Let’s be honest! Co-parenting isn’t easy which means it is going to take work. Putting in the work will help your children grow up to be well-adjusted adults. For each letter of the alphabet are quick tips and suggestions to help navigate co-parenting.
A – Always put the children’s needs before your own. You decided to have the child and now it is up to you to make those needs the top priority.
B – Badmouth – just don’t do it! Do not talk negatively about your co-parent because it can send the message to the child that there is something bad or wrong about them too. They are a product of the co-parent who you have just bashed.
C – Conflict is costly. In my experience, litigation about child custody issues is the most expensive type of family Court litigation. The higher the conflict, the higher the legal fees tend to be. Reducing conflict can save time and money.
D – Discuss rather than dictate. In your communication with a co-parent, do not tell them how something is going to happen.
E – Extended family – your child has two sides of the family that all want to have some involvement with your child. Although extended family, in most cases, do not have legal rights, it is important for the child to have a relationship with them. When extended family are visiting or an important event is happening, consider allowing the family members to exercise this special time because it is not about the co-parent, but about the child.
F – Focus- When communicating with your co-parent, stay focused on the current issue at hand and try to keep that focus. Too often, multiple issues are communicated at one time which makes it difficult to focus. Try communicating about one issue at a time to avoid the confusion. Further, try to remain on topic during all communication and don’t get hung up on old issues.
G – Give and take. There is never a parent that is always right in their co-parenting relationship.
H – Hard work. That is what it takes to be a successful co-parent. Why create conflict and make things more difficult?
I – Interrogate – don’t ask your child questions about the other parents household. Recently, we had a case where a parent kept asking a child over and over the same question, to stop the parent from asking the same question, the child made up a lie. For months, nobody could understand where the other parent came up with lie. It was not until the child entered into therapy that the Court and parents learned the child had made it up to avoid being interrogated by a parent. When the child answered the question, it stopped being asked and the child used the lie as a defense mechanism.
J – Judgment – don’t pass judgment on your co-parent or tell them what they are doing wrong. That is not your job and it creates conflict which needs to be avoided.
K – Kindness. Too often parents forget that kindness goes a long way, especially in written correspondence to the other parent. Remember when you put things in writing whether it is text or email,
L – Love – tell the child often that the other co-parent loves them.
M – Mediation can be an important tool in resolving disputes. Before you rush to file something in Court, think about alternatives. Nobody knows your child better than you and your co-parent, the Judge has a lot of cases and might not get it right. Mediation leaves power in the hands of the parents and is often less expensive then litigation.
N – Never. Never do things that the judge will disapprove. Do you really want to have to explain yourself to the judge when you thought it was a good idea to put disparaging remarks to the other parent in writing in the middle of the night?
O – Opinion – never offer your opinion on the co-parent’s parenting style. Your style might not be the correct and the most appropriate style, especially in high conflict custody situation.
P – Pitting – as children get older they pit their parents against each other. Admit it, when you were a child and one parent said no, you would try the other parent to get what you wanted. This becomes more exaggerated in a situation where parents are separate so a good co-parenting relationship sends the child a message that you are on the same page and communicate which helps reduce one against the other mentality.
Q – Quality verses quantity- in my experience, quality time is just as important as the quantity of time.
R – Resources – there are a lot of available resources to assist in co-parenting, you just need to look. A lot of churches offer classes or group programs for parents, there are good books to read, workbooks to complete, and therapist who can work through the issues with you.
S – Spouses and significant others – parents are supposed to co-parent, it is in the word itself. You need to set clear boundaries with spouses and significant others so that they understand it is not their place to be involved in parenting decisions, but to be a sounding board for you as you navigate co-parenting.
T – Think about it. When you have something to say to your co-parent in any medium (telephone calls, emails, social media, etc.) think about it before you say some anything. I have suggested to clients that you should never send an email about something upsets you until the next day. Type it, save it and wait. A lot of clients have tried this trick and it saves them for saying something that they might regret or impact their case.
U – Understanding. This is hard in many situations. Parents do not always react to situations appropriately. The judge is neutral and can only make decision based on the facts presented in pleadings. Do not make the judge’s job easy to rule against you.
V – Victory should not be a word that is used in your vocabulary to discuss Court proceedings. There are no winners or losers expect the children.
W – When you’re wrong and it is going to happen, you should own up to it. It is my experience that the Judges are more receptive to a parent who admits that they have made a mistake and can tell the Court how the problem is going to be fixed, rather than being caught trying to defend their bad behavior.
X – X-ray eyes. The Court does not have a crystal ball or the ability to predict future behavior. However, judge can see right though you like an X-ray machine if the same behavior persists causing conflict to the detriment of the children.
Y – You can’t control your co-parent. You can only control yourself. You are setting an example for your child so make it a good one!
Z – Zip it – keep hurtful comments to yourself. If you don’t want the co-parent to say it you, don’t say it to them!
There is no one right way to co-parent, but there are a lot of wrong ways. I think that these helpful hints can provide guidance toward getting it right, but they might not work in your situation. It is a trial and error situation, it take time and sometimes you won’t always get it right. It is about trying and not giving up.
Jason Stoffel is a family law practitioner in private practice since 2004. He is a partner in Roberts Stoffel Family Law Group , a Las Vegas, Nevada family law firm.