Separation and divorce can be stressful and confusing for your children. Parenting after separation can be extremely challenging for you, especially when past hurts linger or if you have a contentious relationship with your former partner. You can help your children cope with the changes in your family and strengthen your own well-being if you focus on successful co-parenting after separation or divorce.
What is co-parenting?
The couple relationship with your partner ends when you separate, but when you share children, your relationship as parents continues. Essentially, co-parenting requires you to reframe your relationship with the other parent to make it child focused or “child-centric”. When you separate, important decisions including where your children will live and who will care for them must be made. Your new co-parenting relationship will emerge as these decisions are made and life unfolds post-separation.
What is the key feature of co-parenting?
Generally speaking, co-parenting means sharing decision-making, parenting time, and day-to-day responsibility for the children with the other parent. However, the key feature of co-parenting is this:
FOCUS ON WHAT IS BEST FOR THE CHILDREN.
Bearing that central feature in mind, what your co-parenting relationship looks like depends on several factors, such as how well you and the other parent get along and how well you are able to communicate. All co-parenting requires open and fairly regular communication with the other parent, but how that works differs from family to family. For example, some co-parents can meet face-to-face to discuss the children and do so often, while other co-parents prefer to communicate by email or text and only do so when necessary.
Tips for successful co-parenting
Establishing a healthy, mature co-parenting relationship will take time and effort. Every family is unique and there is no one-size-fits-all or “correct” way to co-parent, but there are clear “don’ts” and things to avoid when it comes to co-parenting.
Never use children as messengers between you and the other parent. You and your co-parent should speak directly or by email/text about issues relating to the children or adult issues (e.g., missed child support payments; your case in the ongoing family court proceedings).
Don’t use the children as spies or quiz them for information about the other parent (“Did your Dad get a new car?” or “Does your Mom have a new boyfriend?”).
Do not use time with the children as a pawn or prize (e.g., trying to punish the other parent by denying parenting time, or trying to punish the child by denying them time with their other parent).
Keep children out of the middle of parental conflict. Disagreements will happen, but successful co-parents shield the children from it. That means avoiding arguing in front of the children. Never ask the children to take sides if you and the other parent are in conflict on an issue.
Avoid put-downs, snide comments, or insults when speaking about the other parent in front of the children. Do not critique the other parent’s parenting style or speak negatively about the other parent’s family, new significant other, etc. when the children can hear you. Co-parenting can be very challenging, so the desire to vent is understandable—but your children should never be who you vent to, and they should not be in ear-shot if you vent to someone else.
Aim for consistent parenting whenever possible. There will of course be differences between households and that is normal. However, to the extent possible, co-parents should try to share a united front on important issues such as rules, discipline, expectations, and routines. Consistency helps reduce confusion for your children and makes it easier for children to transition between households.
Work on improving communication with the other parent. You don’t need to be best friends, but you do need to be able to communicate effectively in a way that puts the children’s needs first. Tips for developing and maintaining good communication with your co-parent include:
Do your best to keep communications with the other parent and focus on the present and future needs of the children.
Avoid anger, sarcasm, and rudeness.
Listen to what the other parent says and consider the other parent’s perspective or opinion.
Try not to overreact or allow your former partner to use the past to “push your buttons.”
If communication breaks down, postpone the conversation to another time when cooler heads can prevail.
Use email, text or specialized parenting apps as needed.
Effective co-parenting is certainly not easy, but it can be extremely beneficial for you, the other parent, and your children. There are many professionals (counsellors, mediators, family lawyers, parenting coordinators, parenting coaches) who can help get your co-parenting relationship off to a good start, or who you can turn to for help if a dispute arises that you can’t resolve.
Get advice from an experienced divorce lawyer in Prince George
Having a clear court order or written separation agreement in place goes a long way to ensuring successful co-parenting. You need to know your rights and responsibilities as a parent so you can get a fair agreement or order in place when going through separation or divorce. Dick Byl Law Corporation provides trusted legal advice and handles all aspects of family law, including parenting time, parenting responsibilities, and decision-making. We offer flexible legal consultation, customized solutions and work diligently to ensure that our clients achieve an outcome that is best for their family. Your separation agreement or court order can be as detailed or flexible as needed and can set out expectations, responsibilities, what you and the other parent should do if you can’t agree. Call us today at 250-564-3400 or use our eForm to get in touch with our family law office in Prince George