You and your ex didn’t work out as a couple. You may dislike or even hate every single thing about him or her, except the child you share. No matter how your relationship with your ex ended, hating the other person who brought your child into this world and shares his or her DNA is not an option.
Kids are observant and smart, and no matter how good you think you are at hiding your true feelings about your co-parent from your child, you aren’t that good. Anyone with kids knows that they are always watching you, paying attention to everything that makes you happy, sad, or angry; and learning from every change in the pitch of your voice and slight change in your facial expressions.
When you harbor negative feelings about your ex, you are showing your child on a daily basis that you can’t stand 50% of who they are, and they internalize that, questioning how you feel about them as a result. A child may start making negative statements about the other parent, knowing what you want to hear, and enjoying the reaction they get from you.
Children may even start making their own negative associations with the other parent, subconsciously taking on your negativity, and damaging not only their relationship with the other parent, but their emotional well-being. Parents may even be accused of parental alienation, though they never intentionally set out to influence their child in this way.
Knowing all of this doesn’t make dealing with your ex any easier. If you got along with your ex, they probably wouldn’t be your “ex.” We are all human, and putting aside all of our own feelings, wants, and needs to co-parent a child is easier said than done.
The fact is that many parents are court ordered to share joint custody of their children, but they aren’t given the tools or information to successfully do so. So how can you put aside whatever feelings you have about your ex as a person, and effectively co-parent your child with them? Follow these ten tips and show your child that he or she is more important to you than your feelings about your ex!
The 10 Co-Parenting Secrets to Make Joint Child Custody Work
#1 – The World Does Not Revolve Around You
Theoretically, most parents believe that the day their child was born, that parent’s life changed forever, with the center of the universe shifting around that tiny being. You created a human! That is awesome and crazy, and so so scary.
You are now duty-bound to care for and raise that child, putting him or her above yourself. You owe that to your new child and to the society that you are raising your child to be part of. It is your job to make sure he or she grows into a good human (or, at the very least, not a bad human).
This concept of putting a child first does not always translate into action when a parent is feeling scorned and hurt by their ex, however. The divorce or separation was all about you and your ex, but moving forward, custody is about your child.
Parents often feel competitive for time with their child, and seem to treat the custody process as a war to be won or lost, with each disagreement its own battle with a victor and a loser. The way California child support laws directly link the amount of money to be paid and received with the amount of time a parent spends with their child is no doubt a contributing factor to this mindset as well.
But treating time with a child as a battle to be won or a right to be exercised is akin to treating your child like a possession to be coveted. This mindset is unhealthy for everyone involved.
Custody is not about getting exactly what you want, “winning,” or even demanding equity at any cost. “Winning” a custody “battle” means you just waged an all out war against your child’s other parent, and left them a so-called “loser.” Your child loves you and their other parent more than anyone else in this world, so how do you think that makes them feel?
Divorce or separation can cause emotional tunnel vision and people get so focused on their own hurts and needs that they lose sight of the shared goal of creating a good childhood for their child. But the fact is that both parents have the same goal of raising a happy healthy child, they usually just disagree about how to make that happen.
Shared custody only works when parents are able to set aside their own wants, rights, and egos; and realize that what is in the best interest of a child is not necessarily what is best for the parent.
Like any successful compromise or negotiation, co-parenting needs to begin with common ground. Put aside everything except that shared goal of raising a happy and healthy child, and start from there.
#2 – Keep Your Opinions About The Other Parent to Yourself
Do not, under any circumstances, ever, speak poorly about the other parent in front of your child. Period. Your child is half you and half the other parent. You have no right to make your child question his or her own worth just because you are angry or hurt.
Whatever your feelings about your ex, justified or not, keep them to yourself. Your child still loves their other parent, and every time you badmouth the other parent, your child internalizes it, thinking about themselves.
Every time you say something negative about your ex in front of your child, you are only harming your child, and ultimately, your relationship with them. In the long run, your child won’t feel comfortable being around you if you make them feel inadequate or guilty for sharing DNA with someone you hate.
#3 – A Bad Spouse or Partner Does Not Equal a Bad Parent
The end of your relationship with your ex may have been 100% his or her fault. Your ex may have been the most self-centered, emotionally vapid spouse or partner to ever enter a relationship; but that doesn’t mean that they are a bad parent. And guess what, even if they are a “bad” parent in your opinion, your child still loves them.
