Dealing with an ex can be difficult, particularly when you have children together. Parents have a responsibility to put a child’s best interests above their own, and that means working together to develop an amicable co-parenting relationship. As co-parents, you and your ex will interact and react on a variety of playing fields, including emotional, family-based and, of course, legal aspects.
Rebekah Rini, a family law attorney practicing in Las Vegas, has litigated hundreds of divorces. Rini draws on her decade of experience to offer excellent tips for successful co-parenting:
1) Live close to each other
“Don’t underestimate the burden of performing custody exchanges if you and your ex live across town from one another,” says Rini. Exes who live within a few miles of each other make their lives (and their kids’ lives) so much easier.
Your children, particularly if they’re young, will reap the benefits of having more access to both parents (less time commuting, more time bonding). And they’ll enjoy the fact that both parents are near enough to attend school functions and other events they deem important.
2) Base visitation on work schedules
If you and your ex work different shifts, then you can determine visitation schedules practically. If, like most parents, you have similar daily work schedules, you need to be more creative. Rini recommends a “2/5 split” for parents who both work Monday through Friday jobs.
Mom, for example, has the kids on Monday and Tuesday. Dad has the kids on Wednesday and Thursday. You alternate every Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. “It’s called a 2/5 split because, each week, each parent has the kids either two days or five days,” explains Rini. “This gives each parent some weekend time with the children.”
3) Implement consistent rules and routines
Differing opinions on child rearing is one of the rifts that can lead to the ultimate breakdown of a marriage. Now that you’re apart, it’s more important than ever for you and your ex to come to terms on what’s best for your children.
“Kids thrive with routines,” says Rini, “so try to have some of the same routines at both of your homes.” Synchronize mealtimes, bath times, and bedtimes, along with rules about doing homework and using tablets and television.
“Kids are wonderful, amazing, and smart, and they have enormous potential to be manipulative,” cautions Rini. “When the routines and standards are different at the two homes, kids take advantage to get what they want.” Consistency will benefit not just the children but also you and your ex as separate parents.
4) Create a foundation based on love, not fun
Don’t sabotage the relationship your children have with your ex. You can’t control how the other parent behaves, but you can control how you react. Don’t disrespect your ex in words or actions, especially in front of your kids.
It’s not your children’s responsibility to deliver messages to your ex, and it’s certainly not their job to spy and bring information about the ex back to you. Whatever you have to say or want to know should be communicated between the two of you without involving the children.
The only “side” that matters in a co-parenting arrangement is the children’s. Don’t try to be the fun parent and paint your ex as the mean one. “I’ve seen it backfire,” warns Rini. “Kids want to have fun, but on some subconscious level, they want structure. Having healthy boundaries shows kids that they are loved.”
5) Be a responsible role model
Your children are still growing and your actions will influence their development. Angry custody exchanges and court hearings will impact your kids’ personalities and their future relationships. “Divorce can leave some painful wounds,” says Rini, “but putting the hurt aside for the sake of your kids’ emotional health is imperative.” And if you back off, maybe your ex will, too.
6) Put it in writing
If you’re dealing with an ex who capitalizes on gray areas, then protect yourself by getting everything in writing. Verify agreements and changes to agreements (a different drop off time, for example) with texts and emails that provide a trail of communication. “For high-conflict parenting situations, there is a program called Our Family Wizard that acts as a sort of digital mediator for parents,” offers Rini.
7) Avoid heated custody exchanges
Being a child of divorce is difficult enough—don’t make it worse with unpleasant pickups and drop-offs. Rini recommends taking advantage of your kid’s school schedule to avoid awkward or intense exchanges. “Instead of doing an exchange on Sunday, consider dropping the kids off at school on Monday morning and have your ex pick them up Monday after school,” she says. “It makes much more sense.”
8) Give your children ownership of their stuff
“I’ve seen a lot of parents prohibit the kids from bringing the clothes and shoes that parent buys to the other parent’s house,” says Rini. Some of these parents will even make the kids put on ratty or ill-fitting clothes to do their custody exchanges, making the kids feel awful. “Sure, it’s annoying when you buy a new pair of shoes that disappears at your ex’s house, but it’s not worth stressing your children out.”
It will be worth the effort
Psychologist Sue Cornbluth, a nationally recognized expert on parenting after high-conflict divorce, reminds parents that the marriage may be over but the family still remains. When you show your children that you and your ex can co-parent, says Cornbluth, your kids will:
- Feel secure. The children know they are more important than whatever it was that ended your marriage.
- Become better problem-solvers. Children who continually see their parents working together to solve issues are able to calmly solve problems on their own.
- Have higher self-esteem. Kids should focus on their goals and dreams, rather than worry about you arguing with your ex.
- Learn good behavior. By cooperating with your ex, you are providing an example your children can use in the future.
Bottom line: Your children deserve to have both parents in their lives. It’s unfortunate that your relationship with your ex did not work out, but it’s not the kids’ fault. They didn’t ask to be children of divorce—so make the choice to co-parent responsibly.
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