Divorce with Kids: How to Co-Parent Effectively with an Ex
Whether your divorce was amicable or contentious, whether it was mutual or not, if you share kids with your ex, your marriage might be over; but your need (well, requirement) to communicate with your ex endures. After all, you’re still co-parents.
Yet, how can you be successful co-parents if you weren’t successful spouses?
Before answering that question, it’s important to note that co-parenting isn’t just parenting in tandem. It involves communicating, negotiating, and making decisions about your children with your ex. That having been said, there’s no one right way to co-parent; which means you (ideally, with your ex) have to figure out what works for you and your kid(s). How can you do so?
Assuming you both want what’s best for your kid(s), and you want to be involved parents, a great first step is to pretend it is 20 years from now. That’s right – zoom into the future.
Imagine a heart-to-heart with your adult kid(s) about how you and your ex handled post-divorce parenting. Answer the questions below with how you’d ideally like your kid(s) to respond. Be as detailed as possible, so no one-word answers like: “Great!” Instead, elaborate: “Great, because….” (If you’re a dad, switch names accordingly).
Describe how your dad and I communicated with each other after the divorce.
When you were still living at home, how would you describe the way I talked to you about your dad (my tone of voice, my attitude, etc)?
Describe how your dad discussed me in conversations with you.
If you compared us to some of your friends’ divorced parents, what do you most appreciate about what your dad and I did, or didn’t do, after we got divorced?
Now, ask yourself the following questions:
What’s my ideal vision of myself as a co-parent and how can I best support myself to turn vision into reality?
Next, list the key points from your answers (e.g., kindness). If your ex is up for doing this too, share key points with each other to craft a Co-Parenting Philosophy that guides your communication. If your ex doesn’t want to participate, create a philosophy solo.
Now what? A popular approach is to draft a Parenting Plan: a way for you and your ex to get aligned and coordinate schedules. The specifics are up to you—and can always be revised—and might include:
Co-Parenting Philosophy: See above.
Major Issues: Topics about which co-parent must be consulted before decisions are made (e.g., medical procedures).
Day-to-Day Decisions: Key parenting decisions co-parents are free to make without consultation (e.g., emergency medical procedures).
Kids’ Schedules: An accessible, updateable custody calendar, which includes regular activities and locations, and “one-offs,” like doctors’ appointments. Also, consider adding visitation information for birthdays, holidays, and summers.
Expenses: Kid-related fees— health insurance, extra-curricular costs—and which parent is responsible for paying them.
Visitation Guidelines: Co-parenting policy if a child is sick, if travel impacts custody, etc.
Some plans include additional components, like a commitment to protect children from co-parents’ disagreements; restrictions on exposure to drugs and alcohol, and to media or situations inappropriate or dangerous for kids; and, a commitment to inform co-parents of contact info changes that are pertinent to childcare or custody.
Finding the co-parenting strategy that works best for you, your ex, and your kid(s) can take time and energy; but if you’re devoted to your children’s health and wellbeing, it’s definitely worth the effort.