Tips for Co-Parenting
Co-parenting with a former spouse can be challenging, even under the best circumstances, but establishing or maintaining a good co-parenting relationship can save you countless hours of frustration and thousands of dollars in legal fees. Because of this, O’Brian & Associates has put together our 20 tips for co-parenting in 2020.
Communicate as if everything you say will be seen in court
One of the biggest opportunities for conflict between co-parents is when they are communicating. Text messages, emails, and even face to face conversations can be misunderstood and, before you know it, tempers are flaring and a discussion that started out reasonable is spiraling out of control. In those moments when discussions are heated, it is critical to remember that what you say, and especially what you write, could very easily be brough up in court. Don’t say, and especially do not write, anything that could get you in trouble with a judge.
Communicate in a court-approved app
There are several apps available specifically made for co-parent communicating. Here in Washington, Our Family Wizard is very popular, but there are many others. The benefit of using an app is that if one of the parents becomes aggressive or demeaning, it is easy to provide these communications to the court. This can drastically simplify the process of going to court and can save you the time and expense of downloading, organizing, and providing other communications, such as text messages or emails, to the court.
Make requests, not demands
Nobody likes to be given orders. This is especially true when the person doing the ordering is your former partner or spouse. When you are discussing changes to the normal routine, such as changes in custody schedule or upcoming vacations, it can go a long way to make a request rather than a demand. Going to court to modify a parenting plan can be time consuming and expensive, so give yourself the best chance of success by opening with a request rather than kicking the doors down with a demand. As the old saying goes, “you catch more bees with honey than vinegar.”
Always share important events
As children grow, they will have a long list of events and activities. Whether it is exciting extracurricular activities like school clubs or sports or more mundane events like parent-teacher conferences or doctor’s appointments, it is important to always keep the other parent in the loop.
The more notice the better
If something is going to change the normal routine, the more notice you can provide the other parent the better. If, for example, you want to take an extended vacation with your child, giving the other parent 6 months’ notice is far better than 6 days or 6 hours. Or, if you need to change the time or location of a custodial exchange, six hours’ notice is far better than 6 minutes. Providing more notice makes it easier to arrange schedules, reduces the opportunity for conflict, and increases the chances you will succeed in securing whatever result you are seeking.
Be flexible as children age
As kids get older things change. A good custody schedule for a seven-year-old will not work for a seventeen-year-old. Both parents working together to find mutually agreeable solutions as children grow older is almost always the best-case scenario.
Do not involve the kids in co-parenting disputes
Despite your best efforts, disputes between co-parents can happen. Maybe one parent is having a bad day and their temper boils over. Maybe one parent is deliberately attempting to push the other’s buttons. Regardless of the reason for the dispute, keep the children out of it. There is nothing to gain by bringing children into a dispute between adults and, in many cases, it can lead to a judge sanctioning the offending parent.
Improve your relationship with the other parent, if possible
Some relationships cannot be mended, but if it is possible to improve your relationship with the other parent, it can go a long way. This does not mean you need to become romantically involved or schedule a date night, but it does mean working to maintain a relationship that is pleasant and respectful. The better the relationship between the parents the easier it is to co-parent together.
Encourage a relationship between your child and the other co-parent
This can sometimes be difficult, but encouraging a healthy and productive relationship between your child and the other parent is likely to benefit everyone involved. If a child has a healthy relationship with both parents in can soften the impact of splitting time with parents, but it is also important for your child’s emotional and psychological development. Plus, if your child realizes you are encouraging their relationship with the other parent it will likely improve your relationship with the child.
Tell your kids you love them
Children need to hear they are loved. They need to be told it often. This is especially true while parents are separating or going through a divorce, but it is also true in the months and years following divorce or separation. Telling your child you love them has nothing to do with the other parent, but when children are told they are loved it can make it significantly easier for the child to deal with their new routine of splitting time with parents which, in turn, makes it easier on the parents.
Show your kids you love them
You should also show your child you love them. Each of us understands and interprets love in a different way, so take the time to understand how your child expresses love—and how they prefer love expressed to them. One well-known system for this is the Five Love Languages, but there is a mountain of resources for other systems as well. Whatever your approach, understanding how to effectively show your child you love them is invaluable.
