Maintaining a strong relationship with your co-parent is a little like maintaining a strong relationship with your child – it takes patience, perseverance and despite all the planning, trial and error to see what works. Unlike raising a child, one parent cannot send the other to his or her room or take mobile phone privileges away..
So what works after separation or divorce? More than you may realize. Here are 5 ways that our California family law clients have overcome the challenges that come with co-parenting after separation or divorce.
Focus on the important issues to avoid unnecessary conflict
Handle family law cases long enough and you feel like you have seen it all. Parents unfortunately—and sometimes excessively—pick battles that aren’t worth the time, money, or stress they place on their family.
If you and the other parent have different parenting styles, you have to accept it. Yes, that means the children may stay up 30 minutes later at one parent’s house. The children may eat different foods, get to play different games on their phones, or be allowed to finish their homework in the morning, rather than before they go to bed.
Of course, if the different structures within a household begin to negatively affect the children, parents must communicate. We cannot have children getting poor grades, becoming unhealthy due to their poor diets, or become zombies as they stare into their phones and forget how to actually walk and talk at the same time.
Think with your head, not with your heart
It is difficult to be unemotional about your children. You care for them more than anything else in the world. You do not want any harm to come to them. You also want them to excel in just about everything they do.
But you must realize that control is an adolescent illusion. Other factors will affect your children’s lives as you go through a separation and divorce. These other factors may be the other parent’s new relationship, heavier involvement by grandparents or other family members, the children having difficulty adjusting to the new status quo and so forth.
A logical and reasonable approach to problem solving is better than an emotional one. If the other parent is highly volatile, this becomes easier said than done. Co-parenting classes sometimes offers effective solutions, as we will discuss below.
Become flexible as children get older
Compare your child at age 5 and his or her needs and I promise you it will be very different by the time your child is 15. While a predictable parenting schedule usually works best, once a child becomes a teenager, they usually need more flexibility.
Expecting older teenagers to live within the guidelines of every minute of a structured parenting plan without exception may end up causing the children unnecessary stress. And unnecessary stress on the children will inevitably result in more stress for the parents, which will put an undue strain on the co-parenting process.
There are no rules here. If a child is self-parenting or has too much discretion in their choices, communication and co-parenting must go to a higher level.
Streamline communication techniques
When parents are married or otherwise living under the same roof, communication is easier. One or more parents may work but throughout the day, they can speak by telephone, text message and then see each other in the evening. Once separation or divorce happens, that may all change.
Picking a communication method that results in the the least amount of conflict with the most amount of co-parenting return on investment of time.
Some of our co-parenting clients use software programs and websites such as Our Family Wizard or Talking Parents. These websites allow parents to have one place to communicate efficiently and review prior communications, unlike disjointed forms of communication like text messages and emails.
Invest in parenting classes and reading
You are not on your own. Spend some time looking for co-parenting tips online, or contact a local family law attorney in your area for co-parenting classes they recommend. You may be surprised to see how much helpful information is out there.
I know what you may be thinking. The other parent will not attend these with you and the other parent does not care as much as you do. That has nothing to do with you.
The more effective you become at parenting and co-parenting, the better you will become at communication and problem solving. You’ll will be far more empowered to deal with the obstacles that may come your way, including those placed by the other parent. This is one area where knowledge is truly power.
B. Robert Farzad is an experienced family law attorney and licensed in the state of California. He is the president of Farzad Family Law, APC, which is a multi-attorney firm with offices in Santa Ana, Mission Viejo, and Newport Beach in California. This article is not intended to be nor should it be construed as legal advice.