Divorce is almost always a challenging time for couples. When a relationship comes to an end, it can be an emotionally painful experience, accompanied by anger, hurt or regret. However, when divorcing couples share children, they have an additional factor to consider: How can you co-parent successfully and healthily with your former spouse?
For New Jersey parents, it may seem like their relationship comes to an end with a divorce. However, they have to keep a strong relationship with one another in order to benefit their children. Your divorce lawyer may provide you with guidance to help you reach an agreement with your former partner that enables both of you to care for the children together.
A co-parenting relationship can still come with boundaries. For example, former spouses should not inquire with each other about new romantic relationships, and the doors of both parents’ homes might not remain open to one another. However, those boundaries can help parents to communicate more effectively about the needs and wants of the children. The parenting plan that former spouses and their family lawyers work out during the divorce settlement process can help to set up a framework for future cooperation and a positive relationship.
Even when nearly everything else about a marriage seems to have come apart, divorcing parents continue to share their love and concern for their children. Putting the interests of the children first does not mean that parents have to remain married. It does mean, however, that both parents strive to work together and avoid unnecessary conflicts in order to protect the children’s feelings and prevent them from feeling trapped between their parents.
This means that new co-parents need to develop a working relationship or partnership based on caring for the children. Acting diplomatically and generously with one another about standard issues that arrive, such as changing drop-off or pick-up times, family trips and other occasions, can place an important value on the co-parenting relationship, above and beyond the former marriage. A family law attorney may provide advice about how to protect your interests while providing space to promote a positive relationship for the children with both of their parents.
Even if or when you move on to a new romantic relationship or choose to remarry, the co-parenting relationship with your former spouse remains important. This kind of consideration or kindness is not a sign of continued enmeshment with a former partner but part of the new working relationship of parents supporting each other for the best interests of their children.
Courteous behavior is important to a good co-parenting relationship. It is important that both parents show each other consideration and courtesy. It can be easy for a positive relationship to deteriorate if one or both parties feel taken advantage of by the other party. There may be speed bumps on the path to positive co-parenting, especially while the divorce and the events leading up to it are still fresh.
However, the co-parenting relationship lasts throughout childhood and, really, for the child’s lifetime. Avoiding unnecessary conflict is both possible and a gift to the children so that they do not need to feel responsible for managing their parents’ conflicts and challenges.
One of the most important actions that parents can take is being reliable and responsible. When you work with your divorce attorney to negotiate a divorce settlement and a parenting plan, you will agree to forms of custody sharing, exchanges and drop-off/pick-up times, and other arrangements for sharing time with the children. Being on time for custody exchanges allows both parents to plan effectively for their lives and their careers, as well as helping the children to feel loved, wanted and supported.
When these couples stick to the agreements they reached with their family law attorneys, they give each other — and, most importantly, the children — a feeling of safety and security rather than unpredictability or chaos.
Both parents can also help to support their children after divorce by showing appreciation for and recognizing the love they share for the kids. In the first place, parents should avoid negative talk about the other parent with their children. Kids may feel under pressure to take sides or agree with the parent expressing these views to them. Even family courts have often placed restrictions on parents that regularly condemn or express negative remarks to the children about the other parent, and your divorce lawyer may provide you with examples.
Going a step further, you can express appreciation either to your former spouse directly or to the children about their positive parenting and commitment to the kids’ well-being. Of course, these frameworks apply to the vast majority of divorcing couples. If abuse, neglect or other serious issues — not merely disagreements over lifestyle or choices — affect the children, the other parent must take action to protect their children.
Respect for each other is another important part of co-parenting. If both parents have a disagreement or difference about how to handle something important to the children, they should speak to each other directly rather than through their kids. As during the divorce settlement process with a family lawyer, a professional counselor or other expert could come in to resolve important issues without putting the children in the middle.
Just as responsibility and reliability are important, so too is flexibility and an open mind. From time to time, parents will need to change the custody schedule or plan a special event outside their typical custody time. When both parents react generously to these requests, this can prevent the children from feeling stuck between their parents or as if they are being denied important experiences because their parents cannot get along.
A flexible approach to custody and scheduling changes can avoid conflicts over unimportant things and also help you to clarify when avoiding a change is important because of your own priorities and reasons. The greater flexibility each partner shows the other, the more likely they are to be met with flexibility for their own future requests.
Similarly, parents should ideally accept the differences in rules, schedules and other guidelines between each parent’s home. Unless one parent’s approach is truly inappropriate or harmful to the children, each must recognize that part of divorce is accepting that a former spouse may make somewhat different choices during their parenting time. Excessive scrutiny of harmless or unimportant differences can undermine your ability to seek changes when there is an important disagreement or conflict and magnify relatively minor problems.
Divorce can be a stressful and emotionally trying time for children. By working together to build a positive, friendly and mutually supportive co-parenting relationship, parents and their divorce attorneys can establish a framework where the children feel safe, supported and loved, no matter what differences exist between their parents. Keeping differences between the parents and other adults and away from the eyes and ears of the children is an important first step towards many years of successful co-parenting after divorce.
An experienced family law attorney can help to set you on the path to good co-parenting. Contact the New Jersey divorce lawyers at Lawrence Law by calling 908-645-1000 or using our convenient online form for a consultation at our Watchung or Red Bank, New Jersey, office.
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