Missouri by statute prefers joint legal custody, which means that both parents share equally in the decision-making regarding the health, education, and general welfare of their children. In essence, Missouri favors co-parenting. But even when parents still have the ability to work together post-divorce, co-parenting can be challenging. Recently, we have had a lot of clients ask for different tips to enhance co-parenting, and we thought we would share some of them with you.
1. Recognize that you are no longer husband and wife.
The parenting dynamic changes when your spouse becomes your former spouse. The sole focus of your relationship is now the connection you have as your child’s other parent. Remember that your children hold more importance to you than the conflict that resulted in ending your marriage.
2. Be a role model for your children.
Demonstrate to your children that you can respectfully and effectively communicate with your former spouse.
3. Set co-parenting boundaries.
After the divorce is over, you should set co-parenting boundaries to avoid the conflict that resulted in ending your marriage. The most important boundary is to keep things businesslike with your former spouse and establish limits on what you discuss. Your former spouse doesn’t need to know every detail of your personal life. Rather, he or she only needs to know details that involve your children.
4. Follow the Parenting Plan.
You spent a lot of time writing a Parenting Plan that sets forth the details of your custody plan for your children. You created this Parenting Plan with the best interests of your children in mind. The Parenting Plan sets forth how much time the children will be spending time with each parent. It also sets forth how co-parenting conflicts will be resolved. When in doubt, follow the terms of the Parenting Plan.
5. Don’t speak poorly about your former spouse in front of your children.
You are only human and have feelings. However, if you have joint custody, remember that you love your children more than you hate your former spouse. You must set aside any anger, resentment, or hate for the sake of your children and put forward their happiness, stability, and future well-being. Nothing good ever comes out of talking bad about your former spouse. No matter how bad of a parent you feel your former spouse is, you shouldn’t insult or express your frustrations about him or her to your children. Your comments simply put your children in the middle of their parents and make them feel that they must take a side. Always keep your children out of your co-parenting conflicts.
6. Don’t use your children as a messenger.
When you send your children with a message to their other parent, you are avoiding having communication with your co-parent and placing your children in the middle. If you are a joint legal custodian, you must be the one to directly communicate with the other parent.
7. Make your children feel comfortable.
An easy way to make your children feel comfortable is to encourage them to take some of their personal belongings to your former spouse’s house. By letting your children know that you are okay with them removing some personal belongings you are sending a message that you are comfortable with this new parenting relationship. This act can also send the message that your children should view each parent and each household equally.
8. Focus on having good communication with your former spouse.
For co-parenting to be successful, you must keep working on your communication with your former spouse. Make your children the focus of each conversation. This will allow you to remain on good co-parenting terms with your former spouse.
9. Make custody exchanges easy for your children.
Think about a custody exchange from your children’s perspective. Your children are saying goodbye to one parent and hello to the other parent. Instead of making this a cold transition, talk about going to the other parent’s house a day or two before the exchange. If you are uncomfortable being around this situation, make sure your Parenting Plan reflects exchanges at school or exchanges where you are dropping off the children at the end of your custody time period.
10. Be flexible.
Don’t get angry when the other parent drops off 15 minutes late. Don’t refuse a request by the children to spend more time with the other parent. Instead, let some things slide and compromise for your children with the hope that your former spouse will become equally flexible with you in the future.
11. Don’t count free time hours with your children on a spreadsheet.
The Court understands that post-divorce the time you spend with your children is limited. However, don’t refuse extra-curricular activities for your children because you believe your children should only be spending time with you during your custody time periods. Don’t simply refuse an activity request from the other parent because it may have practices on your custody days. Instead, look at the bigger picture from your children’s perspective and not by counting how many free hours are spent at your house versus the other parent’s house and listing them on a spreadsheet to present to your lawyer.
12. Respect your children’s time with their other parent.
Each parent should respect their children’s time with the other parent. Your children should have a good relationship with both parents. Making that happen is easier when you refrain from disturbing or purposefully sabotaging the other parent’s custody time. You don’t need to Facetime with your children multiple times a day. You don’t need a tracking device to follow what they are doing with their other parent. You may not agree with the other parent’s chosen activity for the day, but your constant contact or oversight is only making your children uncomfortable.
13. Don’t expect your co-parent to have the exact same rules.
You and your co-parent shouldn’t have a parallel parenting approach. Instead, you should try to have a similar approach to rules, expectations, and punishment. However, similar does not mean the same. Each parent is allowed to have their own approach regarding how to enforce these parenting tenants. The rules may be a bit more flexible at the other parent’s house. Bedtime may be a bit later at one house than the other. The meals provided may be a bit different at one house than the other. This is okay. Communicate with your co-parent to establish the basic rules for the children at each house, but don’t expect the two houses to look the same in enforcement.
14. Make important child decisions with your co-parent.
You are a joint legal custodian. Do not make necessary decisions regarding your children without the other parent’s input. Confer on the topic and do everything that you can to try and reach an agreement. Don’t send a one-sided email or text message to the other parent telling him or her what is going to happen. Instead, speak in a neutral tone and with the purpose of discussing what is best for your children.