9.7Susan M. Hais

Navigating the often complicated and potentially volatile world of co-parenting after a divorce can be emotionally challenging and mentally exhausting. Residual hostilities, disagreements regarding parenting styles, and other points of dissidence may create a contentious situation that is harmful to all parties involved, including the children. Healthy co-parenting relationships stem from a conscious decision to work together despite personal feelings for the benefit of each child in question.

Keeping these six dos and don’ts of co-parenting in mind will help smooth the family transition and minimize the effect divorce has on your children.
#1: DO Prioritize the Children

Divorce proceedings affect everyone, but they are especially hard on young children and teens. While your children are adjusting to new homes, family structures, and schedules, be patient and understanding. Make sure you maintain an open channel of communication with them so they feel safe in expressing their feelings; if they don’t feel comfortable coming to you, encourage them to talk to someone, potentially a therapist. Though your own emotions may be running high, make sure your children know they are loved, cherished, and absolutely not to blame.

#2: DON’T Use Your Children as Leverage
It’s easy to take the low road and be vindictive toward a former spouse, especially after a difficult divorce. However, using your children as leverage to get back at your ex only hurts them in the long run. While genuine concerns about safety and mistreatment should be addressed in a court of law, attempting to sway your children to your side out of spite can have lasting repercussions. Don’t subject your child to broken trust, guilt, and other emotional traumas because you’re angry.

#3: DO Create Civil Means of Communication
Co-parenting civilly and without court involvement may take time, but ultimately it is best for all parties involved. Doing so eliminates the financial burden of constant court hearings and creates a more peaceful life for yourself and your children. Incorporating effective communication skills when interacting with your ex sets a great example for them as well. If you are not yet able to communicate in a healthy way, finding a trusted family member to mediate custody exchanges is also an alternative to court.

#4: DON’T Neglect Your Custody Agreement
A court-mandated child custody agreement is a legally binding contract between you and your former spouse which dictates the terms of your co-parenting relationship. Neglecting the agreement may place your custody of your children at risk. Missing pick-up and drop-off dates, failing to attend special events, or otherwise not fulfilling your parenting duties may lead to an appeal and loss of time with your children. Show your children you care by being consistent, responsible, and accountable in your co-parenting efforts.

#5: DO Create a Consistent Routine
Structure is important to a child’s development. Though divorce may disrupt the home, establishing and maintaining routines will help children adjust and minimize behavioral issues resulting from the new home dynamic. Guilt may make it difficult to enforce rules, especially in the face of anger and resentment. However, consistency reinforces new boundaries and helps your child feel secure and cared for. Be sure to inform your former spouse of any necessary changes to your arrangement, even temporary ones. Giving proper notice and consideration to each other’s availability and ensuring your children never feel burdensome or unwanted is essential to protecting their mental and emotional wellbeing.

#6: DON’T Involve the Children in Emotional Disputes
Perhaps the most important thing to remember in co-parenting is that your child’s relationship with the other parent is separate from your own- however, the way you interact with each other can have a negative impact. Unresolved feelings toward your former spouse should not come between them and your children. Keeping your children as the primary focus. Resist the urge to lash out, especially when the children are present.

Have questions about child custody agreements after divorce? Contact our expert family law attorneys today.