It would be wise for both you and your ex to view that parenting plan you agreed to as flexible guidelines. Sure, it is a legal agreement, but if you carry that plan around in your back pocket and constantly refer to it as a rulebook in a game, you are in for a long, miserable co-parenting experience. If you play that way, your ex will play that way, and in time your children will become mere pawns in the game. The court-settled parenting plan is a very loose guideline – not to be followed exactly all the time – you need to be flexible.
Constant, ongoing legal conflict post divorce – expensive and emotionally costly. Let go of the conflict and stop playing the fighting game.
Ground Rules for Communicating With The Ex
The language of cooperative communication does not sound like accusations. There is no name-calling or threatening. There is no questioning if the other parent loves and cares for the children. There is no leaving your ex out of important decision-making processes. If there is any question as to whether you should include your ex, you probably should. Keep your anger out of it. Keep the past out of it. Watch your nonverbal communication (rolling eyes, gestures, etc.). If you are wrong, own it and acknowledge it. Apologizing when you are wrong can go a long way to building more cooperation down the road.
These are topics that should be considered off-limits when it comes to communicating with your ex:
- Anything that occurred prior to your divorce
- New significant others and relationships
- Anything else that doesn’t directly pertain to caring for your children today and in the future.
Be polite, and be decent, but keep on topic (and the only topic of concern is your children). It is too easy to fall back into old patterns; avoid discussions and topics that are no longer of any concern to you (e.g. – your marriage, infidelity, who did what wrong to whom, and so on).
Types of things divorced exes should remain in close, cooperative communications include:
- Medical (doctor visits, health issues, allergies & conditions)
- Education (schools, registration, coursework, homework)
- Finances (shared expenses)
- Behavior (punishment [support ex], issues, rewards)
- Activities (sports, friendships, dance classes)
- Schedule coordination (childcare, transportation)
Never avoid necessary communication with your ex, no matter how difficult it may be to address. When it comes to your children, there should be no secrets or surprised between you and your ex.
You do not need to have in-depth dialogues with your ex every day, but in addition to a (minimum) weekly detailed exchange, you should check-in at least every-other day. Neither the detailed exchange nor the quick check-in need to be carried out in-person or via telephone. It is best for you to make a judgement call based on your prior interactions, the current state of your relationship, and the contents of the message that need to be communicated.
Your child’s doctor has indicated that your child will need to undergo a serious medical procedure that may require an extensive recovery period. You will need to coordinate childcare, schedules, and the financial implications with your ex.
Situation 1 – Recommended Course of Action:
Despite recent frustrating and challenging exchanges you have had with your ex, you know that you can find common ground when your child’s health is in question. Since there is a relatively good chance you can work through this with your ex, you should discuss this with them directly in person or via telephone. Keep focused on your concern for your children and acknowledge that your ex is equally concerned.
Situation 2 – Recommended Course of Action:
No matter what the subject, every exchange with your ex is a fight. You know that your ex will be concerned about your children, but discussing the financial aspects of the procedure will undoubtedly become a yelling session between the two of you. However, this is a very serious situation that will be difficult to coordinate via email.
A preemptive email communication may be the way to go here. Send an email to your ex indicating what your child’s doctor said, and indicate your desire to coordinate amicably with them. Communicate the financial aspects that concern you, and again, your desire to coordinate with them. Ask them if they have any input or concerns, and how they would like to proceed. Let them know you are available to discuss via telephone, saying something like, “if we can be respectful with each other, it would be easier to discuss this via phone.”
Your ex is your partner in the joint-business of raising your children effectively.
Setup the exchange with your ex in a way everyone wins. Don’t start a fun activity that will be interrupted when your ex picks the children up in 10 minutes. Set the other parent up for success with your children. Set your children up for an exchange that doesn’t cause them emotional strain. If your children are crying because they will miss you, do your best to give them your comfort and assurance; remind them of how good it will be for them to see your ex.
If it’s a very important issue or decision, for everyone’s protection, get it in writing. This doesn’t mean you have to dial up your lawyer, a simple email exchange is enough to give your and your ex clarity.
Ground Rules for the Exchange
Plans and situations change (traffic, work late, missed flight). Do your best to communicate any changes to your ex as soon as possible. If you are on the receiving end of a disappointing change in plans, try to be understanding. If last-minute changes are a reoccurring theme, you may need to address the issue more directly.
Determine each other’s house rules and how they work between homes.
Bounderies & Lines in the sand…
What types of issues may require you to seek additional legal support? Here are some:
- Abuse concerns (mental, physical, sexual)
- Children being left unattended or in the care of those unqualified to care for them
- Constant, ongoing disregard for the court-ordered parenting plan