The transition from an intimate partnership in which the parents share a personal relationship to the more distant co-parent relationship is difficult for many people to manage. Despite its prevalence—consider the many Hollywood co-parenting scenarios—there are few social norms and cues to help parents who are living apart. The difficulty is compounded because often each parent has different preferences and expectations for co-parenting.
As the State of Texas explains in its Co-Parenting Guide (.pdf), “[t]he main reason to work at co-parenting is that it helps children deal with all the changes that happen when their parents are no longer together.”
So, with the interests of the children always in mind, advise your clients who are entering the world of co-parenting to consider the following:
- Act neither like business acquaintances nor like strangers—instead, aim for a friendly but restrained style.
- Keep your opinions about each other’s choices, actions, and character to yourselves.
- Engage in positive exchanges much more frequently than complaints.
- Use first names and everyday language. Tone is very important; don’t take on a litigious or hostile tone.
- Share parental memories, pride, and gracious appreciation for the other’s efforts.
A parent should not have to dread hearing from the child’s other parent. When it is necessary to voice a complaint, the parent should make it clear that his or her purpose is to solve the problem in the future, not to allocate blame. The complaining parent should explain the difficulties that arose from the other parent’s decision or conduct, suggest possible solutions, and invite the other parent’s suggestions and perspective.
On everything you need to know about preparing co-parenting plans, including specific drafting tips, go to California Child Custody Litigation and Practice, chap 4 (Cal CEB 2006). Also check out the program Hot Topics in Child Custody, which includes a discussion of the status of “parental alienation syndrome” and parenting plans for children’s different developmental stages. This program will be available On Demand beginning 11/24/2010.
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