Listen, compromise, and act in the best interests of your child
For couples with children, probably the single biggest question that arises during divorce is "what happens to the kids?" The idea of co-parenting with someone who you no longer love and trust seems daunting, if not impossible. But your child still needs two parents,* and you still need to put their needs first when navigating co-parenting during and after your divorce.
The key is to have a plan and principles that you can stick to even when emotions run high in the moment. Here are a few steps you need to follow to co-parent with your ex-spouse successfully.
Create a detailed parenting plan, and follow it
A parenting plan includes more than the days and times the children will spend with each spouse. It should also account for how decisions will be made about the children's education, healthcare, spiritual development, and so on, as well as who will pay for activities like summer camps and school trips. Critically, your parenting plan should also spell out how you will resolve disagreements and navigate changes to the parenting plan as the needs of your children change.
Having a parenting plan doesn't just resolve disputes; it's a mechanism to rebuild trust or at least the level of trust that you need to co-parent effectively. The goal isn't to reach the same level of trust that you had while you were married but rather to trust that your ex-spouse will follow their end of the parenting plan and handle any disputes reasonably.
Maintain consistency between your homes
This doesn't mean everything has to be exactly the same at each house, but the more consistency, the better. If the rules at each house are similar, it will be easier for your kids to adjust and transition between houses — and as transitions are often the most difficult time, this is critical. The parenting schedule should be as consistent as possible as well, although there should always be flexibility.
Avoid talking about the divorce or "badmouthing" your co-parent
Your children will likely have many questions about the divorce, but remember that they don't need to know details. Answer their questions about the logistics and reassure them that both you and your co-parent love them very much. If they ask more detailed questions about the reasons for the divorce, it's enough to say "these are adult decisions" and reassure them that it isn't their fault.
Likewise, you should never speak negatively about the other parent to your children. If you can, try to say something positive, such as "you're so athletic, just like your dad." You might understandably bristle at the thought of praising your ex-spouse, but remember that you're not doing this for them; you're doing it for your child's benefit.
It's also important that you avoid using your children as messengers or spies to convey information to and about your former spouse, even unconsciously. Your goal is to model effective conflict resolution for your children, and that means dealing with your co-parent directly, rather than using go-betweens.
Use a shared online calendar or similar tool to communicate
Again, the key is to make sure you're on the same page with the other parent. Putting things in writing means there's no room for dispute or fights over "forgetting" details and events. A shared calendar that includes the children's activities, appointments, trips, homework assignments, and so on, as well as regular check-ins with the other parent, is a powerful tool to stay on the same page.
During all communications with your co-parent, keep an open mind and be ready to compromise. Stay focused on your shared love for your children and celebrate their successes together. Again, the goal isn't a perfect relationship, just an effective one that serves the interests of your children.
Get the right legal counsel to navigate divorce
Whether your current relationship with your co-parent is amicable or contentious, it's always in your interest to get legal advice to navigate these uncertain waters. An experienced divorce attorney can help you create a parenting plan that not only meets your current needs but also builds flexibility to meet future needs. If you're considering a divorce with children in Belleville or anywhere in Southwest Illinois, contact Courtney Clark Law, P.C. today.
*Of course, this whole post assumes that there is no physical, sexual, or serious emotional abuse. If your children are not safe with their other parent, then their safety, and yours, always comes first.