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Making co-parenting work after divorce

Divorce severs many of the physical and legal ties that bind you to your spouse. Following the end of your marriage, you'll no longer live in the same home, won't have joint banking or investment accounts and likely won't share the title to property anymore. Once the dust settles and the assets and debts have been divided, you will go your separate ways and could theoretically never see one another again. The same isn't true if you are parents, however.

If you had children before or during your marriage, then you are inextricably linked to your former spouse the rest of your life. No matter if your divorce was relatively "painless" and resolved quickly or it was hotly contested, you must find a way to co-exist in order to share custody and visitation rights.

Important psychological ramifications for the children

Psychologists and researchers are increasingly stressing the importance of positive and supportive co-parenting relationships for children following divorce.

Courts across the country - and here in Ohio - are following suit. There has been a shift in recent years in family courts around the state away from traditional custody and parenting time splits in favor of more equitable co-parenting agreements. Relationships between each parent and the child are increasingly stressed over the exact amount of time that each will spend with the child.

Successful co-parenting depends on a number of factors, all of them with a few basic goals: make the transition to life after divorce as smooth as possible for the child, and ensure that the child's well-being remains the priority above all else.

This can be accomplished by:

  • Setting clear boundaries - the tendency for some people following a divorce can be to spoil their kids, in an effort to overcompensate for the trauma the children endured while the marriage was ending. Psychologists have decried this practice, saying that it ultimately will backfire. Instead, both parents should work together to set clear, consistent rules - across both households - for discipline, behavior expectations, chores, schoolwork, etc., that give children structure and boundaries.
  • Avoid "bad-mouthing" the other parent and the people in his/her life - this can be one of the most difficult parts of co-parenting, but it is vitally important. Giving in to your own emotions and questioning the decision of your child's other parent to, for example, enter a new relationship after the divorce, can lead to conflict between the person and your child, causing great stress for everyone involved. You need to, for the sake of your kids, bite your tongue.
  • Work cooperatively - try to, whenever possible, resolve conflict amongst yourselves when schedules must deviate for school breaks, work responsibilities, personal commitments, illness or other reasons. Being able to work together will show your child that you both implicitly love him or her and remain committed to being parents in spite of all the upheaval in your lives.
  • Encourage your child's relationship with the other parent - absent special circumstances such as physical or verbal abuse, children unequivocally adjust better following a divorce when they are able to maintain relationships with both parents. By encouraging contact and trust between your child and their other parent, you are looking out for your child's needs now and into the future.

When you have made the agonizing decision to end a relationship that involves children, speak with an attorney. Often the earlier you seek assistance, the smoother the process.

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