Although many parents would like to believe that once the papers are signed they will never have anything to do with their ex-spouse again. The truth is that as long as there are children in common this cannot and will not work. However, there are various ways to communicate. Communication is a key to successful co-parenting. A good working relationship between parents can make all the difference, and most importantly, in the lives of the child(ren).
Whether trying to decide on day to day issues, vacation time or health or education decisions, various methods can work. Some parents may prefer to do everything via email, while another may be comfortable sitting and talking with the other parent. An important rule of thumb though is to never use the child(ren) to deliver messages. Try to compartmentalize your issues about your ex-spouse and remember they are your issues and not the child’s. When you have your child tell the other parent something for you, it puts him or her in the middle of your conflict.
Along these same lines it is important to never say negative things about your ex to your child(ren). This can make them feel badly about themselves as they are still related to the other parent. It can also make them feel like they have to choose. Your child has a right to a relationship with his or her other parent that is free of your influence.
Some options for communicating with ex’s can be:
- email (Our Family Wizard is a useful email system geared toward parent communicaiton
- parent coordinators or coaches (who can help both parents work towards better co-parenting and communication)
Some parents may choose to use one of these methods and others a combination of them. The important thing is that the lines of communication remain open in order to successfully co-parent.
Often parents in the midst of separation or divorce panic when they hear terms like Shared Parent Responsibility and Sole Parent Responsibility. Understanding the differences between these terms and others that may come up may take some of the stress out of proceedings.
Shared Parent Responsibility works very much the way it sounds. Both parents retain full parental rights and responsibilities with respect to their child. Parents are required to confer with each other and jointly make decisions in regard to major decisions affecting the welfare of the child. However, the parents may decide that one parent will be responsible for certain aspects pertaining to their child. For instance, one parent may be in charge of religion or healthcare and the other may handle education choices. One parent will likely be the residential parent (as opposed to the non-residential parent); both parents should still work together as equals. Co-parenting can be crucial to the child’s healthy development. In cases where this is difficult a parent coordinator or coach can be of assistance.
Another option is Sole Parental Responsibility which means that accountability for the minor child is given to one parent by the court. This does not necessarily preclude the other parent from having visitation rights with the child; but it may. Generally courts will give Sole Parental Responsibility to a parent only if the court finds that sharing in parental responsibility would be detrimental to the child.
There are many options that fall under categories in regard to parenting arrangements, but all should consider both the needs of the child(ren) and each parent’s capacity to parent. For instance, the family may choose:
- Split time whereby the children in the family do not share a primary residence. Perhaps one child lives with the mother and the other lives with the father.
- Alternating weekends is another option. Within this arrangement one parent has the child most of the time and the other parent has the child on alternating weekends, one night each week, summer vacation or any other division of time that works for that family.
- Equal time or rotating time whereby the child(ren) lives equal amounts of time with each parent. This may entail rotating homes every week, every other week, monthly or every 3 ½ days. Parents may even remain in the same residence and have parents move in and out instead. There are many options available here; the important part is finding what works best for each individual family.
There are many things to consider when deciding. Certainly the child’s needs are most important, but financial and geographic limitations need to be taken into account as well. A child should never have to feel like a visitor in either parent’s home.
When I started my company I chose to name it Family Comes First Mediation, because no matter how many divorces or paternity cases I do; family will always be a top priority. When children are involved the concept of family has nothing to do with divorce or separation. A parent is always a parent; therefore forever remain the child’s family. Whether choosing to co-parent with ease or talk as little as possible, they will forever be connected on some level. And this is crucial in the life of a child.
As a mediator I remain a neutral party. I keep the lines of communication open, brainstorm ideas, possibly teach empathy and assist in the decision making process. It is my goal to assist couples looking to end a relationship peacefully, while keeping children’s best interest in mind. Together we can negotiate an acceptable agreement that will reduce stress, keep all parties on amicable terms and significantly reduce the cost associated with the litigation. This is of great value to all involved; including the children.
Mediation has the ability to help parties learn to communicate again, if only for the sake of the children, and to make their post-relationship better and easier on all involved. Settling conflicts is extremely important to couples with children simply because although the relationship between the parents has come to an end; the role as parents never ends. Keeping those roles as amicable as possible can only benefit the children; in the same way that constant fighting can only harm children. No child is comfortable with parents in constant crisis, but rather need to know they have parents they can depend on to make good decisions for them. Mediation, and possibly a skilled parent coordinator, can help to make the transition as easy as possible for all involved.
Once a couple separates or divorces they might want to believe their contact with the other party is over, but when children are in common, this is not so. Co-parenting often becomes an issue even after the divorce is settled. The key is knowing when to engage the help of a parenting counselor or coordinator. Their job is to create an alternate path outside the courtroom to help resolve issues that may come up. Not all disputes belong in a courtroom or require lawyers.
Disputes that do not require legal decisions can be more easily tackled with the help and guidance of a professional; a parenting counselor. Concerns like what foods to serve a child, how a child should dress, proper bedtime or what movies a child should be permitted to see can be more easily resolved and do not require the expertise of an attorney.
Think of a parenting coordinator or counselor as a neutral negotiator or a referee. It is their job to help parents find compromise or sometimes point out the better way to handle things to avoid hurting the children. Children absolutely do feel the angst and anger over these sort of clashing opinions and rules; particularly ones that began as simple, but have turned into legal nightmares. This can be avoided.
One may find him/her selves justifying behavior that may otherwise be unbecoming or detrimental to the circumstances, simply because anger is getting in the way. Do not wait for your child to begin to show signs of being a part of a high-conflict divorce. Put the resentment and rage and the divorce behind you and allow yourself to be the kind of parent you want to be; making your child’s needs most important.
The reality is that for as long as we are parents we are somewhat tied to the other parent. Wouldn’t it be better for all involved if the frustration and anger could be avoided? A parent coordinator or counselor can help guide families to such a scenario; which can also keep families from having to further involve the courts.