You have decided to divorce your spouse and, as a consequence, recently moved out of your house. It has already been a big adjustment for you and your soon-to-be-ex. However, what you may not realize is the change can have an even more significant effect on your children. Typically left out of discussions until the eleventh hour, children in these situations often wake up one morning to find themselves packing their things to spend time in a new home they have never seen before.

It’s no surprise this becomes the cause of great distress and worry for children, even teens. Therefore, it’s smart for the parent who is leaving to comfort their children during this challenging transition and prepare them for the possibility of a custody battle.

How Can You Prepare To Co-Parent?

Minimize Your Children’s Stress

The top parenting priority for the spouse who is leaving is to minimize their children’s stress during this time of change. There is no single right way to reduce children’s anxiety. How well children fare will depend on their age and maturity, relationship with their parents, temperament, and coping skills.

Great ways to keep children’s stress levels down are to continually reassure them that you and your spouse still love them, despite the fact you are splitting up, and not to have “adult” discussions or arguments in front of them. That said, to protect your children’s sense of security, you should keep them in the loop about any changes that will affect them directly, including what their new custody schedule will look like for the foreseeable future. It also entails keeping the communication lines open for children to ask questions and voice any concerns they may have about where they and you will now be sleeping.  

Finally, it’s beneficial to enlist the assistance of a mental health professional and a lawyer. Both will help make the transition as smooth as possible for the children while not compromising any critical legal issues that could cause future conflict.

Keep A Co-Parenting Journal Or Calendar

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Preparing For Co-Parenting Can Be Challenging

In many divorces, the fight over custody causes the most strife. Emotions are raw, especially where children are concerned. Raw emotions can be the source of disruptive and destructive behavior from either spouse because there are often few documents and verifiable facts to back up daily occurrences and conflicts transpiring between them. Because there are usually few documents and verifiable facts concerning custody, an expensive and hurtful battle of “he said, she said” can follow.

Therefore, the spouse leaving the house should keep a co-parenting journal and calendar beginning the day they move out. The calendar should objectively detail where the children spend each overnight and include special trips, events, and vacations. Though tempting, you should leave out any negative commentaries, sticking to the facts only. The journal should contain greater detail about significant events and behaviors, particularly any destructive behavior from the other spouse regarding parenting. 

A calendar and journal help memorialize details that couples might otherwise forget, offering an accurate, real-time picture of the current custody situation. It can also be beneficial information for negotiating custody arrangements or, if necessary, making a case before a judge.

Establish A Workable Custody Schedule From The Get-Go

It’s crucial to enter into a desirable custody schedule as soon as possible after moving out. The initial plan that a family follows can quickly become the “status quo.” Once it does, unless it is disadvantageous to the children’s best interests, it can be challenging to alter even at trial. Because children of divorce already endure turmoil outside their control, many judges will choose to leave the existing custody schedule in place if the plan works reasonably well to promote stability.

There are times when spouses negotiate or a judge rules that the status quo custody schedule should change. But that requires fighting an uphill battle rather than engaging on a level playing field. Entering into a custody schedule that is undesirable long-term is merely setting the family up for more problems later.

Never Put Children As Messengers Or Pawns For Personal Agendas

To successfully co-parent after a divorce, you need to avoid using kids as messengers for personal agendas. While initiating contact with an ex you dislike is hard, you shouldn’t use kids as a communication link to send messages to the other parent. Putting kids in the middle of conflict from the start sets a bad precedence. For co-parenting to be successful, children must be separated from the parent’s relationship issues. Instead of sending your kids, call or message your ex directly.

Understand Effective Co-Parenting Contact

It also helps to understand effective co-parenting contact rules from the start. For instance, what kind of a tone is appropriate? How do you make requests, restrain yourself, set a meeting, focus on kids in a conversation, etc.?

Instead of waiting for trial and error, be proactive. Co-parents should use a business-like tone when communicating with each other. You should talk as if you are talking to a colleague. With this in mind, the importance of neutrality, respect, cordiality, and patience can’t be overemphasized.

