Creating a Plan When You're Not Friends
Now assume you and your ex-spouse don't get along well — you're both still angry and find it hard to be civil to each other. But despite your animosity, you both want to create your own parenting plan, rather than let the judge decide. What can you do?
You can include the use of a parenting consultant in your divorce decree. You can give the person you choose authority to resolve parenting disputes between you and your ex. You will pay less than it would cost to go to court to settle your disputes about the children, and you can get your dispute resolved immediately.
You can enlist the help of a third person — a mediator or a parenting consultant — to help formulate your plan. You've already learned a bit about mediators, so if you use one be sure to pick a person who knows about children's needs as well as divorce laws. A parenting consultant is usually a mental health professional with experience working with divorcing parents. This person understands the developmental needs of children and the dynamics of relationships between parents who are still hurting and angry. A parenting consultant can propose a plan that you can review with your lawyer to make sure you're not creating legal pitfalls down the road.
In addition to having a parenting consultant available to resolve disputes, you can use a children's notebook, a book in which you communicate with each other about the children. You can tell the other parent what happened during the week, any illnesses that require medication, or any special concerns. You can, in effect, keep each other up to date about the children without meeting face-to-face or talking on the phone. A children's notebook works as long as both parents use it properly and not as another opportunity to take shots at each other. Remember, it's about the children.
Another way to discuss the children is through e-mail exchanges. Emails can be exchanged regarding scheduling, issues that impact the children, concerns that come up, or any other information that needs to be exchanged. Many parents with high conflict relationships find that e-mail can be an effective way of managing their parenting relationship without having to actually see one another. It also allows each parent to maintain their own documentation regarding agreements on scheduling changes and other issues. Unlike a children's notebook, you have control of the documentation all the time and it cannot be lost in transit.
For a fee you can subscribe to a service that lets you do your scheduling and discuss the children online. One such service is
Regardless of the nonverbal method you choose, your focus needs to be on the children. This is so easy to say but not so easy to accomplish. Sometimes it means you will have to give in to your ex and let her make the decision about whether your son will go to swimming lessons on Tuesday night or Thursday night. Other times it means you will have to ignore a sarcastic comment about how often you ask to change the schedule and re-focus the conversation on who will be picking up the children tonight. Nonverbal communication can help reduce negative interactions between you and your spouse, but ultimately it is going to be up to the two of you to limit the negativity.
Considerations for Angry Parents
Even though you're angry with your ex-spouse, you don't want your anger to harm your children. You must consider their needs first and take into account each child's age and developmental level. For example, if you want to minimize your ex-spouse's involvement with the children and maximize your own, ask yourself if this fits your children's needs. A father who has attended every football practice since your son started playing shouldn't now be denied because you're angry. If he was a good enough parent to come to every game for three years before you were divorced, he's probably a good enough parent to come now. If he stops coming because you verbally attack him every time you see him, your son is going to be the one who is really hurt.
Parental conflict — often with children in the middle — has the most harmful long-term effects on the children of divorce. Whenever possible, parents need to keep children out of their conflict. If this means you are never in the same room together, acknowledge it and just do it. Don't keep fighting about it.
If you and your ex-spouse are hostile, you also need to consider how you'll exchange your children. Exchanges and transportation are the most difficult issues to resolve between hostile parents. You should try to plan on making as many exchanges as possible in public places and avoid exchanges at each other's house. If you can, try making exchanges where you don't even see each other, such as pickups at school or day care, providing you pick up the children on time and don't get into arguments with teachers and care providers. If you are running late, be sure to call. Nothing is more frightening to a child than to feel abandoned … again. You can also pick a public place such as a restaurant or convenience store. Both of you can stay in your cars and let the children get out and change vehicles. In your situation, it is best to minimize the number of exchanges each week, because the fewer opportunities you have to find fault with each other, the better.