Dear Mr. Dad: My wife and I are in the midst of what’s turning out to be a rather unpleasant divorce. We can’t stand to be anywhere near each other and conversations are pretty much impossible. The only thing we agree on (besides that we shouldn’t be married anymore) is that our kids need both of us. How can we come up with an arrangement that will ensure that we both get to see our kids?
A: What you’re talking about is generally referred to as “co-parenting,” and the most important thing to know about it is that you and your ex don’t need to like each other to make it work. Below are some strategies that you can implement right now that will help the two of you design and build a strong co-parenting relationship that will last as long as you’re divorced (which will probably be a very long time).
- Think of her as a business partner. You may hate each other, but like any partners, you’ll want to do everything you can to protect the business’s most valuable assets: your children.
- Write a parenting agreement. It doesn’t sound like you’ll be able to do this without a mediator. So find a neutral party who has experience with divorcing parents and have him or her draft an agreement for you.
- Respect each other as parents. Unless your wife is doing something dangerous or damaging to the kids, let her parent them the way she wants to. Hopefully, she’ll do the same for you.
- Keep each other current. Let your ex know about anything important happening in your children’s lives that she might not have heard about. All you have to do is send an email or a text. The effort will be greatly appreciated—guaranteed—and, hopefully, reciprocated.
- Think about how you’ll resolve conflicts. You’re going to have plenty of disagreements, so you should have a plan in place from the very beginning—possibly including mediation—that lays out how you’ll deal with them.
- Flexibility is key. Emergency trips, illnesses, out-of-town guests, family vacations, minor holidays (like Mother’s Day or Father’s Day), and other events may mean asking your ex to keep—or to let you keep—the kids a few extra days. Whether you’re asking for help or offering it, be nice and the favor will probably be returned.
- Know your limitations. There are certain things you’re capable of doing and certain things you’re not. Be very clear on the difference.
- Agree on a fair schedule. If the kids are going to be living with one of you more than the other, there are dozens of scheduling options and you’ll have to pick the one that works best for you. If you’re dividing custody 50/50, two are especially good: One week at your place followed by one at your ex’s is fine for kids over eight. But for smaller kids, a week away from either of you is too long. So a 2-2-5-5 plan works well. For example, you’d have the kids every Monday and Tuesday, your ex has them every Wednesday and Thursday, and you alternate weekends.
- Revisit the plan. As the kids get older, your plan may need to adapt.
- Respect each other’s privacy. You don’t want your ex asking a bunch of nosy questions about your private live so don’t ask her any either. And never ask the kids to spy for you.
- Be honest. If you make promises to your kids or your ex, keep them. If you agree to be somewhere, be there. And expect the same from your ex.
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