When spouses divorce, there is always a reason why the choice was made to discontinue the marital relationship and sometimes strong feelings of animosity, resentment, disappointment and betrayal towards your ex-spouse can linger long after the ink dries on the final judgment of divorce. Unfortunately for divorced parents, the luxury of never having to deal with their ex after the divorce is finalized is not an option. When those feelings are left unresolved, co-parenting can easily evolve into an outlet for continuing the destructive relationship that resulted in divorce in the first place. Additionally, while possibly unintentional, the potential is likely for you or your ex to quickly transform into what attorneys refer to as an “uncooperative parent.” While an uncooperative parent may be the world’s greatest mom or dad, they are ultimately terrible communicators with their ex and with whom a cordial post-spousal relationship cannot exist.
I always suggest that the parents seek the advice of a professional counselor to help them and the children work through the rough patches down the co-parenting road and improve communication. Divorce is a complicated and emotional rollercoaster for all parties involved and seeking the guidance of a professional counselor is a wise decision. Not only can a counselor help you and your ex reach a better co-parenting relationship, but it can also provide your children with a healthy outlet to voice his or her anxieties to an independent third party.
When the uncooperative parent issue arises in one of my cases, I often suggest for my client to sit down and write a letter or email to the other parent setting forth the major problems of co-parenting together and setting forth a peace offering plan whereby requesting that the parties agree to a new beginning of co-parenting together. The correspondence omits any allegations, harsh words or insults, but instead offers to forgive each other for past occurrences and move forward in a new co-parenting relationship together. I refer to this as a “clean slate letter.” Considering this is the New Year, it would be a perfect time to lay out your genuine desire to want to work together with your ex for the sake of the children.
Donna F. Ferber, LPC, LADC, author of “From Ex-Wife to Exceptional Life: A Woman’s Journey through Divorce”, suggests certain points a parent should acknowledge when dealing with an uncooperative co-parent:
- Recognize that you cannot change another person and stop trying to change your co-parent and he/she will (eventually) stop trying to control you.Keep your marital relationship issues separate. Divorce may be about “winning”, but co-parenting is not. The good co-parent relationship is about being able to decide together what is best for your children.
- Give up the need to get his/her approval, to prove you are right, to get an apology.
- Stick to the topics at hand. Keep it simple.
- Avoid words like “always” and “never”. They diminish your conflict resolution skills by globalizing the issue.
- Keep the conversations in the present. Do not bring up the past.
- Leave sarcasm at the door. Pissing someone off never got them to agree with you.
- Do not get defensive or side-tracked. If your co-parent is a dirty fighter- bringing up the past, calling you names, blaming, don’t get sucked into the fray.
- Focus on your kids needs not your own.
- Do not play games. Be as accountable, responsible and reliable as you want your co-parent to be.
- NEVER fight in front of your children, or involve them in any way in the conflict. This includes bad mouthing, sarcasm and even eye rolling.
- Stay calm. Don’t raise your voice, even if your co-parent is screaming. Remember you do not have to emulate another person’s behavior. Raising your voice will escalate the acrimony.
- It really does take two to fight. If your co-parent tries to bait you, ignore it and go back to #4.
It is entirely possible that no matter how closely you follow the advice of counselors and the above tips, a good co-parenting relationship just cannot exist between you and your ex. Some people are simply incompatible and their personalities conflict naturally. For example, some parents are easy going, and relaxed, while other parents are more organized and structured. Sometimes a relaxed style is interpreted as disinterested and neglectful and an organized style is controlling and abusive. While it is easy to focus on what you consider to be insufficiencies of your ex, you know his or her vulnerable spots and should not lose sight of your own part of your interaction. Do not try to push each other’s buttons because you know how. Take the high road and stay away from pointing out those “faults” in your ex. Also, you need to consider that just because two people have different parenting styles, it does not make them bad parents. It may drive you crazy at times when you have to co-parent with someone who holds completely opposite parenting ideas, but you have a responsibility to your children to do what you can to work with your ex.
Courts and their individual perspectives vary by parish and a family law attorney needs to hear your specific situation to properly analyze your potential case and provide you proper legal advice, but generally speaking, the court system does not want to become involved in every dispute between you and your ex. It is expected that the parties should work together to fix parenting issues without court intervention at every step of the way. Many clients come to me with a misconception that the courts will hash out every dispute and disagreement, but that is certainly not the case. Fortunately, most of the time, these issues can be resolved out of court before filing a motion with the court, which should be the last resort option; however, knowing that there is a possibility you may be heading to back to court, you should remember two pointers to prepare in advance:
- Document! Document! Document! – I say this to every single client who walks through my door. Go buy a notebook and a calendar and keep detailed and consistent documentation of the pertinent issues. I cannot stress the importance of organized, consistent documentation.
- Continue to provide the children with the outlet of consistent counseling sessions. Follow the advice of the counselor and do not discuss the counseling sessions with your children. The counseling time is their time to “air out” their concerns and anxieties with someone unrelated
As a side note, this blog topic speaks to the “uncooperative” parent, and does NOT provide a perspective regarding potentially abusive or reckless behavior by your ex which would place your children in danger. Of course, if you feel that your children are at risk for emotional or physical abuse by your ex, seek the advice of an attorney immediately and/or contact the local authorities. Do not attempt to handle the situation yourself. This is an entirely different issue apart from the typical uncooperative parent and deserves immediate attention.