During a high-conflict divorce, interacting with a future ex-spouse can be emotionally draining. However, when children are involved, minimizing contact – by phone, email or in person – typically isn’t an option. Parents need to communicate regularly about exchanges, soccer games, school projects, piano lessons, etc. – not to mention which parent will have possession of the children and when.
So how can couples successfully co-parent during the emotional rollercoaster of divorce – especially when one of the parents would rather escalate conflict than get along? At Connatser Family Law, we recommend the following nine tips.
Tip No. 1: Never forget – kids come first.
Divorce is stressful regardless of the circumstances, and it can be especially troubling for children. Before you say or do something, consider how those actions will affect the kids. Because children often have different perspectives than parents on topics during divorce, it can also be helpful to schedule time for children to meet with a family therapist or member of the clergy to discuss any concerns.
Tip No. 2: Don’t bad mouth the other parent.
One of the first pieces of advice we give parents: Don’t speak poorly of the other parent in front of the children and ask friends and family members to do the same. Be the bigger parent. Keep in mind that half of your child’s DNA comes from the other parent. If you disparage your spouse, the child may believe you think less of him or her, too.
Tip No. 3: Follow the Golden Rule.
Treat people the way you want to be treated and opt for the kill-them-with-kindness strategy. As Michelle Obama famously said, “When they go low, you go high.” We get it, taking the high road isn’t easy. However, you’re better off going into court with clean hands, without threats or nasty emails showing up in evidence, which is likely to position you unfavorably in the eyes of the judge.
Tip No. 4: Try to give the other parent the benefit of the doubt.
He or she will probably make mistakes, but so will you. For example, if the other parent is always five minutes late picking up the kids, ask yourself, is that a battle worth fighting? If the parent is consistently late on certain days and that tardiness is creating a problem for the child, maybe he or she has a good reason for being late.
Instead of attacking the other parent, bring the issue up directly with him or her. Explain how you are seeing a pattern on certain days or times and ask if adjusting your schedules could help. The goal here is to work together to co-parent like you’re still married. Collaborative problem solving and a willingness to work together – without attacking each other – is what your children need to see.
Tip No. 5: Resist escalating conflict.
In the midst of a high-conflict divorce, tensions are running high, and it can be tempting to send an angry text or email to the other party. By doing so, you’re just adding fuel to the fire, which isn’t healthy for anyone involved. Avoid responding immediately and take time to draft a thoughtful response before hitting send.
Any correspondence sent to your spouse can be submitted as evidence and you want to avoid damaging your case.
Tip No. 6: Utilize professionals to settle disagreements.
Whether your disagreements are few or the other parent refuses to co-parent with you in any way, a parent facilitator or coordinator can be a great resource. They can help parents work through communication issues and shift the focus to solutions that are in the best interest of the child.
Another strategy is to include tiebreakers in the custody agreement. With tiebreakers, “referees” are assigned to various scenarios, so parents can avoid going back to court. For example, the parents could agree to assign the child’s pediatrician to be a referee and make the call regarding whether or not their child has a procedure.
Tip No. 7: Face the facts – co-parenting is a long-term commitment.
Once the divorce is finalized, you’ll still need to co-parent for years to come. Even after the children graduate from high school and college, there will be holidays, birthdays, weddings, grandchildren and other milestones of which both parents will likely play a role. These occasions are much easier for the kids when parents remain cordial. Taking steps to solidify the co-parenting relationship during the divorce will pay off in the long run.
Tip No. 8: Contact your divorce attorney about big issues or when you’re unsure of next steps.
While we encourage clients to try to work through minor issues with the other parent when possible, there are always cases where communication breaks down or where one party has grossly violated court orders. Reach out to your divorce attorney for advice.
For example, if the other parent has fallen far behind in paying child support, refuses to return the child or has threatened to hurt you or your child, that’s when your family law attorney can help you seek court intervention.
Tip No. 9: Call the police if you fear for your and/or your kids’ safety.
If your dispute with the other parent has escalated to a point where you are fearful of him or her, co-parenting peacefully and trying to resolve issues on your own could be dangerous. Should your spouse threaten to physically harm you or a member of your family, call 911. Then reach out to your attorney for help securing a restraining order or protective order, depending on the circumstances.
For additional tips on keeping yourself and your kids safe, check out these helpful posts:
- How to Leave an Abusive Relationship and Protect Your Kids
- 5 Ways to Stay Safe During a High-Conflict Divorce
Photo Source: Adobe Stock
Alissa Castro is an enthusiastic, young attorney with experience in a wide variety of legal venues. She has donated her services to several charitable causes including the Dallas Volunteer Attorney Program, Mississippi Volunteer Lawyer Project and Catholic Charities. To learn more about divorce and child custody options in Dallas and Collin Counties, please call (214) 617-1583 to speak confidentially with a knowledgeable and considerate member of the Connatser Family Law team.