There are few things more frustrating than trying to co-parent with someone you genuinely dislike (I will not go as far as hate, because how can you hate someone who is responsible for your children being here). The reality is that no matter how much you do not like your ex, how much it frustrates you that they are not doing their fair share, you need to work on co-parenting if it is at all possible.
There are some valid complaints that people have about their ex’s when it comes to co-parenting. Trust me, I get it. However, not everything needs to be made into a major problem that requires a Motion to Modify or Motion for Contempt. If possible, try and be the bigger person. If it is not dangerous for your children, then consider just doing your thing on your time, and they do their thing on their time.
The key thing to remember is that the other parent is your child’s parent. It hurts your kids when you and your family complain about their mom or dad. If they truly suck as a parent, the kids are going to figure it out for themselves eventually. It is your job, as the responsible parent, to keep that reality away from your children as long as possible. Even once they realize that the other parent is selfish, rude, or just absent, kids still desperately want their parents to get along.
Remember, you are likely going to have to see this other parent for years and years to come. It doesn’t end at 18. There are graduations, weddings, grandchildren events, and countless other times where you will likely need to be in the same room as your ex. Your kids, even as adults, do not want to have to eliminate one parent from the special events in their lives to avoid the drama.
Here are a few co-parenting tips if you are dealing with someone who is difficult to co-parent with:
- Communicate in writing whenever possible. When you have an agreement or the allegation “you never told me about that”, you can go back and show them that you did not intentionally exclude them from an event or appointment. If there have been issues with the other person altering emails and sending them to you, or you would like the communications to be admissible in hearings should a Motion to Modify ever be needed, look to programs like “Two Houses” or “Talking Parents”. Both are free but charge for some aspects of the service. These programs memorialize written communications and are not able to be altered. Courts routinely rely on them to show the true conversation between parents, and even track when the other parent reviews the communications.
- Have a shared Google Calendar for children’s events that is updated often. This will help you keep track of all events and appointments (though, if you have joint legal custody, you should really be checking with the other parent before making an appointment with a doctor or dentist). By having a shared calendar, nobody can complain that they were uninformed about something important. It does not hurt to remind them in writing either. You can even put things like “sleep over at friend’s house” on there so the other parent knows where the child is staying when it is your time, or even better, the dates and locations where you are planning on vacationing with the children well in advance.
- Reduce face-to-face communication whenever possible. If your children are old enough to go to school, they can walk from the front door to the driveway without you being there with them. Watch from the window, but exchanges of the minor children are not for talking about things other than perhaps handing off medication (and only then it is when the child is too young to handle that themselves). Anything that needs to be discussed can be done in writing and away from the children.
- Sit away from them at sporting events/recitals/etc. You are divorced. You do not need to sit with the other parent if it is going to cause problems. Your kids might want you to, but you do not have to. The important thing is to show up for your children. In the end, they really do not care where you sit.
- Be polite. I cannot tell you how many times I go back and complain to the Judge that the other parent is rude, only to be told by opposing counsel that the problem is my client. We each have printouts of offensive emails, text messages, and occasionally pictures. Almost all the fights come from a lack of communication and respect for the other parent (or even pretending you respect them). Notice I said “fights” and did not say “disagreements”. Disagreements are different. You can disagree and still be respectful. You need to be able to grit your teeth and smile, say please and thank you, and just use your manners when you must interact with the other parent. I often tell my clients to treat them like they would a waiter or waitress. You do not need to be their best friend, but you should not go out of your way to be rude or piss them off.
- Over Communicate. I have had very little complaints that the other parent shares too much information about the children. If they have a practice schedule, get it to the other parent as soon as you receive it. Same with any games, performances, or other events. If the other parent does not show up, so be it. But take away the “nobody ever told me” excuse from the other parent. Do this in writing and on the shared calendar if possible.
- Be reasonable. Kids need to participate in major family events. To me, this includes funerals (if age appropriate), weddings, and family reunions (planned well in advance). This does not mean that the other parent gets spring break because their 4th cousin is getting married, but if the children’s aunt has a wedding, the kids should be there. And to pull out the parenting plan and explain why the kids cannot be at their grandparent’s funeral is only going to cause problems for you in the future. The grieving parent already has enough on their plate and being a jerk and saying “it is not your time according to the parenting plan” is about the worst thing you could do. Are you right? Yes. Is the Judge going to care down the line? Nope. They will think you are a jerk and punish you accordingly. Be reasonable in your response to reasonable requests.
- Understand that your ex is going to make mistakes and not follow the plan exactly. Life happens to all of us. Sometimes we get flat tires, cars will not start, or the kids simply cannot find their shoes. Does this mean that being an hour late on a routine basis is okay? Not at all. But if once in a while the ex is late for an exchange, drops the kids off at school 10 minutes after the bell rang, or even flat out forgets a game, let it go. If there is a repeated and blatant disregard for the parenting plan, then you have a problem. The occasional mistake is not going to sway a Judge to punish the other parent and can even make you look a little petty in certain circumstances. If the mistakes are few and far between, let it go. You do not need the drama and stress in your life, and the joy of getting divorced is that their problems are no longer your problems.
The bottom line is that you need to obey the golden rule when it comes to co-parentings: treat your ex the way you would like to be treated. You do not have to like this person, but you do have to raise children with them.