This is, of course, not necessarily the case if domestic violence was involved in your relationship and the child is not safe with their other parent, but that is something the family court should have dealt with, and under Family Code 3044, your ex should not have joint custody.
In general, however, a bad spouse does not equal a bad parent. California law dictates that unless there is some issue like domestic violence involved (see Family Code 3044), it is best for children to have frequent and continuing contact with both parents.
Your marriage or relationship with your ex may not have worked, but your co-parenting can still succeed, and it is your job to do everything in your power to ensure that it does.
#4 – Compromise and Be Flexible
Far too often parents cling to the safety net of their court ordered visitation schedule, refusing to make even small changes to the schedule when their co-parent suggests it.
The court order should be a back-up plan to fall back on when you aren’t able to agree with the other parent on any given issue.
If the other parent has a family reunion or a weekend camping trip they want to take your child on, but you have the urge to refuse to switch weekends because you think they should have planned the event on their own weekend, resist the urge. Holidays, family events, vacations, and special days will come up over the course of your child’s minority. If you make it a power struggle every time your co-parent tries to plan something fun with your child, your child will start to associate fun events with your negativity and stress.
When one parent is accommodating and flexible, the other parent is much more likely to follow suit. After all, wouldn’t your child have fun at the family reunion or camping trip? Why are you fighting so hard?
#5 – Be Realistic About Your Own Schedule and Commitments
Parents often seem to believe they will never need a minute to themselves when they are negotiating their custody schedule.
Parents often make unrealistic custody grabs during divorce or separation as a result of fear or insecurity. It is best to look at the custody schedule as a business arrangement. What is logically best given the events, activities, and commitments of everyone involved?
You work full time, have 2 kids in two different schools with two different extra-curricular activity schedules and you want both kids Monday through Friday and every other weekend? Why?
The other parent probably wants to take the kids to their soccer games and work on their school project with them. Would you probably “do it better” yourself? Maybe. But does it matter if the other parent doesn’t get it done exactly as you would have done it yourself? No.
Giving up some control to the other parent is not only beneficial for that parent and the child, it benefits you! Go meet a friend for lunch or clean out that drawer you’ve been meaning to clean out for 2 years. You will be refreshed, and so will your child.
#6 – Create a Customized Custody Schedule for Your Child
Too often parents do a bit of research on Google or talk to some divorced friends and decide what custody schedule they want. Week on, week off (alternating weeks) may work really well for one family, but maybe it doesn’t suit the needs of your child and co-parent. It is your job to work with your co-parent to come up with a schedule that works best for everyone, especially your child.
It is important to consider the following:
- Your child’s age and personality.
- Your family schedule.
- The career and social commitments of each parent.
- The academic and extracurricular activities to which your child is committed.
- Your child-care arrangements and that of your co-parent.
- The distance between the parents’ homes.
If your child has special needs, maybe having more flexibility or more structure is important.
There is no one correct or best custody arrangement, so be as creative as you like.
As long as your custody arrangement has the necessary basic elements (i.e. legal custody and physical custody provisions), you can pretty much customize the rest to fit your family.
I have had parents show me the custody schedule they practice with their child and been utterly perplexed about 1) how the parents came up with the schedule, 2) how they could possibly follow the convoluted arrangement, 3) why they would choose to complicate their lives in such a way, and 4) how I was ever going to understand the schedule enough to put it into words so these parents could have a clear court order to sign. Sometimes, parents agree on arrangements that make no sense to anyone else looking at them, but it works for those parents and their child and that is all that matters.
Reaching an agreement is always going to work best for co-parents, even if the agreement seems odd to people on the outside looking in. Don’t be afraid to have a schedule that doesn’t follow the norm. After all, don’t you want to be better than the parenting norm, anyway?
#7 – Find an Agreeable Communication Platform and Stick to It
For joint child custody to work, communication is key. For the sake of your child and your sanity, you need to find a method of communication that works for you and your co-parent and consistently use it.
Nowadays, there are so many tools and platforms available for parents to communicate that making sure you’re both on the same page in terms of how you will communicate is the first step to effectively doing so. If one of you is messaging on Facebook messenger, the other is sending emails or text messages while calling on WhatsApp, you’re never going to actually get to disagree about the substance of what is being communicated because there is so much confusion about how you will get in touch in the first place.
