Not all marriages are built to last. Recognizing that you and your partner would be better off going your separate ways is a mature thing to do, but divorce can still be a bitter pill to swallow.
It gets even more complicated when children are involved.
There are some cases in which asking for full custody is the right thing to do. For example, if your partner has a history of violence and of showing poor parenting skills, a judge may honor your request for full custody. But for the purposes of this article, we’re going to consider cases in which the divorce is as amicable as can be reasonably expected (it does happen!) and both parents share custody.
Co-parenting is the act of continuing to provide your children with a familial experience as much as possible. It’s well-recorded that children do best with both a mother and a father in their lives, taking active interest in their education, social lives and hobbies.
To co-parent successfully, you and your soon-to-be-ex have to find a balance. It’s not fair for your children to be caught in the crossfire of your arguments or to be used as pawns for you to manipulate each other. Such behavior creates a toxic environment, and is surely part of the reason you are getting a divorce.
But for parents who can successfully put any feelings of animosity aside for the sake of their children, co-parenting is an excellent option for continuing to raise healthy, happy children. Here are some tips for effective co-parenting.
- Be mindful of how you talk about your ex to your children. Your kids don’t need to be infected with your feelings of anger or resentment. They need to know that their mom or dad is still a good person whom they can trust. Vent about your ex to your friends or family, not to your children. Be sure to explain that the two of you just aren’t a good match for each other and are going to lead separate lives, but will continue to act as parents.
- Try not to burn bridges before the divorce. Chances are you’ll continue to come in contact with your ex’s extended family. When your child has an important school event, like a graduation, you’ll want all the attention to be on your child and his or her achievements, not on family drama. Some people choose to include their exes in holiday gatherings for their children’s benefit as well. Keep things cordial by not burning bridges before the divorce. Act with maturity and respect.
- Let your partner (and your lawyer) know right away that you intend to co-parent. Divorce discussions can be very painful. According to one Oregon lawyer, co-parenting is often brought up at the “bargaining table.” The ability of both parties to continue to work together in raising their children can be a determining factor in whether joint or sole custody is granted.
- Set and respect boundaries and schedules. Stay in communication about schedules via text or email so that you can control your words a little better and avoid making things tense. Set up a pre-determined schedule (which will in all likelihood be predefined by the court system anyway) for who the children will live with at what times. Offer your ex the same respect that you hope to be given in terms of being kept in the loop about your child’s life. Another boundary that should be mutually respected is that of personal privacy. Your ex might enter into a new relationship, meaning there is a new adult in your child’s life. Although it is very tempting to pry and “vet” this relationship, it’s not your place to do so.
Although the transition can be painful, people tend to come out stronger after a divorce. Have courage; things will look up!