As a member of the Law Society Children Law Accreditation Scheme, the team at King Street Solicitors have represented numerous families caught in the middle of acrimonious and protracted disputes about how time should be spent with parents following a divorce or separation. The law starts with a presumption that it is in a child’s interests to spend time with both parents, but in the bitterness and sadness that can come with the end of a relationship, it can be hard for parents to make that happen.
Here are our 7 top tips for successful co-parenting as a separated parent:
1. Effective communication
Don’t use your children as go-betweens or stress them out by relying on them to be the messenger. If you struggle to talk directly to your ex-partner without it turning into an argument, use other communication methods such as text or email or try using a contact book.
Part of effective communication is making sure that what you say is received the way you intended it, which can be trickier via a text message or email. If your ex says something that you don’t agree with, take time to cool off before you reply and try to only deal with one issue per text conversation or email so things don’t get complicated and cause further arguments.
Remember that one day your children may be getting married, graduating or having children of their own and you’re going to make life easier for everyone if you can manage to be in the same room at the same time without falling out.
2. Plan for events
You might have to think about the C-word. No, not that one. We mean Christmas. Or any other important event like birthdays. As much as both parents might want to spend the day with them, your children can’t be in two places at once and it’s not much fun for them to try.
The best thing to do is to try and plan events early. The closer it gets to Christmas, the harder it is to fit into everyone’s plans. Most children like and benefit from routine so thinking of a plan that will suit your family as early as possible means your children will know what to expect and Christmas won’t become a bone of contention every year.
3. Be generous
When it comes to other events like Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, a little generosity goes a long way. If your children are still young, showing them help and encouragement to make sure the other parent still gets a card will be hugely appreciated. If Father’s Day falls on a day the children would usually spend with Mum or vice versa, why not offer a swap? Being reasonable and generous around these arrangements from the start will help to establish your co-parenting relationship and you will appreciate it just as much if these things are reciprocated.
4. Never ask your kids to choose
While it’s important to take their wishes into consideration, you should never ask your children to choose between their parents. If you’ve got more than one child, imagine how you would feel if you were asked to choose between them.
This one can be tough if there’s animosity between you and your ex but don’t vent your frustrations in front of your kids or make them feel like they need to pick a side.
5. Have realistic expectations
Don’t expect your ex to stick to the rules you have when the children are with you. It will make a big difference if you can agree on core values but try not to let it bother you if the kids have a different bedtime when they spend time with the other parent. It’s fine to have household rules but remember that they only apply to your household and it might not be realistic to expect your ex to enforce your rules.
6. Be respectful
It’s difficult if tensions are still high between you and your ex but it will be in everyone’s best interests, especially the children, if you can treat each other with respect. Think of arrangements like appointments. You wouldn’t turn up late or cancel an appointment last minute so try to make sure you’re both on the same page for arrangements like picking up and dropping off the children with each other.
7. Do what’s fair
After a divorce or separation, many parents try to find an arrangement that gives them equal access to the children. But a 50/50 split isn’t always going to work out best for the children. For example, if your ex always took them swimming on a weekend, it might make sense to work that into the schedule even if it means giving up some of your time with them.
Remember that you know your children best. If a court has to make plans for your child spending time with their parents, they are going to be second best to a plan which you and the other parent work out between you.