Nothing disappoints me more than family law litigants who think of their child as a pawn, placing them smack dab in the middle of the fight. There’s just no good reason for it. And, every expert I’ve encountered on the subject suggests that the parent who does so — even if they appear as the “hero” to the child in the moment — will suffer the consequences in the long run; the child will soon grow old enough to understand what was done to them.
Can it really happen? Can a child of divorce be well-adjusted? Yes. If the parents are prepared to work really hard to ensure it.
Here are some suggestions on effective co-parenting during (and after) divorce:
- Keep the child in regular contact with the other parent, whether by phone, e-mail or video;
- Maintain a predictable schedule for the child;
- Promptly respond to communication from the other parent;
- Exchange the child on time, avoiding controversial topics with the other parent;
- Permit the child to bring special things to the other parent’s residence;
- Maintain a routine that is relatively consistent with the other parent, including rules and discipline methods;
- Encourage the child to maintain contact with extended family members on both sides;
- Remain flexible for special events that are likely to come up on your “off” time;
- Judges often encourage parents to treat each other in a “business-like” manner;
- Respect the child’s activity and school schedule in planning vacations; and
- If the other parent is getting on your nerves, bite your tongue and walk away.
I can share lots of war stories (another time) about the inappropriate things parents do to their children. As divorce often brings out the worst in otherwise good people, here are a few things to avoid:
- Asking your child to “choose” between mom and dad;
- Interrogating your child about their time at the other parent’s residence;
- Criticizing the other parent;
- Using your child as a therapist; and
- Involving your child in information gathering.
In addition to the fact that your conduct will have a direct impact on the emotional well-being of your child, it is mission critical to “take the high road” for the sake of standing out (positively) to a custody evaluator or judge. Even if your spouse is acting like the world’s biggest idiot, the last thing you want to do is give the ultimate decision-maker the difficult task of deciding which parent is bad and which one is badder.