Cooperative Parenting After Divorce

Most parents intend to put their children’s interests first and foremost during the divorce process. However, parents may lose sight of this goal as emotions intensify during the divorce, and communication between parents break down. Those coping with divorce experience the same stages of grief as those coping with the death of a loved one. According to Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, these five stages of grief include denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. Additionally, divorcing parents may feel overwhelmed by the number of decisions that need to be made to ensure their child’s healthy adjustment during this difficult time. Anger, stress and frustration can take over, with the result that children can be exposed to an uncooperative, acrimonious parenting style.

Children of divorced parents benefit immensely from a cooperative parenting style. This involves parents who understand the impact of parental conflict on their child’s development, and work to build a parenting relationship that reduces this conflict. Cooperative parenting involves staying focused on the children, valuing one another as parents, and using effective communication and negotiation skills, all of which lessen the impact of divorce on children.
Cooperative parenting begins during, not after, the divorce process. During a divorce, difficult decisions must be made regarding assets, debts, parenting and spousal support; however, these decisions do not need to be a foundation for a battleground between parties, in which a judge ultimately makes these decisions. Instead, with the help of a skilled divorce mediator, decisions can be made together by both parents. When emotions such as anger, frustration and sadness arise during mediation, a skilled mediator with a background in psychology can help the parties to manager these emotions while helping them continue to communicate and negotiate. This encourages a positive communication structure between the parties, which then helps to create a cooperative parenting style.

If parenting decisions are made cooperatively, such as responsibility for legal decision-making and timesharing (formerly “custody arrangements”), it avoids turning into a “custody battle.” In turn, this reduces the emotional (not to mention financial) burden on the family. Also, in litigation, one or both parties are likely to be unhappy with the outcome ordered in court. In contrast, in divorce mediation, parents work together to come up with a mutually agreed upon parenting plan. Parents who both agree on their parenting plan are more likely to follow this plan without conflict, and thus more likely to continue to co-parent successfully in the future. Consequently, the effects of divorce on children are diminished.
Co-parenting can be very difficult, particularly for parents who shared a painful past, or experience resentment or anger toward one another. During and after the divorce, parents who successfully co-parent are those who learn to shift into a completely new relationship with their ex-spouse; that is, from a married relationship to that of a co-parent. This new relationship is not about either parent, but about putting one’s children first. Successful co-parenting requires putting the past relationship in the past, and focusing on the children’s future stability, happiness and well-being.

Tamara Hirsch, JD*, MA

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