Committing to an amicable divorce means protecting your children from end-of-marriage related trauma. When the marriage ends in a cooperative manner, divorce can be transformed from a contentious event into one that can inspire growth and healing.
But getting the divorce finalized is only the first step. Where the rubber really meets the road is how you navigate your new relationship as a co-parent. And co-parenting means both parents must put aside any negativity they may have toward one another, so they can place their children’s needs first.
While this may sound simple, it can be challenging. To help you get started, I’ve outlined six steps that are crucial to a collaborative approach to co-parenting.
- Establish a “professional” relationship with your co-parent
Your marriage with your ex may done, but your relationship as co-parents will last a lifetime. Think of your new co-parenting relationship as a business partnership, where your business is raising successful, well-adjusted children. This professional approach can not only help you become a more effective parent, but it also helps prevent unnecessary conflict over personal boundaries and past problems.
For example, if you schedule a time to pick up the kids, treat it like an appointment with a colleague; don’t blow it off or be late. Be as courteous to your co-parent as you would with any business colleague.
- Communicate clearly, cordially, and consciously with your co-parent
Effective communication is paramount to successful co-parenting. This can present a challenge if poor communication was a primary cause of the divorce. By setting a professional tone, however, you may find communication becomes easier, since it’s free from emotional baggage.
When communicating, make your kids and their healthy adjustment the focal point. Tailor everything you say in terms of shared responsibility, using terms like “we” and “us,” instead of “you” or “me.” Avoid anything judgmental: stick to the facts and how they affect your children’s well-being.
Never talk down about your ex in front of the kids, and don’t allow your children to be disrespectful toward your co-parent, either. You never want them to feel like they must choose a side.
Finally, don’t use your children as messengers. Speak directly to the co-parent yourself.
- Create a comprehensive parenting plan
Every successful partnership requires planning, so sit down together and come up with a set of mutually agreed-upon guidelines and routines. This is essential for fostering security and predictability to help the children quickly and comfortably adapt to their new situation.
The more details the plan includes, the better. Try to anticipate potential problems ahead of time. How will holidays, birthdays, and vacations be shared? How will you resolve major disagreements between co-parents? How will new romantic relationships be handled? Be sure to revisit and update the plan regularly as the kids mature.
Developing such a comprehensive plan with an ex is challenging, so it’s often helpful to have a third-party present for advice and dispute mediation. As your Personal Family Lawyer, we can bring in trusted colleagues in the community who can help you to develop and maintain conscious co-parenting arrangements while we make sure your estate planning reflects your custody wishes.
Next week, I’ll continue with part two in this series, discussing the other 3 key steps to conscious co-parenting.
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