Co-Parenting… With Your Ex?
I recently received a call from someone I originally met on HARO (Help a Reporter Out). Her editor had assigned her the task of answering a series of questions about “co-parenting after the romance is over.”
What are the most common reasons that adults with children are getting divorced these days, or separating, if they never married in the first place?
- Money (usually lack thereof).
- Infidelity (the grass is perceived to be greener on the other side of the fence, usually when one parent is focused on the kids so the other looks elsewhere for sex/companionship.
- The parents disagree about how to raise their children.
- One parent feels disrespected by the other due to a breakdown in communication.
- Concern, as the children grow older and as parenting them becomes more complicated, that the children will be hurt by the other parent’s disciplinary style to the degree that their lives will be more negatively impacted if the first parent stays in the relationship instead of leaving.
When parents are in high conflict, neither parent is emotionally available to their children.
If the adults are on very bad terms, what are the first steps they should take in order to create a co-parenting plan?
Find a licensed family therapist who has some experience in divorce counseling and then convince your child’s other parent that “getting on the same page” is crucial for your child’s well-being.
Read articles that challenge your perspective, not just those that confirm your beliefs.
What are the first steps of creating any co-parenting plan?
Determine each parent’s interests/goals/concerns for your children long-term.
Then determine both of your interests for your children short-term, i.e. identify any special needs attendant to age, condition, handicap, etc.
Parents should take their time doing this, and should not ask others for their opinions. (No Greek Chorus allowed.)
What are the key things that adults should remember about co-parenting plans?
The plan should provide a basic structure but its specifics should be “the last resort,” i.e. used when the parents can’t agree. It should be stated and understood by both parents that the plan provides a structure that supports the parents and the children when the parents cannot agree.
How do these plans help children feel safer?
Specific plans provide safety, structure, routines, and boundaries for the children by providing clear guidelines for parents when parents become derailed by their emotions.
Can children be involved with creating these plans?
Never directly. Even suggesting that children can help make the decisions unacceptably places them in the middle.
When parents are in high conflict, neither parent is emotionally available to their children. Asking children to weigh in unintentionally creates alignment with one parent or the other, which then creates loyalty bonds, furthering the parents’ emotional entrenchment in their attempts to validate their parental roles.
Children can be provided a voice through a professional. Parents should never coach or even advise the child on what to say to that professional.
Society often trusts the parents to know their children well enough to know what is in their best interests, unless the divorce is very high conflict. In those circumstances, the parents are so self-involved that they have truly lost sight of what is best for the children, and the children should be provided a voice through a professional.
What are some things that couples can do proactively before they are married to plan for unfortunate circumstances such as divorce?
- Attend classes on budgeting and finance together to make sure you are both on the same page with the same financial goals.
- Attend parenting classes to ensure that you have the same interests and goals in having children, and the same plans for how to parent them when that day comes.
- Parenting classes and reading material can also help you equip yourselves with the congruent parenting skills ahead of time.
- Verify that you are not justifying, rationalizing, minimizing, or compromising your beliefs concerning your new partner’s behavior or belief system.
- Overcome and address any “red flags” with the other parent prior to making any long term commitment to him or her.
- Determine in what regard the other parent meets your needs for feeling loved, receiving your love, feeling a sense of partnership, belonging or intentionally not belonging with the extended family, power and control (agreement on how decisions will be made), valuable (how do you each validate each other), special (how do you feel special by being in this relationship), and to experiment and explore (how will you continue to keep yourself and your relationship growing).
- Agree that each person will need time for self-care each week, share a date weekly with one another, and spend the night alone once a month without children (very important for security and teaches respect to the children).
How often does a couple have plans in place before they are married?
Never, not that I have ever heard of.
Are there experts who can help to facilitate a plan to prepare couples in case of divorce? Won’t putting a plan together, just like a will, help to ease future tensions?
This is a great idea. Can parents clarify, before they become parents, what will happen to their children when they divorce, or decide to separate? What are they willing to agree on now that they will stay committed to, no matter the situation which has brought about their separation? Any such plan should include elements that address the financial, physical, emotional and legal aspects of the separation.
What is the best first-step advice for someone who wants to start the process of divorce, but doesn’t want his or her kids to suffer?
Equip yourself with tools to detach emotionally from the other parent. This is easy to say but hard to accomplish and essential to ensure that you successfully co-parent through the separation process.
Be open to learning new problem solving techniques, as well as critical communication skills that you either never had or have forgotten.
Then research collaborative divorce, as well as all of the other court-less alternatives to conventional courtroom divorce.
Here are the questions she asked me and the answers I, as an experienced divorce lawyer, gave her. What do you think? Am I right? If not, why not? What do you think?
About this week’s authors: Joryn Jenkins and Shaun Hoyle.
Joryn, attorney and Open Palm Founder, began her own firm here in Tampa after a 14-year career in law, 2 of which she served as a professor of law at Stetson University. She is a recipient of the prestigious A. Sherman Christensen Award, an honor bestowed upon those who have provided exceptional leadership to The American Inns of Court Movement. For more information on Joryn’s professional experience, take a look at her resume.
Co-authored by Shaun Hoyle.
Shaun Hoyle, B.S. is a Certified Parenting Educator, coach, and founder of Life Lessons of Manasota, LLC. As a director with the International Network for Children & Families, Shaun trains instructors to teach the Redirecting Children’s Behavior course with author, Kathryn Kvols, from whom she received her certification in April 2002.
Shaun has also achieved the following:
Founder of Life Lessons of Manasota, LLC
Certified INCAF Parenting Educator
Certified Parenting Coach
Certified Redirecting Children’s Behavior Instructor
Certified High Conflict Diversion Program Instructor
Certified Redirecting for a Cooperative Classroom
Family Court Professional Collaborative – Member
Next Generation Divorce Collaborative – Associate Member
To contact Shaun call her at (941) 807-0836 or e-mail her at Shaun@LifeLessonsOfManasota.com