Families Are Still Families, Even After Divorce – Tips for Successful Co-Parenting
Although a divorce does, in effect, separate the family, it does not sever the tie between parents and child. Even in different homes, different cities, or different states, those familial bonds remain. More than that, a child's happiness and overall well-being often hinges on the continuance of a healthy and stable relationship with each parent. So, in most instances, life after divorce means learning how to successfully co-parent in a way that minimizes conflict but still ensures the child feels loved, valued, and connected to each parent. Not sure how to pave this path or where to even begin? The following tips may help.
What is Co-Parenting?
To truly understand how to successfully co-parent, you must first understand the concept. Different for every family in its structure and engagement, co-parenting is a relationship in which both parents have an active role in the day-to-day life of the child. This means that each parent should have contact, time, and decision-making power regarding important details of the child's life, such as their education, healthcare, religion, and extracurricular activities.
This does not mean you have to agree on how each household will be “run,” nor does it mean that you have a say in how the other parent spends time with the child (unless, of course, the time somehow places the child in harm's way). It only means that you must be able to compromise when it comes to the important stuff. You have to see beyond your own problems and your past and place your child's interests and well-being first.
Learning How to Navigate Communication
Before you can make any decisions about your child's life or future, you will first need to determine how you will communicate about these important matters – and not just while developing your parenting plan, but in the future, as things change and your child grows up. Can you sit with your ex-spouse and talk over coffee or tea, or should you avoid one-on-one conversations to minimize conflict and arguments?
If the latter is true, maybe consider the idea of emailing one another about schedule changes and important decision matters. This will give each of you time to reflect on what you will say before hitting the “send” button. Alternatively, you could try phone conversations with an imposed time limit, which could help you stay focused on the topic at hand rather than giving you an opportunity to argue about non-related topics. Whatever you decide, never use your child to exchange messages. Communication between parents should never fall on the child – for any reason.
Respect Differences and Stay (or at Least Appear) United
It can be difficult to respect how your former spouse parents your child when you are not with them, especially when you disagree and the issue at hand is important to you. Say, for instance, you have a curfew of 9:00 p.m. on school nights because you know your child will be difficult to wake up in the morning if they come home any later, but your ex-spouse lets your child stay out until 10:00 p.m. It can be difficult to respect this decision, but ultimately, it does not harm your child. So, regardless of how you feel about it, you have to let the other parent make their own rules and decisions (unless, of course, the rule or decision could harm your child).
Alternatively, you may be tempted to cave when your child presents you with a difference between households, hoping to possibly guilt you into changing your rules. Again, only you can set the rules for your home, and if you feel that you have made the right choice, stick by it. Alternatively, if your child is using the tactic on your ex-spouse, or is trying to get you to intervene on their behalf because they dislike the other parent's rule, resist the urge to jump on the train with your child. Instead, stand behind your ex-spouse and reiterate that your rules apply in your home and that the other parent's rules are their own to set. This gives you the appearance of standing united on each other's right and ability to make sound parenting decisions.
Seek Skilled and Experienced Legal Help with Your Parenting Plan
If you are just starting out with your divorce and are still in the process of developing a parenting plan, try to be patient. These things take time to work out, and they require a lot of effort. Parents should also seek the assistance of an experienced attorney through this process, if for no other reason, to ensure they do not miss any important details in their parenting plan. Those that have conflicting issues, safety issues, or a highly contentious marriage may need even more help in creating a parenting plan that works for everyone.
At MKFM Law, we are sensitive to the emotionally complex matters of family law and divorce. We work with you, helping to ensure that your parenting plan protects your rights and the best interests of your child. In situations involving domestic violence or other safety issues, we seek to protect the child from harm. Whatever your family dynamic, whatever your needs, our seasoned DuPage County family law attorneys can help. Call us at 630-665-7300 to schedule your consultation today.