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.
Co-parenting is when a couple breaks up, divorces, or otherwise separates, but continues to work together to raise a child or children. 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. 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. That’s rarely easy—if you two had a great relationship, you probably wouldn’t have divorced, now would you?
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 strategies for keeping things as even as possible.
1. Communication and Co-Parenting
You may not like it, but with kids in the picture, you have to have at least some level of communication with your ex. 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 smart phones also help balance hectic schedules.
2. Co-Parenting Consistency
Kids tend to push back and test boundaries in new situations. When rules and expectations change from one parent to the next, problems can 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.
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 can go a long way towards 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.
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’s isn’t always simple, but bitterness doesn’t do anyone any good, and your kids first and foremost. And don’t use your children as tools for revenge or retribution. That’s petty and a bad look all around.
5. Love Your Kids
How the custody arrangement shakes out often impacts a parent’s relationship with their kids. 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, 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. It may seem obvious, but it’s a detail that too often gets lost in the shuffle.
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.
If you have questions about divorce or child custody, contact Goldberg Jones at our Seattle office.