My Ex is Crazy! Tips for Handling Divorce and Co-Parenting with a High Conflict Ex-Spouse
Dealing with issues like divorce, child support, and child custody are difficult enough, but throw in a high-conflict ex-spouse, and the situation can become a constant, stressful nightmare. It doesn’t have to be this way, though! Although you cannot control the actions of your ex-spouse, you can have an impact on your own stress and reduce the level of conflict between the two of you. Here are some tips for handling divorce and co-parenting with a high-conflict ex-spouse:
1. If you have children and are considering separation and divorce, discuss a parenting plan with your spouse before either of you leaves the home. It is not necessary to have something permanent and final memorialized in writing, but at least have a meeting of the minds about a schedule/routine for how you will share time with your children. If someone moves and this has not been discussed, there is a good probability that you will not see eye-to-eye about it. Further, the parent who moves out of the marital residence will perceive that the other parent has all of the “control” over the children because the children are in the home. In discussing a schedule/routine for how you will share time with your children, be flexible. Know that any parenting plan is going to require some trial and error. Come up with a schedule for sharing time with the children, but agree that if it’s not working, you can try something else.
2. Along those same lines, if you already have a custody order or agreement in place, try to stick to it as much as possible. If the schedule isn’t working, contact your ex-spouse and ask to meet and discuss the difficulties in the schedule and the changes you’d like to see. Remember that your suggestions for changes to the order or agreement should be child-focused. One parent should never unilaterally try to change the parenting schedule without discussing it with the other parent, especially if the other parent is someone who tends to overact and escalate situations. If you do not yet have a custody order or agreement in place, then abide by the terms of the arrangement that you and the other parent have agreed upon until you mutually agree to make a change.
3. Treat your relationship with your ex-spouse like a business. Do not let yourself get emotional. Focus on doing what is best for your children while abiding by the terms of your agreement or court order. If your ex-spouse tries to change the schedule or gets upset with you for not granting a request to change the schedule, just point him or her back to that court order or agreement. You and the other parent are always able to make adjustments here and there to the terms of your agreement (for example, swapping weekends) so long as you both agree to the change. In the event you do not both agree about an adjustment, then the terms of the agreement are controlling. Try to limit direct communication with your ex-spouse. Communicate via email or text message. Phone calls and face-to-face conversations have a high probability for conflict.
4. Keep your children out of it. Do not involve your children in any conflict you may be having with your ex-spouse. You should try your hardest to be sure your children view their other parent in the best light possible. Don’t badmouth the other parent in front of the children. Don’t use your children to relay messages between you and the other parent. Basically, try to avoid/limit your children’s exposure to conflict between you and the other parent. If there are issues, contact the other parent directly via text or email.
5. Refrain from making accusations about the other parent. If your children complain about something the other parent supposedly did, do not take their word for it right away – sometimes children overdramatize things or misremember. Before you shoot off a nasty email to the other parent, send a polite message mentioning what the child said and asking the other parent what happened. Make sure the tone of your message does not come across as accusatory.
6. If there are constant issues with how you and your ex-spouse communicate and co-parent, consider asking the court to appoint a parenting coordinator. Basically, a parenting coordinator is a neutral professional appointed by the Court to assist parents in implementing and abiding by custody orders. If you feel that a parenting coordinator would benefit the relationship between you and the other parent, discuss asking the court to appoint a parenting coordinator with your attorney.