Give children their own space
Just as important as telling and showing your child you love them is giving them their own space. If a child has a designated space, such as a bedroom, that is theirs, it gives them the chance to exercise a little control in a situation where they may not feel they have much control. It also creates a space where your child is likely to feel safe. Having a designated space is increasingly important as children become older and begin to exercise their independence.
Focus on quality rather than quantity of time
No matter what the custody schedule, if children are splitting time between parents neither parent is likely happy with the amount of time they have. Shifting your focus from increasing the amount of time you have with your child to increasing the quality of time you have with your child allows you to focus on something you can control. Plus, increasing the quality of time with your child will strengthen your relationship with them and make you more feel secure as a parent. Feeling secure as a parent can help you avoid petty arguments and silly squabbles with the other parent.
Do not ask children to keep secrets
Do not ask children to keep secrets. This drives an unnecessary wedge between parents and it can cause a knock-down-drag-out court battle if the secret comes out. Keeping secrets also sets a dangerous precedent that could come back to haunt you down the road. If a child will keep secrets from one parent, they will likely keep them from both.
Keep the age of you children in mind
Children are going to have questions about divorce or separation. They are going to have questions about their new living arrangements. Having honest discussions with your children can help them understand how their life is changing, but it is important to ensure the information you give your child is age appropriate. An honest discussion with a five-year-old is very different than an honest discussion with a seventeen-year-old. Make sure you are giving children information they can understand.
Pick your battlefield
Even when co-parents get along well, there are almost certainly going to be times when they disagree on issues you feel are important. When a disagreement is looming, make sure you pick a battlefield where you are comfortable. You want to give yourself the best possible chance of remaining calm, cool, and collected, so choosing the time, location, and method of communication can be advantageous. Having a discussion over the phone in the comfort of your own home is a much better setting than having a shouting match in the middle of a grocery store or parking lot over Facetime of Skype.
Pick your battles
It is also important to pick your battles. Sometimes a disagreement is minor—the difference between an 8:30 or 8:45 bedtime—and sometimes they are major—whether a child will or will not attend a certain school or church. Part of successfully co-parenting is recognizing what issues are worth fighting for and what issues are not. Part of picking your battles, though, is actually picking a battle. When an important issue is at stake, stand up and fight. You don’t need to be rude or abrasive, but you do need to stand up for what you feel is important.
Recognize the difference between being upset and domestic violence-
There will be times when one or both parents are upset, frustrated, agitated, or just in a bad mood. These kinds of emotions are not unusual, however, if one of the parents begins making threats or, even worse, becomes physically violent, there needs to be immediate action. Both the parent and children need to be protected, even if only temporarily, when on parent becomes violent.
Work on being physically, emotionally, and mentally healthy
Going through a divorce and cultivating a good co-parenting relationship can be physically, mentally, and emotionally demanding. People react to these demands in a variety of way, but it is critically important that you make sure you are taking care of yourself physically, emotionally, and mentally. Go to the gym. Spend time with friends. Read a good book. Relax with a spa day. Whatever your choice, make sure you are taking care of yourself physically, emotionally, and mentally.
Get a thorough, comprehensive parenting plan
All the tips above can help you develop a good co-parenting relationship, but the foundation of this relationship is the parenting plan. Having a through, comprehensive parenting plan allows parents to avoid future arguments and court battles because potential problems have already been identified and addressed. Putting together a thorough parenting plan requires skilled and experienced counsel.
At O’Brian & Associates our attorneys have the knowledge, experience, and skills you need in your corner to develop a through, comprehensive parenting plan. Whether you are constructing a parenting plan for the first time as part of a separation/divorce or looking to modify an existing parenting plan, we can help. We have been proudly serving the parents and children of great state of Washington since 1986.
To learn more about co-parenting, contact O'Brian & Associates today!
Blog Author: Attorney Susan O'Brian
Susan O'Brian has been practicing family law since 1986 and is the founder of O’Brian & Associates.
Visit her bio to learn more about her experience helping families with their legal matters.
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