When making statements that can be easily be misinterpreted as outright demands, focus on requesting instead of demanding. Using the words “can we try” or “would you care to” is better than “do this…” you have to do…”

The importance of listening even if you disagree and purposing on understanding the other instead of simply responding can’t be overlooked. Co-parents must also know how to restrain themselves and avoid overreacting or bringing up past unrelated issues. Any contact should be 100% children-based. Purpose to never make conversations about your needs but those of the children. It’s also good practice to purpose to maintaining communication and being committed about appointments and agreements.

View Co-Parenting As Teamwork

It’s critical to view co-parenting as teamwork in every aspect. Since you share children, you can’t make decisions exclusively by yourself going forward. Parenting is about decision-making on a daily basis, and those decisions must go through your ex in most cases. Purposing to cooperate from the start makes things easier for everyone.

Foster Consistency From The Beginning

After divorce, children get exposed to two perspectives that teach them flexibility. However, they must understand both parents have their own unique rules. Purposing to make it clear what is expected of your kids when they are under your care is critical for eliminating confusion.

You don’t have to adopt similar rules in both households. However, there should be consistency in the guidelines to maintain discipline. This is critical for issues relating to curfews, school work, off-limit activities. You should agree on such matters with your co-parent. The way both of you “punish” your kids for breaking rules should also be fundamentally the same, even if mistakes are made in one household.

Punishments should be followed through in the other household. The same should also apply when rewarding good behavior and set schedules. For instance, children shouldn’t do homework or go to bed at a certain time in one household and be left to do what they want in another.

Love Your Children Regardless Of How You Feel About Your Spouse

Best Strategies For Co-Parenting While Living Together

Make Your Children Your Priority

Co-parenting won’t be easy for many from the start. If things become difficult, remind yourself you are doing it for your children. Your love for your kids should be stronger than your dislike for your ex.

If you follow this co-parenting mantra, you will find it easy to purpose on teamwork, avoid being personal, and become a better communicator. You may also find yourself developing a healthy friendship with your ex-spouse that is free of hard feelings, mistrust, and other negative feelings.

Children shouldn’t be focused on their parents and if they are getting along after a divorce. Instead, parents should be meeting their children’s needs in whatever way. With children’s development as the main focus, co-parenting is bound to work.

However, the legal route can always be used to compel a disgruntled ex-spouse into doing what is best for the children. A seasoned divorce lawyer is suited to offer professional co-parenting advice and facilitate the necessary court orders when one parent isn’t putting the children’s needs first.

A Few Final Thoughts

Creating a stable environment for your children during this difficult period will be a process of trial and error. Sometimes you will get it right, and other times you won’t. The key is to remain aware of how your children respond to any changes, even small ones, that you make in their lives and respond accordingly, so they stay as comfortable as possible. 

With your attention, guidance, and, most importantly, love, your children will adjust more quickly and easily to their new normal. And enable you and your children to enjoy a new, hopefully, improved parent-child relationship, one unencumbered by the stress of your marriage.

If you are looking into getting a divorce, you want someone who is going to be on your side. Connect with us at Charlotte Christian Law Firm by phone at (256) 445-9206, or online through our contact form to find an attorney that will go to bat for you both in and out of court. We will advocate for you. 

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    About The Author

    Charlotte Christian, Esq. is a family and divorce lawyer and founder of Charlotte Christian Law. Born and raised in the Yellowhammer State she still calls home, Charlotte is committed to helping those who experienced loss overcome their hardships and build a new life, stronger and more resilient than they were before. No stranger to trauma herself, including enduring the sudden losses of her father while a young child and husband after 10 years of marriage, Charlotte knows what it means practically and legally to put the pieces in place to create a future filled with security, hope, and opportunity, and find happiness once again. An avid sports fan, you can find Charlotte supporting SEC Athletics.