A look at common co-parenting challenges, as well as practical dos and don’ts for parents and a reminder of when to get help.
Co-parenting is never easy and comes with complications, especially when you don’t get along with your co-parent. However, it is important to try, where possible, to co-parent effectively and to find ways to support and care for your children.
Co-parenting difficulty falls on a continuum. If you do not get along with your co-parent, you might be experiencing “high conflict”. “High conflict” is marked by ongoing trust issues, misunderstandings, and challenges communicating, decision-making and working together.
Family law often uses the term “high conflict”. However, family lawyers and professionals should carefully screen their cases to avoid confusing difficult co-parenting, high conflict and family violence. Detecting family violence is vital because mistaking it for high conflict co-parenting can have serious consequences for the client and their children.
Common co-parenting challenges
Below are some common challenges that arise when co-parenting with someone you do not get along with:
- Difficulty creating a parenting plan and coordinating schedules.
- Conflicts about different parenting styles including misunderstandings and trust issues, especially if you and your co-parent have different approaches to discipline, routines, and other aspects of parenting.
- Lingering resentment, emotions, or other issues from your past romantic relationship.
- Issues with financial obligations such as child support.
- Spending less time with your child(ren) than you may have previously. Co-parenting means sharing your child with their other parent, even if you do not like them. Conflict can arise when parents have different ideas about how much contact the child should have with the “off-duty” parent while in the care of the one “on-duty” and how much information to share between the homes.
- The arrival of a new partner may lead to feelings of jealousy or resentment from one or both co-parents, which can create tension and conflict in the co-parenting relationship. There can be disagreements about the new partner’s role, expectations, or boundaries around their involvement in the children’s lives.
Despite not getting along with your co-parent, it is essential to prioritize the well-being of your children.
What to do
- Do set boundaries and communicate with them using a friendly tone. Boundaries can help minimize misunderstandings and reduce tension between you and your co-parent. Boundaries also help ensure you both have personal space and time for yourselves.
- Do think of co-parenting as a business relationship where you discuss expectations and needs and try to solve problems diplomatically. Establish clear communication lines and discuss issues related to your children openly and honestly. When expressing your thoughts and feelings, use “I” statements to avoid accusations or blame. “I” statements help your co-parent feel heard and understood, which can help to reduce conflict. Try to avoid engaging in personal attacks. Instead, focus on the issue at hand, finding a resolution and avoiding criticism.
- Do take a break if the conversation becomes too heated or challenging to manage. It may help to return to the discussion later.
- Do make decisions that are in the best interests of your children, even if it means compromising your own needs or desires. Focus on your children’s needs. Doing so can help minimize conflict and ensure that your children are well cared for.
- Do create a consistent routine, especially if you have young children. Routines can include bedtimes, screen time, diet, etc. These help provide stability and security for your children.
- Do practice self-care. Co-parenting can be emotionally and mentally draining, especially if you do not get along with your co-parent. So, take care of yourself to help you manage the stress.
- Do seek support from a licensed mental health professional with expertise in co-parenting or a family mediator, if needed.
- Do remember that co-parenting can be a dynamic process and may involve different levels of conflict and cooperation at different times.
What NOT to do
- Do not use your children as a way to communicate with your co-parent. Speak directly to your co-parent out of earshot of your children when discussing potentially hot topics.
- Do not speak negatively about your co-parent in front of your children and ask the same from your extended family. Avoid venting your frustrations to your children. Negative talk about your co-parent can harm your children’s emotional well-being.
- Do not ignore your co-parent’s input or concerns. Listen to and consider your co-parent’s views, even if you disagree with them.
- Do not let your conflicts with your co-parent affect your parenting. Instead, try to keep your disputes with your co-parent separate from your parenting responsibilities. Focus on providing a positive and supportive environment for your children when they are in your care.
- Do not fall into the trap of trying to control or micromanage your co-parent. It is normal for parents to have different approaches. Focus on what you can control during your time with your children.
When to get help
The following problems signal that you may need the help of a family lawyer, the services of an allied professional, or the court.
- If your co-parent refuses to communicate, cooperate, or compromise. Or if the two of you cannot resolve conflicts or make decisions promptly or effectively for the children.
- If you or your children have experienced family violence.
- If your co-parent is withholding the children from you, using them to manipulate or control you, or trying to turn the children against you.
- If your co-parent is making important decisions about the children without involving you (unless the court has said your co-parent is able to make decisions without you).
- If your co-parent shows difficulties managing their emotions, including becoming oppositional, impulsive, aggressive or not regulating their emotions while parenting the children. This includes alcohol, drugs or other addictions.
- If your children are not adjusting well to the co-parenting arrangement and are showing signs of undue stress.
- If your children are consistently expressing a desire to change the parenting schedule.
- If you believe your children are being neglected or abused or are unsafe.
- If your co-parent is breaking agreements or not following court orders.
In these situations, consider psychological support and alternative dispute resolution processes, including co-parenting coaching, co-parenting coordination, court-supported therapeutic interventions and assessments. Arbitration and court proceedings are available and often needed options but consider them carefully as messy litigation can sometimes make things worse. In hostile or abusive situations, get legal help right away.
Best interests of the children
In family law cases involving children, the court considers the child’s best interests to be the most important factor when deciding parenting time and responsibilities, including the parents’ ability to co-parent effectively.
If a parent can co-parent effectively, the court or arbitrator may see this as a positive factor. It shows the parent can prioritize the child’s needs and work with the other parent to make decisions that are in the best interests of the child. On the other hand, if a parent is unable to co-parent effectively, the court or arbitrator may see this as a negative factor.
Please note, in cases of family violence and post-separation abuse, effective co-parenting is unlikely and co-operation with one’s abuser is an unreasonable expectation. The court will consider the family violence when looking at what is in the best interests of the children.
Ultimately, the court or arbitrator will consider all relevant factors when making decisions about parenting time and decision-making responsibilities. They will strive to make decisions that are in the child’s best interests.
Looking for more information?
Looking for articles like this one to be delivered right to your inbox? SUBSCRIBE NOW!
DISCLAIMER The information in this article was correct at time of publishing. The law may have changed since then. The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of LawNow or the Centre for Public Legal Education Alberta.