While Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin mastered the art of “consciously uncoupling” in 2014, their dedication to peacefully co-parenting following their split has been making headlines ever since. As Paltrow recently told BBC News, “You can remain a family even though you are not a couple and make it a less traumatic experience for the children.”
If only it was always that easy.
According to Dallas Family Law Attorney Christine Powers Leatherberry, “It can be challenging to share parenting duties with an ex, especially following a high-conflict divorce. Emotions can run sky high during divorce, but you need to set those feelings aside when kids are in the picture.”
So what can YOU do to successfully co-parent following divorce? According to Christine, parents should:
1. Put the kids first.
“This is rule No. 1. Your child’s world has been turned upside down, and as the adults, you need to attend to their needs before yours whenever possible,” says Christine.
2. Be civil.
Don’t add more fuel to the fire by trying to push your ex’s buttons. Focus on the matters at hand and what is best for your children.
3. Work with a parent facilitator if necessary.
Parent facilitation is a process where parents going through a high conflict divorce – or following one – work out parenting issues together with a third party parent facilitator (almost like a referee or coach). The parent facilitator helps them reach amicable resolutions and agreements together without going through the court process.
As Christine explains, “The parents and parent facilitator meet regularly or as problems arise in the same room. No divorce lawyers are present. Most of the time (not always) this approach can be very successful and cut down on future litigation. During these sessions parents can decide issues like who pays for ballet, whether a party can take a child to China, if the parties can switch possession periods, etc.”
4. Opt for a collaborative divorce.
If you or your spouse recently filed for divorce, consider going the collaborative route. The collaborative divorce process in Texas allows parents the opportunity to hash out divorce and child related details with the help of their respective family law attorneys, along with neutral experts (mental health and financial professionals).
“For some couples, the collaborative process can provide a more conducive environment to sit down together and work things out for the sake of the children, such as child custody and visitation. This approach is often better for children in the long-term because parents can learn how to get along and resolve issues during the early stages of divorce,” says Christine.
5. Set up a shared calendar.
According to Christine, “You can find a number of helpful scheduling tools and apps online, and in some cases, the court may order you to use one. In fact, Dallas County Family Courts often require parents to use a tool called Our Family Wizard. Along with offering a calendaring tool, parents can email each other through the software. These communications are unmodifiable and copies of all messages are stored in the system. It also records when communications are opened by each parent.”
Many family courts also use Our Family Wizard so impartial, amicus attorneys appointed to advocate for children can monitor communication between the parents, and judges can have a reliable source for documenting communication between the parties.
6. Keep the lines of communication open.
Kids’ lives and schedules change constantly, so parents need to keep each other in the loop. While it may be uncomfortable to communicate with your ex-spouse, you could agree to only communicate through tools like Our Family Wizard, via text or email, if speaking on the phone is uncomfortable.
7. Be flexible when possible.
If you’re flexible with your ex, chances are they will be more likely to be flexible with you. “So if your ex asks you to switch Spring Break for Thanksgiving or let your children stay an extra day on vacation, try to make it work, especially if the children are OK with the switch,” Christine says.
8. Pay special attention to maintaining traditions.
During the time you and your ex raised your children together, you probably created some family traditions together, too. Maintaining favorite holiday traditions, like Santa arriving Christmas Eve, can help reinforce some normalcy for kids and make them feel more secure.
9. Not expect their ex to change.
As Christine explains, “If your ex-spouse was always late, never a good communicator, etc., the odds are good that those traits aren’t going to change. Be realistic and prepare for the inevitable.”
If tardiness or forgetfulness is a problem, have a back-up plan in case he or she doesn’t show. Always have a Plan B. Or if communication is an issue, be clear about what steps you will take if you don’t hear back by a certain (realistic) time.
10. Stay positive.
“You love your kids and want what’s best for them right? Keep your eye on the prize. By focusing on the positive and your children’s welfare, co-parenting should get easier as time goes by,” Christine says.