When you are separating or have already been divorced and there are children involved, co-parenting (at some level) is a part of your life for the rest of your life. Speaking from experience, co-parenting is one of the hardest parts about divorce. Even on the best of days, your head will be filled with second-guesses and worries about your child and his/her well-being. Trying to parent your child with a person you have chosen to divorce (and most likely do not even like anymore) can feel like the most unnatural thing to do, but it is typically the best thing the two of you can do for your child.
We have many clients who want to initiate a custody modification action because the current situation with their ex just is not working – for them or for the child. In many cases, a modification is certainly warranted and the situations which exist must be changed by a new court order in order to meet the best interests of the child, but that is not so in every case. Sometimes, it is the parents who need to change rather than the custody order or parenting plan. I see this frequently in my Guardian ad Litem cases, too - where I am appointed by the Family Court to represent the best interests of the minor children whose parents are getting divorced.
There are several promises that I recommend parents make to themselves and to their child to help create a more successful co-parenting environment before pursuing further litigation to attempt to solve the problems which exist. Those promises are as follows:
Promises to Yourself:
- I promise to focus on what is within my control, rather than trying to change my ex-spouse.
- When exchanging the children, I promise not make negative “entrance” or “exit” statements. For example: “Can't you ever be on time?” or “Why do you always have to feed him take-out for dinner?”
- I promise not make unreasonable or illogical demands on my ex-spouse. For example: Yelling at or sending angry messages to your ex-spouse when he/she is five minutes late for a visitation exchange.
- I promise to abide by the parenting plan schedule for my child, but will always remain flexible for when “life happens” or when something comes up our child may want to participate in with my ex-spouse during “my time.”
- When communicating with my ex-spouse in areas where we disagree, I promise to list fact-based reasons for my opinions, not emotional reasons, and will not expect him/her to respond immediately. For example: “Little Johnny had three cavities at his last dental visit and the dentist has recommended we decrease the number of sugary snacks he eats during the week.”
Promises to Your Child:
- I promise to respect your family relationship on both sides of your family, and never place an unhealthy priority on only my side of the family. I know it's important for you to be able to love your whole family freely and enjoy your connection with all of them.
- I promise I will not discuss parenting decisions or discussions about your mother/father while you are present or within earshot. We are your parents and I know it's important for you to enjoy this short time as a child. If I was still married to your other parent, we would never have these discussions in front of you or ask your opinion about them. I promise to keep you out of adult discussions and let you be the child.
- I promise to protect you from my feelings about your other parent. Even when I'm mad at him/her, you are my child and I love you more than anything else.
- I promise to not use you as a messenger between your parents. If I have messages or information which needs to be shared with your other parent, I will take care of getting that information to him or her in a timely manner.
- I promise to encourage and support your relationship with any step-parents and/or step- and half-siblings who may enter your life. Your family may look different than anything I'd ever pictured the day you were born, but it's still your family and I want you to know that it's okay to have more love in your life than I ever imagined.
These lists are far from all-inclusive, but they are a terrific start to creating an environment free from judgment and ridicule, which are often the triggers for poor co-parenting relationships. While you can't control what may come from the other side of the equation (your ex), you can control your reactions. If litigation becomes necessary at any point, you will want the evidence to portray you as someone who upheld these promises rather than someone who ignored them altogether.
The Stevens Firm, P.A. - Family Law Center has provided exceptional legal counsel and support to families throughout South Carolina for over two decades, handling all matters of family law, such as child custody, child support, and divorce. We are well-equipped to handle all divorce and family law matters, no matter your circumstances. Contact us at (864) 598-9172 to schedule an initial consultation.