Co-parenting following a divorce is one of the most significant hurdles in the sharing of custody of minor children after a divorce. Co-parenting is a difficult task and a co-parenting relationship is an evolving relationship that must be built over time and built to solely accommodate the best interest of the child. It is almost always difficult for parties to put aside painful history and disassociate their feelings from having influence in a new co-parenting relationship.
However, it is necessary for parties sharing custody to co-parent as it is the best way to ensure that a child’s needs are met and to promote a close relationship between both parents and the child. Refusals by party’s to co-parent lead to further issues and is one of the many ways that party’s arrive back in court on modification custody cases. Although the relationship may have ended between the individuals the family situation is not dissolved under family court jurisdiction and “family life” will need to remain as intact as possible so that the child’s needs are meet; meaning individuals must put the child’s needs in front of their own.
What are the Benefits of Co-parenting?
Co-parenting simply promotes a better family environment for the child and aims to promote a child’s feelings of security, self-esteem, general happiness, and wellbeing. The benefits of co-parenting help establish a positive life pattern for the child and demonstrate, to the child and the other parent, that issues can be resolved through peaceful means and progressive problem solving. Additional benefits are the consistency that co-parenting adds to peaceful transitions between the homes and the ability of the parents to address concerns about the child’s upbringing with the other parent before issues progress to a more serious level requiring legal intervention. In instances where parties refuse to co-parent and issues arise from a lack of communication it is typical for smaller issues to be inflated into larger ones either from misunderstanding or by the issues creating an ongoing pattern of increasing conflict. To avoid future legal proceedings concerning custody parents must be willing to address all issues that may arise either big or small.
How to Go about Co-parenting:
The first step to co-parenting is often the hardest—learning to separate your feelings from your reactions. In some instances even a historically positive co-parenting relationship can sour if the parties reach a disagreement and one parent begins “button pushing” to create problems or distract from the issue at hand. In order to co-parent you must learn that the other party is doing this for the goal of eliciting a particular negative reaction, if the response does not serve a legitimate purpose, a negative reaction will negatively impact resolving matters for the best interest of the child. Channel all negative reactions to a different source such as; a hobby, exercise, aggression releasing activity, and conversations with therapist or close friends; do not allow for your emotions to show during discussions with the other parent.
Secondly, all matters discussed between the parties must be child centered and both parents should avoid from providing unnecessary details of their relationships, friendships, work, and other details of their private life – out of discussions with the other parent. Anything said in co-parenting discussions can become a source of conflict or may provide a parent with too much information which they can use in later court proceedings. All matters discussed during co-parenting conversations should solely be based on information concerning the child and possible issues that may result from visitation, scheduling, exchanges, education, or any other child related matter.
When conveying such issues it is important to remain calm and collective and to act with distinct purpose and refinement. Thirdly, during or before co-parenting discussions it may be necessary to physically prepare for the conversation in a positive way, especially if the issue is expected to be inflammatory. In some situations parties may need to use special breathing and posture techniques in order to handle the stress of the situation and or to better control their mental responses to issue resolution.
What To Do:
• Make request when handling issues instead of demands.
• Listen to the other parent- Do not just dismiss their issues entirely. Talk through their concerns and be proactive in solutions or providing explanations.
• Demonstrate restraint- Don’t overreact if it appears to be a blatant attack the attacker wants to illicit a negative reaction. Calmly explain your position and offer solutions – doing so will disarm the aggressor and will make them appear unreasonable.
• Commit to meetings and frequent conversation- establish a pattern of contact and a protocol to handle different types of needed contact. Pick one day a month with at least an hour to discuss issues either in person or over the phone out of the presents of the child. Also use letters, emails, text, calendars etc. to address additional matters if necessary.
• Ask an opinion of the other parent to make them feel included in the decision making process.
• Apologize for past grievances or issues that may upset the other parent.
• Be as flexible as possible- flexibility will aid in resolving conflict.
• Address all issues upfront- be honest, straightforward, and open with full disclosure.
• Respect the other parent- keep them informed about events, be respectful of their or the child’s schedule, and treat the other parent as an equal.
• Talk through a disagreement- If a disagreement occurs talk through it and find some type of resolution.
• Don’t create issues over the small stuff- choose your battles, but if it’s a small issue that needs to be addressed offer solutions and detract from frivolous arguing.
• Compromise- the goal of co-parenting is to find an agreement or compromise. If both parents can compromise on an issue than both parties may achieve their mutual goals.
How to Overcome the Challenges of Transitions:
Transitions are one of the most difficult challenges faced by children following a divorce or new custody arrangement. Each parent may live diverse lifestyles and may go about discipline, rules, and general lifestyle arrangements in widely different ways. Differences in lifestyle may create transitional issues in children that are difficult for the children to overcome. If possible it is most beneficial for the children to maintain a similar lifestyle between the parents. To reduce the stress of transitions it is beneficial for children to be notified days in advance of a transition and to pack all necessary items needed for the transition days in advance. Allowing for kids to travel with personal belongings adds extra security and stability between both homes. Following transitions there should be some type of immediate relaxing downtime to allow for the child to adjust back to their normal setting in that particular home environment. To aid in transitioning back to that environment it is recommended to establish a type of routine following visitation; such as a special activity, treat, dinner, etc. when returning to the residence. This type of special activity may also promote a positive relationship that will deter any form of visitation refusal by the child.
If a visitation refusal does occur there is generally a significant cause. For example a child may feel that there is a difference in a standard or care or attention, may disagree with a mode of discipline, may feel there is a lack of entertainment, or there may an emotional reason. If a child refuses to go to visitation talk about and identify the issue of why they refuse to go to visitation. Once the problem is identified talk about the issue with the other parent and explain the situation and offer solutions. Be sure to be sensitive and understanding, but explain to the child why the visitation is necessary and inform your child of particular ways which either parent intends on addressing their concerns.