During the early days of your divorce or separation, before lines are drawn in the sand and we lawyers get involved, try to nurture a spirit of cooperation with your co-parent. It may be distasteful. It may be difficult. But it needs to be done.
Why? Because how your kids fare during your divorce depends mightily upon how you and your co-parent conduct yourselves. Parents who can cooperate in putting together their own plan for sharing time with, and making decisions regarding the kids, are much more likely to adhere to that plan. And the sooner that happens the better for children who yearn for the return of security and routine in lives that have been turned upside down.
Ultimately, the goal is a long-term “parenting plan” that will contain a schedule, decision-making rules, and other provisions relating to the children’s health and welfare. The best plans are built upon a foundation of shared child-related goals and cooperation between co-parents.
Improving communication with your co-parent
Cooperation begins with the ability to discuss child-related issues productively despite your new, stressful circumstances. Take a few minutes to think about how you and your co-parent have been communicating lately. Then consider the following goals to help improve and focus that communication upon what’s best for your kids:
- Keep your conversations under control by agreeing ahead of time what will be discussed.
- Focus on current issues without dredging up old problems, conflicts or vulnerabilities.
- Don’t automatically assume that your co-parent’s motivations or intentions are hostile.
- Remain calm and try to see issues from your co-parent’s standpoint.
- Steer communications toward constructive results rather than focusing on who is “wrong” or at fault.
Suggest that your co-parent strive for these goals as well. But even if you are rebuffed, work toward them on your own. You never know—being composed, empathetic and properly focused with your co-parent just might be contagious.
Once you’ve done as much as you can to improve communication, you’re ready to move on to the next step in building divorce co-parenting: a “Parenting Goal Statement.”
The Parenting Goal Statement
Parenting goal statements begin the new co-parenting relationship with a written list of shared beliefs and rules of conduct that redirect the focus from parents’ conflict to children’s needs. They create momentum for constructive dialogue and help frame your parenting plan.
Your parenting goal statement should include the following:
- We will shield our children from our conflict.
- We will not use our children as confidants or messengers between us.
- We will be reasonable and flexible in sharing time with the children prior to agreeing on a formal parenting plan.
- We will deal with child-related issues completely separate from financial ones.
- We will not criticize each other in front of our children or to others who are in their lives.
- We will nurture our children’s love for us both.
- We will agree on what information we will share with the children about the divorce.
- We will encourage our children to express their feelings, but we will make the decisions.
- We will share information about our children’s well-being, schoolwork, activities and schedules.
- We will make our best effort to maintain similar, consistent rules of conduct for the children.
- We will reassure our children that they will continue to have two parents who love them, and that the failure of our marriage is in no way a result of anything they have done or failed to do.
- Because our children will suffer as long as issues remain unresolved regarding them, we will start work as soon as possible on resolving those issues in a way that reflects the values stated above.
Children in high-conflict divorces are at risk for lasting emotional harm. Responsible parents can avoid that with a mindful, methodical approach to serving their children’s needs. That begins with ground rules for co-parent interaction in the early days after separation and progresses to agreement on shared parenting values and goals. With that foundation, the final step of a formal parenting plan will be much easier to achieve.
Long after your divorce is over you’ll still be a co-parent. Be a hero to your kids by getting that relationship off to a good start.