Having been a family law attorney for over 35 years, I am often asked what co-parents can do to make a divorce easier for children. Most parents love their children and want what is best for them. Some cooperation from both parents may often help their children to adjust to their new situation. Children thrive when their parents are cooperative. Here are a few tips that I have learned over the years.
- Prepare your child for the visit with the other parent. This can be accomplished in many ways. Be thoughtful and make sure you send clean clothing for the visit. If you are sending medication, send detailed instructions on usage. Do not enter the other parent's home unless invited to do so. Say a polite "hello" and "goodbye" to the co- parent as you drop off your child for a visit. Be on time when dropping off your child for a visit. If you are aware homework assignments are due during the visit, send instructions to the co-parent.
- Keep conversation positive when you are both around your child. Do not bring up issues of child support around your child. Keep your new significant others out of any discussions with the co-parent. Prior to the visit make sure the first thing you say to the co- parent is something positive. Make sure your body language is not negative around the co-parent. Try and smile for your child's sake. If you feel you cannot control your behavior, bring a grandparent or someone else with you who is good at keeping you calm. If the co-parent brings up inappropriate comments simply state, "if this is something we need to discuss, I can privately contact you."
- When the child returns from the visit be positive. When your child returns home allow him or her to relax and readjust to their surroundings. Do not question your child about the co-parent's significant other. Do not feed into complaints your child may have about the other parent. If your child brings up minor concerns you should listen but realize some of what they say may be exaggeration to gain attention. (Obviously if your child has a large bruise on them or reports something to you that is serious you may need to involve child protection.) If your child comes back with a cold or flu do not make an issue out of this. Most children pick up these ailments no matter which parent they are with.
- Do not place your child in the middle of your divorce. Telling your child such things, as "I love you more than the co-parent," or "this divorce is making us poor and we are missing a vacation because of the co-parent," are not appropriate. Do not buy your child expensive gifts in an attempt to win their approval. If you are the visiting parent do not become emotional and say how much you will miss the child. If you are the non-visiting parent and want some personal time do not put your child up to calling and request a sleep over as it only puts your child in the middle. Do not, under any circumstances ask your child to choose sides.
- Do attempt to co-parent your child together. Both parents should assign chores to your child and make sure they have a responsible upbringing. Work together to ensure homework is completed. Discuss summer programs for your child and other extracurricular activities with the other parent. In some situations both parents could suggest an activity. Be reasonable. If your child is invited to a birthday party during your visit, allow your child to attend. Be respectful to each other about times of pick up and drop offs. Support each other and keep your child from trying to play one of you against the other.
Common sense should prevail in these situations and remember your child's welfare should always be paramount.