In part, 1 we discussed how to have a kid friendly divorce, and discussed the importance of at least attempting to get along with your soon-to-be former spouse in front of the children; how to talk to the children about divorce; how to talk about (or how not to talk about) your spouse in front of the children; and remembering not to discuss the various court proceedings with the children. This keeps the children from being children.
Now that the divorce is final, property has been divided, child support set, and child custody and parenting time determined, how do two parents co-parent the children? Except in egregious cases involving abuse, criminal activity, and/or alcohol or drug addiction, most parents and families will continue contact long after the divorce is finalized.
One thing to keep in mind is that, if you have children, your ex-spouse will be a part of your life forever, not just until the children are adults, but long after. There will be high school and college graduations, the children’s weddings, and grandchildren, which will keep bringing you and your ex-spouse back into contact. Probably the contact will continue at some level as long as you are alive.
Of course, while the children are still young, there will be ongoing and regular contact between you and your ex-spouse as it relates to parenting time and exchanges, healthcare/medicine, education, extracurricular activities and costs, religious training, and potentially the introduction of new significant others and stepparents. These are all times that you and your ex-spouse will need to communicate, coordinate, cooperate, and to the best of your ability, keep any disagreements away from the children.
Things like custody, parenting time, and child support are always modifiable post-divorce, if there has been a substantial change and/or it is in the children’s best interests, and more information on those subjects can be found on our website by following these links to past blog topics:
The advice to “at least get along in front of your children” during the pendency of the divorce, continues post divorce. Clearly there will be times your ex-spouse frustrates you, makes you angry, or you disagree. That is inherent in almost every divorce situation, as, if you could get along with no problems at all, the marriage would have likely continued. The extreme importance is to not let your children be affected by these adult problems. New relationships, marriages, and birth of children by ex-spouses new spouse or significant other are flashpoints. Recognizing this can remove some of the pressure.
Here are some DO’s and DON’Ts to accomplishing a kid-friendly, post-divorce life much the the same as during the pendency of the case, such as:
1) DON’T badmouth your ex-spouse in front of the children.
Talk to your friends, family, therapist, or write in a journal, but never let your children know how you feel, they may feel forced to chose, or dislike your ex-spouse because of a loyalty to you. The children should not be the outlet for you to express your bitterness or frustrations about the other parent.
2) DO remember that you are the adult, and the children are the children.
It is up to you to make decisions and parent your children. It is up to the parents to coordinate and communicate with one another about the children. This is especially important when it comes to parenting time and exchanges. The children should not be making these decisions or coordinating arrangements to effectuate parenting time and exchanges. This is the parent’s responsibility. And a bad childhood is sometimes, if not often, a blueprint to repeat by the child in their adult relationship.
3) DO take the high road.
There will be times when your ex-spouse frustrates and angers you. They may make decisions that are inconsiderate of your time, or may make parenting choices you disagree with. However, rather than retaliate in kind (i.e. he/she was 15 minutes late, causing me to be late to an appointment, I will start being 15 minutes late to everything just to get him/her back), it is always best to take the high road, make the decisions you feel good and right about, that are in the best interests of your children, and let his/her bad decisions lie as his/her own burden, not yours. Remember to keep a journal made contemporaneously with the event with a date and time and the details for use in the future if litigation becomes required. This will help you remember the issue and your response in taking the high road.
Some new DO’s and DON’Ts that arise after the divorce is final, and the parties move on are:
1) DO let children be children, and worry about child problems, not adult problems.
It is not the child’s responsibility to resolve your frustrations or anger that may either be residual following the divorce, or may renew upon some action of your ex-spouse later. The responsibility and worries associated with financial problems and even loneliness, as a result of being newly single, should not fall on the children. The children should be encouraged to focus on schooling, their friends, family activities and extra-curricular activities.
2) DO wait to introduce children to the new significant other in your life until you have taken time to get to know the person, and know that that person will be a part of your life, and your children’s lives for a long time. If possible, discuss the fact that there is someone new in your life with your ex-spouse, and you intend to introduce that person to the children.
The purpose of informing your ex-spouse is not for the benefit of the ex-spouse, or even to gain their approval. The goal is to prepare your ex-spouse for the questions the children may have, and/or comments the children may make to your ex-spouse about meeting your new significant other.
The advice to wait to introduce your new significant other to your children is especially true if the new significant other was present in your life before the divorce.
3) DO explain to your children, when and if, there is a new significant other (or when or if that person becomes a step-parent), in either your life, or your ex-spouse’s life, that you are still Mom and Dad.
Step-parents have the awesome opportunity to be older-wiser best friends, but not substitute parents. Parenting decisions should be left up to the parents, and not step-parents. It is the job of both parents to recognize this. Even though Dad or Mom has a new spouse, he or she should not let the new spouse take over his parenting responsibilities while the children are with him.
This is not to say however, that the new spouse cannot help out, or participate in the children’s lives.
4) DO try to get along with the new spouse when the children are around.
The rule of thumb of not badmouthing your ex-spouse in front of the children extends too, to your ex-spouse’s new husband or wife. If you feel the need to express your feelings about a new spouse, talk to your friends, family, or write in a journal, but never let your children know how you feel, they may feel forced to chose, or dislike their new step-parent because of a loyalty to you. This new step-parent may be a part of the children’s lives for a long time, and you will have to encounter this person on many occasions when the children have significant events in their lives. Keeping a cordial demeanor will allow the children to enjoy the special moments and events in their life without worrying that you are uncomfortable.
We hope that this blog post has provided you with some helpful tips on how to navigate co-parenting in a kid-friendly environment post-divorce. Ciyou & Dixon, P.C. practices throughout the state of Indiana. This blog post was written by attorney, Lori B. Schmeltzer.