Your communications will be negative from the get-go simply because there was so much confusion and you had to put in so much effort just to get in touch with each other!
Whatever platform you choose, stick to it to streamline the process.
I generally suggest OurFamilyWizard.com for parental communication because it offers joint calendars, expense logs, common document storage for things like a child’s immunization record or school calendar, and a message board that keeps an accurate and non-modifiable record of your communications that can be admitted in court, if necessary; but any platform is fine so long as it is actually utilized. There are many other co-parenting communication options, however, so feel free to do a bit of research to find the one that is right for you and your co-parent.
Bonus Co-Parenting Tip: Streamlining the communication platform both parents use to communicate with the child when the child is with the other parent can also be an important way to prevent miscommunication and unnecessary disagreements. When children are too young to have their own tablet or phone, maintaining communication via Google Meet, Zoom, Facetime, or Skype can be crucial. Agree ahead of time on which platform will be used, and then use that platform consistently.
#8 – Be Polite and Businesslike When Communicating With Your Ex
We’ve all heard the phrase “you catch more bees with honey.” Well, you get more cooperation and effective co-parenting when you treat your co-parent with respect and communicate with them as a business partner.
Because you share a child with your ex, you do not have the luxury of having a free pass to communicate with them the way you probably want to. If you didn’t share a child together, you could cut your ex out of your life or send them that lengthy text message telling them where to go that you have written and re-written in your head a million times. Alas, you do share a child, and your emotions have no place in your communications with your co-parent. You are now business partners and your business is raising a happy, healthy child together.
If you want to say: “Hey jerk, I’m sick of you always being late for exchanges! The world doesn’t revolve around you. I have places to be! Stop being so selfish and follow the court order!” Instead, try saying: “Good afternoon, I’ve noticed that the current exchange time doesn’t seem convenient for you. Is there a time that would work better? By the way, here is a funny picture of our daughter doing a silly dance this afternoon. I thought you might enjoy seeing it. Have a good night.”
I always suggest starting off communication with a co-parent with a greeting like “good morning” or “good afternoon” because I have found that it is much harder to follow “good morning” with something non-productive and negative like, “drop dead.”
Being respectful in your communication is more likely to elicit respect and cooperation from the other parent, just like bees with honey. It is also going to look better if any third party ever sees your messages with your co-parent, i.e. a family law attorney, a family law judge, a co-parenting therapist, a child custody mediator, or child custody evaluator.
#9 – Pick Your Battles
If co-parenting were easy, you wouldn’t be reading this article.
Instead of looking at every decision your ex makes with a critical eye, pouncing on their every misstep, pick your battles. If you are looking for a reason to criticize anyone else’s parenting, particularly an ex with whom you have no choice but to continue communicating with, you will find it! So Stop Looking. Instead, focus on ways you can work together with your co-parent to benefit your child.
No one has enough time or money to take every disagreement to the courtroom, so just breath and consider if the conflict is truly worth fighting over.
If the conflict is over a child’s haircut or the other parent’s tardiness to a few exchanges; do not waste your energy. Try to imagine how you would advise a friend who was venting to you about her co-parenting struggles with her ex. If she had the same complaints about her co-parent that you have about your co-parent, would you advise her to contact an attorney and file a motion for sole custody, or would you let her vent, agree her ex is a pain, and provide her with friendly advice about how she might alter her communications with her co-parent to improve the situation?
Save the battle for when it really matters and when it will benefit your child. Judges don’t appreciate their time and public resources being wasted over silly parenting disputes, and neither should you.
#10 – Review the Arrangement and Adjust as Needed
Children grow so quickly, and their lives change just as quickly. One week your child may be a professional dancer (at least in his/her own mind) and a botanist in the science club the next week.
One schedule will not suit their needs forever. With this in mind, it is probably best to sit down with your co-parent and discuss potential tweaks and changes to the custody arrangement approximately every quarter (4 months) or every six months. This is only recommended if both parties can compromise and put aside their own wants and needs to discuss what is best for their child; but if the parents are willing to come to the table with an open mind, their child will benefit immeasurably from the selfless comradery.
If you and your co-parent have an agreement and need help putting it into writing, or you want to come to an agreement on child custody, but have questions, contact a skilled custody lawyer for a free consultation today. We know how to negotiate agreements that both sides will be able to get behind to benefit their child.