I am a family law attorney in Somerset County, NJ, and in the almost 30 years I’ve represented clients in their divorce proceedings I’ve seen highly-effective co-parenting, I’ve seen a complete breakdown of the co-parenting relationship, and I’ve seen everything in between.
I’m writing this article to share with you what my clients have taught me about successfully co-parenting while getting divorced, and thereafter. I hope these tips help your family during this difficult time.
1. Accept Being a Co-Parent as Your New Relationship.
Understandably, you are probably not feeling all that charitable toward your soon-to-be ex. Regardless of the reasons for your divorce, it is important for you to separate your identity as a husband or wife from your identity as a mother or father to your children. Make your parenting role your priority and ask your ex to do so also. This is a conversation you and your ex must have to protect the best interests of your children.
Remember that your ex will remain your partner in parenting for the rest of your life and treat him or her accordingly. Agreeing to amicably co-parent despite the divorce might even make your divorce go more smoothly!
2. Agree to Disagree and Be Ready to Compromise
Once you and your ex agree that you must continue amicably as co-parents, you need to discuss your child custody and parenting time arrangements, as well as child support if necessary. If this discussion gets sticky you might consider enrolling in mediation – a neutral third party can help you both articulate your side and come to an agreement.
3. Establish a Routine Schedule for the Family
Again, because you and your ex have children together, you are still a family even if you are no longer married to one another.
Once you’ve tackled and settled the thorny issues of custody, parenting time, and support, you have a baseline from which to craft an agreed-upon, predictable routine for your children as well as their time with you and your ex. This is important especially during the divorce proceedings when the children will be feeling the most vulnerable. Avoiding the chaos of an unpredictable schedule will go a long way in helping your children heal and transition to their new life.
4. Be Honest with Your Children, but Don’t Overshare.
While it is fine to admit to your children that you are feeling angry or sad, you must avoid overly confiding in them about your feelings about the divorce. Your children have their own emotional reactions to deal with and as you and your ex are their primary source of support and comfort, they need to be able to rely on you – not the other way around!
If you are feeling too stressed out to cope, see my article 8 Ways to Cope With the Stress of Divorce for some ideas on how to deal with that. Taking good care of yourself gives you the emotional strength to take good care of your children.
5. Don’t Trash-Talk Your Ex to Your Children.
Try your best to avoid talking negatively about your ex to your children or in front of your children. Your marriage may have broken down, but your ex is still their parent too. You and your ex are bound together for life because of this, and if you can move forward in as calmly and rationally as possible considering the circumstances, years down the road you both will be glad you did.
If you feel you need to talk about your ex, consider joining a divorce support group where you can. And don’t be afraid to go to therapy – talking with a neutral professional can be so very helpful.
6. Don’t Argue with Your Ex in Front of Your Children.
Never rehash the arguments or issues that led to your divorce in front of your children. This is something you and your ex should agree upon, however, if a discussion with your ex turns nasty in front of your children, end it. You can calmly suggest that you continue the discussion later when things cool down, or you can simply walk away or hang the phone up. Let’s face it – any argument you had with your ex is moot after your divorce, so don’t get drawn in.
I don’t think many parents would disagree that the well-being of their children and a healthy ongoing relationship with them are priorities. In fact, this may be the only thing you two agree on at this point! I hope these tips help your family move through and past divorce in the healthiest way possible.
About the Author
Katherine K. Wagner, Esq.graduated from Duke University and Washington & Lee University Law School. Ms. Wagner also holds a Certificate in Divorce Mediation from Rutgers University and is a graduate of the American Bar Association Family Law Advocacy Institute.
Ms. Wagner has co-chaired the Somerset County Family Law Committee and serves as a panelist for the Somerset County Early Settlement Program and as a mediator for the Somerset County Child Custody Mediation Program. She also volunteers with Legal Services of Northwest New Jersey and the Resource Center for Women and their Families.
In addition to maintaining her busy professional and pro bono schedule, Ms. Wagner blogs regularly on issues and current events in family law.