For divorcing couples without kids, after the divorce is final, their relationship can come to an end.
Their property and debts have been divided, alimony has been settled and other than perhaps a monthly check sent from one spouse to another, interaction between the parties can be virtually non-existent.
But if you're divorcing with children, it's an entirely different story. Because for long after your divorce is final, you'll still need to interact on a regular basis with your ex-spouse. Not as husband and wife, but as co-parents to your kids.
So what can you do to ensure your children grow up happy, supported and well-adjusted after your divorce and for the rest of their lives?
Our panel of experts weighed in and shared some tips for divorcing with kids and co-parenting success.
Read what they have to say...
Question: What are some tips for successful co-parenting when divorcing with children?
Laura Alper, MSW, LCSW
"Parents need to arrive at parenting decisions together and support those decisions. They need to conference with each other when they have concerns or when concerns arise.
They should never speak badly about the other parent to the child or children.
And they should try and craft a cooperative parenting process, so that each parent feels supported and not threatened by the other parent’s parenting style when the children are not with them."
To learn more about Laura Alper, visit: www.lauraalper.com
Dr. Pamela Brand, Psy.D., LMFT
"I encourage couples to try to set up meetings so that they can speak regularly - maybe once or twice a week or as often as is practical.
These meetings are for the purpose of scheduling and making decisions regarding children so if a child has a school event or a doctor’s appointment, both parents can be involved, which is optimal.
These should not be last-minute notifications so it's important to have check-ins over the phone when possible or over e-mail if not.
Every Sunday in the beginning of the week or whenever makes sense.
It is also important to be flexible with the visitation agreement.
Since schedules are subject to change, when parents can be open and flexible, it always makes things easier, e.g. if one parent has to go out of town and can give the other parent notification as soon as possible, and there’s an openness to the schedule’s changing – they can support each other."To learn more about Dr. Brand, visit: http://www.pamelabrand.com
Mihaela Campion, MA, LCPC
"Successful co-parenting means having the child’s emotional needs met. In order to do that, each co-parent has a responsibility to acknowledge and take care of their own needs as well.
Parents who experience separation or divorce need to give themselves permission to grieve and take care of themselves during the healing process.
That will enhance their ability to take care of their children’s needs.
Using divorce mediation to get the actual divorce helps set a good foundation for co-parenting, too. Because getting help with structuring the parenting plan and adjusting to the new parenting arrangement benefits everyone."
To learn more about Mihaela Campion, visit: Revival Therapy
Irene Schreiner, LMFT
"Whether you are married or divorce it is important to approach parenting your children as a team. And clear communication and common goals are key to being a good team.
I recommend that parents identify and agree upon 5-10 important rules that will be followed in both households at all times. Beyond those rules, maintain open communication, but know that there will be more flexibility and variations with how other things are handled.
Make sure not to talk negatively about your ex-spouse to your kids. Do your best to show respect towards each other in all interactions. Keep your kids out of the middle.
Finally, work through any residual personal issues so that they don’t flow over and impact your children."
To learn more about Irene Schreiner, visit: www.solidfoundationstherapy.com
Kate Engler, NCC, LPC, AMFT
"Create a parenting plan (and stick with it).
Make sure it includes (at a minimum): a vision for what successful co-parenting relationship “looks like,” opportunities for regularly scheduled “check-ins” about how things are going, and built-in flexibility for adjustments based kids’ changing needs.
Accept imperfection. Parenting is an imperfect process and co-parenting is no different. Accepting flaws and mistakes in yourself and the other person makes it easier to let small things go and focus on the big picture.
Respect the relationship the other person has with your kids. Children do well to have a positive relationship with both parents.
If you bad mouth the other parent or devalue his/her relationship with your child in any way (e.g., assume it’s not good because he/she doesn’t interact with your child the same way you do), you risk harming the bond with that parent and, in turn, hurting your child."
To learn more about Kate Engler, visit: www.kecounseling.com
David Klow, LMFT
"The co-parenting that I’ve seen work is where parents communicate well with each other.
They don’t triangulate the child; they don’t run their unprocessed stuff that they haven’t resolved with one another through the interactions with the child so the child is stuck in the middle.
Obviously being very careful about how you talk about the other parent so that any feelings towards your spouse don’t get transferred over to the child as best you can.
And really trying to provide some consistency because you don’t want to make your co-parenting situation a battleground."
To learn more about David Klow, visit: Skylight Counseling Center
Joe Dillon, MBA
"Difficulty communicating is common for couples who divorce. But communication is more important than ever for a good co-parenting relationship.
To keep each other appraised of your kids’ activities, homework, doctor’s appointments, etc., leverage technology by using a shared online calendar and place the children’s activities, schoolwork due, etc. on it.
This way, you can each access it from your computer or phone and be fully informed of the kids' schedules.
And while they may not like to admit it, kids thrive on routine.
So if you're divorcing with kids, be sure to keep things consistent as the kids move from mom's house to dad's house. Simple things such as enforcing the same bedtime to keeping similar routines such as homework first before TV, etc. can go a long way towards avoiding arguments about differing parenting styles.
Keeping a unified front at both houses to provide a consistent parenting experience while eliminating the age old argument of "why can't I stay out until midnight? I can when I'm at mom's / dad's house!" Kids are very good at figuring out who's the softie and who's the disciplinarian!
Be open to flexibility in your co-parent’s schedule because there will be times you'll require the same flexibility and understanding.
Your kids deserve to have both of you actively involved in their lives and at the end of the day, you are still both responsible for raising your children. Your marital status shouldn’t impact that in the least.
And if you need help, don’t be afraid to seek it out.
There are many resources available to teach you tools and strategies to improve your co-parenting skills including therapists, parenting coaches, clergy, books, etc.
If you love your children more than you dislike your ex, you’ll put their needs first and make parenting decisions that support that."
Cheryl Dillon, CPC
"Learning how to cope with divorce in general can be a challenge. After all, we're not given a handbook that tells us how to feel or what to do to make the experience go smoothly.
When you add kids into the mix, the situation gets even more complicated.
The good news is, while your divorce will most certainly have an impact on your kids, there are some things that you can do to minimize the effects and make the experience as positive as possible for your little ones.
Here are a few simple do’s and don’ts when it comes to co-parenting your children during divorce (and after):
- Don't try to get your kids to pick sides.
Parental Alienation Syndrome is real and if you try to come between your kids and their other parent, it’s you they'll grow to resent someday.
As difficult as it may be, fostering a positive relationship between your children and your soon-to-be ex will go a long way toward helping them cope with your divorce.
- Do stay focused on what’s most important at all times – your kids.
This will help you to pick your battles and handle interactions with your spouse more amicably.
It will also provide a positive example of how to cope with divorce that your kids can learn from.
- Do put your kids first by mediating your divorce.
If you and your husband or wife have not yet started your divorce proceedings, now is the time to learn more about mediating your divorce.
The divorce method you use and the way you handle yourself during the process will impact your future relationship as co-parents.
You will soon no longer be husband and wife but you'll always be Mom and Dad to your children.
Your kids deserve to have both of you involved in their lives and mediation is the best way to create a framework for that to occur.