Co-Parenting After Divorce
You can make it easier for your kids, and for yourself, if you set some ground rules at the beginning. First, and perhaps most important, bury the hatchet -- or at least stash it somewhere out of reach. Parenthood doesn't end with divorce. You and your ex will be attending the same graduations and weddings for years, even if you no longer do it together. For your kids' sake, at least give the appearance of getting along. Save your spats for another time when you're alone.
Right about now, you may be shaking your head, convinced that this is impossible given your marital history. But don't throw in the towel just yet. Take some tips from experts who have counseled other parents and brought them from open warfare to successful co-parenting.
Try compartmentalizing your past relationship. Push it aside when you have to interact with your ex in your children's presence. Don't criticize her or argue with her within their earshot, and don't let them criticize their other parent, either. Don't ask them to deliver messages, sending them home after the weekend with, "Dad says to tell you ..." Take advantage of the age of technology; use email or text messages instead. This has the added benefit of avoiding "live" conversations between you that can spiral out of control and cause hard feelings and difficulty communicating in the future, even if the kids aren't listening in. If your relationship is particularly volatile, agree that you'll only talk about things that affect the kids, even in emails and texts. All other subjects are off-limits.
Make the divorce transition, and weekly transitions from house to house, as seamless as possible. Try to create two homes that are mirror images of each other. This doesn't mean you and your ex each have to live in the exact same square footage or decorate alike. It means rules and routines are much the same from one household to the next. Kids need stability and consistency, even older ones who you may think are handling the divorce just fine. If curfew is 10 p.m. in your ex's house, it should be 10 p.m. in your house too. If they're responsible for certain chores at her house, they should be responsible for the same ones at your place. You won't do your kids any favors by being more lenient about certain things. Even if it makes them prefer to spend time at your house, you could end up creating resentment toward their other parent and damaging their relationship. This may have long-term consequences that aren't easy to repair, possibly hurting your children more than their other parent.
Experts recommend that when divorced parents exchange their children for parenting time, they should each drop their children off at the other parent's home. You don't want to be the parent who arrives to extricate your child from your ex's care, particularly if your younger child isn't quite ready to make the transition yet. Have her drop him off at your place instead, and when it's time for him to return to her house, you drop him off there. You can also eliminate a lot of the jolt of moving from one home to the other if you make sure your children have all their own important things at each household, such as their toothbrush, toys, and clothing. This way, they're not always packing up like vagabonds to accommodate your divorce.
Keep in mind that there will come a time (if it hasn't arrived already) when your kids will be old enough to have plans and schedules of their own. Forcing them to miss out on activities with their friends to accommodate plans you've made instead can breed resentment, not toward your ex but toward you. Let your older kids keep their plans; they can come to your house after. Take your younger kids to events they've already scheduled for periods of time when they're supposed to be with you. Talk to their friends' parents about possible sleepovers at your house. It's natural to want to have them all to yourself during your allotted time. But you want your home to be their home too, and this means they should be able to continue with their own lives while they're sleeping at your house.
Remember that this isn't about you. It's about your kids. If you have any questions about NJ child custody laws call the Law Offices of Peter Van Aulen at 201-845-7400 to speak to an experienced NJ child custody attorney.