes. If you have children, however, it’s not always so easy. Welcome to the brave new world of co-parenting, these co-parenting strategies just might save your life. Or at least your sanity.
What Is Co-Parenting?
Co-parenting is when a couple breaks up, divorces, or otherwise separates, but continues to work together to raise a child or children. This basically becomes your new reality in one form or another.
When a divorce involves kids, a key part of the process in Washington is the parenting plan. This lays out custody, visitation, child support payments, and how much time each parent spends with the kids.
For most people, co-parenting represents a substantial change and the adjustment can be tough. You’ve got scheduling and logistical hurdles to clear. Then there’s the fact that you have to communicate with and most likely see your ex, which can be difficult for some.
Kids go through a lot in divorce. Co-parenting is no picnic for them, either. Just as you need to take care as you traverse this rugged terrain, you need to make sure they also have the tools to contend with a tumultuous, emotional time.
With that in mind, here are some suggestions and potential co-parenting strategies for keeping things as smooth as possible.
1. Communication and Co-Parenting Strategies
There are visitation schedules to arrange, vacations to plan for, and it’s important each parent lets the other know what’s going on in a child’s life. How much work this takes depends on how amicable you and your ex are after the split.
This is often difficult, but fortunately, we live in an age of technological marvels that can lend a hand.
If you can’t talk in person or on the phone without arguing, email, text messages, social media, and instant messenger services provide an alternative means of keeping in contact. Various online co-parenting tools and even apps for smartphones also help balance hectic schedules.
Related Reading: Dos and Don’ts For Protecting Your Visitation Rights
2. Co-Parenting and Consistency
Kids tend to push back and test boundaries in new situations. When rules and expectations change from one parent to the next, problems often arise. Consistency across the board is important to keep things from going too far.
Establishing a uniform structure between homes often reduces conflict. The kids can’t say, “But dad lets me…” or “At mom’s house…” because you already know the rules about homework, bedtime, and all the rest.
Not only does this provide stability after an unstable time, it makes day-to-day life easier.
Related Reading: What are the Odds of Getting Primary Custody?
3. Co-Parenting And Schedules
While consistency is key in co-parenting, another big part of that is maintaining a regular schedule.
Watching parents go through a divorce is often confusing and disorienting for kids. Keeping a steady schedule goes a long way toward creating a sense of stability and normalcy. This way they know where they’ll be, who they’ll see, and what to expect.
Children lead increasingly busy, hectic lives, and changes are bound to happen. When they do, it’s important to let the kids know as far in advance as possible, so they know what to anticipate.
Related Reading: My Son Wants to Live With Me, Can He?
4. Stay Positive
For the sake of your children, it’s important to commit to keeping a positive attitude in co-parenting.
Try your best not to fight—often easier said than done—your kids have likely seen enough of that to last a lifetime. Don’t badmouth your ex in front of, or especially to your kids.
You don’t have to like your ex, but for the kids, try to keep your emotions in check. It isn’t always easy to avoid, but bitterness doesn’t do anyone any good, and your kids first and foremost.
And never use your children as tools for revenge or retribution. It will come back to haunt you in many ways.
Related Reading: Can Your Ex Keep the Kids From Playing Sports?
5. Love Your Kids
This probably sounds obvious, but it’s a detail that too often gets lost in the shuffle. How the custody arrangement shakes out impacts a parent’s relationship with their kids. No matter what, it’s never going to be exactly the same as it was.
The parent with primary physical custody may feel overwhelmed by taking care of everything. On the other hand, if you only see your kids every other weekend, it can make you feel isolated. It’s easy to focus on these aspects and wallow, but it’s vital to remind your kids how much you care about them.
Even though you may have unequal parenting time, each parent remains a key part of the child’s life. Remind them that they’re loved and cared for. Show them and tell them how much they mean to you.
Co-parenting after divorce isn’t always easy, but there are ways to make it work. These are just a few tools and strategies that may prove useful, though you’ll have to see what works best for you and your situation.
If nothing else, remember that your kids are what’s most important. Keep that in mind and you’re at least on the right track.
Related Reading: What Does a Parenting Plan Include?
From the Radio
Rick Jones, our founding partner, makes regular appearances on KZOK 102.5 FM on the Danny Bonaduce and Sarah Morning Show. He answers caller questions about divorce, child custody, and other family law matters. As you might imagine, this topic comes up often.
CALLER: “I’ve had shared parenting for quite a while. And from the get-go, the dad and stepmom have always changed the parenting. I’m supposed to deal directly with the dad. He always makes me deal with her and talk straight with the stepmom. And we don’t see eye to eye.
“I remind him all the time that the parenting is between me and dad, but he’s kind of vacant and lets her do all the parenting. Which ends up in a lot of arguments between us. Is there something I can do about that?”
Rick: “Probably not in a legal fashion.”
Rick: “I assume there’s nothing in the parenting plan that specifically talks about communication methods and directs it to the father, does it?”
Caller: “It does.”
Rick: “It does? So it sounds like this was a problem you perceived even before you finalized your divorce, right?”
Rick: “What you can do, especially if you’ve got some examples–some smoking guns, maybe some nasty emails from her or something like that.
“You can go back to the court and seek what’s called a motion to enforce. Basically saying, ‘Hey, the parenting plan says to do this. He’s not doing this. Court, please order him to do this.’
“That’s your real angle. Unfortunately, when it comes to things like this, especially in the absence of specific language, this is one of the things that becomes a problem in split households.”
Danny: “I will tell you this Kim, I feel your pain. When I moved out of my–what is now my ex-wife’s house–I didn’t know how to [do this]. I’m a drunk recovering drug addict has-been. I don’t know how she moved downhill, but she did, to this horrible guy. So I straightened up and became the good catch.
“And I thought, I am not dealing with this guy once about my kids. Luckily it never came to that. So I just want to say, Kim, I feel your pain.”
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