Going through a divorce or break-up can be one of the most challenging times in life. Even if the parties part on amicable terms, the problems in the relationship that caused the break-up usually persist. If you have children together, you cannot simply cut ties and move on. Instead, you will need to prepare yourself to see your ex regularly.
Unless there is domestic abuse, it is typically in the children’s best interest for both parents to actively participate in their lives. However, when the parents have broken up due to unresolved negative issues, how can they move past it and into the roles of quality co-parents? Here are some tips for healthy co-parenting after a break-up or divorce.
Put Your Children First
One of the most important tips for healthy co-parenting is remembering to put your children’s needs first. You may have done this all along, but now this means placing value on your children’s need for a relationship with their other parent. For this, you will need to transform the nature of your relationship with your ex.
Perhaps, you and your ex were in a relationship for a long time. With that comes certain expectations and disappointments, some of which likely lead to the relationship’s demise. You may be used to certain disagreements with your ex that spin you in circles. However, after you break up, your relationship with your ex is no longer about the two of you. Instead, your relationship is now about the children.
Even if you disagree with your ex on almost everything, you need to focus on changing your relationship expectations from that of a romantic partner to that of a co-parent. As co-parents, your focus and highest priority is always the best interest of your children. This includes letting go of your old romantic expectations as well as stopping yourself from expressing anger or negative feelings about your ex in front of your children.
Follow the Parenting Plan
Making sure you stick to the parenting plan is one of the essential healthy co-parenting tips. Most divorces and child custody cases in Washington have a parenting plan that designates custody time. If you have joint custody, the parenting plan will detail the exact terms of the arrangement. If one parent is the custodial parent, the parenting plan often details the days and times of visitations for the non-custodial parent. The parenting plan is essentially your co-parenting blueprint that spells out what is expected of each parent.
If you do not have a parenting plan, you should speak with an experienced child custody lawyer so that you can create one. A parenting plan hashes out all of the big decisions about co-parenting so that when things are complicated between you and your ex, you will have someplace to look for guidance.
There may come a time when you feel like the parenting plan no longer meets your children’s needs. When this happens, it may be tempting to want to leave the courts out of it and simply compromise with your ex “unofficially.” However, that can open the door to conflict down the road. If you believe that your current parenting plan needs to be changed, an experienced child custody lawyer can help you apply for a modification.
Communication Is Key
Another healthy co-parenting tip is developing open communication with your ex. This may seem ironic because the breakdown of communication often is one of the reasons a romantic relationship ends. However, you will need to open up a dialogue with your ex to communicate about your children and their needs.
Good communication includes understanding your limitations at any given time. If you are still reeling from the break-up, face-to-face communication with your ex may exacerbate your feelings. You can let them know that you’d like to minimize in-person communication and use texts or email until you are ready.
Most importantly, do not use your children to “send messages” to your ex. This puts children in a difficult situation, especially if a conflict arises.
Don’t Put the Children in the Middle of Conflict
Your ex may continue to frustrate you. However, do not burden your children with your anger, frustration, or resentment. Do not trash talk your ex in front of your children. Even if your children mention that your ex did something that you wouldn’t have done or that you disagree with, save your frustration about this for your friends, therapist, or child custody attorney. Research shows that inter-parental conflict after a divorce can affect a child’s level of distress even into adulthood. The key to avoiding this is to utterly avoid putting your children in the middle of a conflict between you and your ex.
And if you need to talk about something with your ex, be sure to do so when the kids are not within hearing distance. Even if they aren’t in the same room, the kids will be negatively affected if they can hear you fight.
Keep a Record of Everything
Sometimes co-parenting doesn’t go according to plan. Perhaps the other parent misses their scheduled pick-up time. Or, maybe the parent refuses to address issues with the children that are problematic. Keep a notepad, document on your computer, or calendar that you can use to document these issues and the content of your conversations. If you need to modify your parenting plan in light of these new developments, a court needs to know why you are seeking a modification. Documenting the issues with exact dates and times will go a long way in helping you prove that the plan needs to be modified.
Get Help from Knowledgeable Lawyers
You may be following all of these tips for healthy co-parenting yet still be experiencing problems with your parenting plan or custody arrangement. You need a child custody attorney to advocate for your rights as a parent and your family’s best interests. For over 30 years, the attorneys at Blado Kiger Bolan, P.S., have been helping families like yours navigate the legal and emotional complexities of family law cases, including child custody. Contact us today for more information on how we can help you during this stressful time.