How Often Do Divorced Couples Have Issues In Effective Co-Parenting?
In a perfect world, I wouldn’t even be working with co-parents who need help, because they would already be doing it without conflict and therefore not need assistance from an attorney, mediator, or the courts. Unfortunately, that’s not always the case, and I very often come across medium to high-conflict families who benefit greatly from having an attorney on their side.
Co-parenting is a skill that can be practiced and improved at any point, but it is especially important to hone this skill once the parties are no longer in a romantic relationship, and therefore when communication and cooperation comes less naturally.
There are tools that can be used to make uncomfortable situations more comfortable, more routine, and less stressful. In the beginning of the separation process, it can be very difficult for parties to cooperate due to having intense emotions. With time, co-parenting generally improves as the parents focus on their children.
Bad Co-Parenting Case Example
A couple who had been divorced for several years shared a teenage child together. After the child confided in their school counselor about having experienced with a “mind-altering” substance, the counselor contacted both parents.
While the child was at Home Depot with their mother, the father called and asked the child, “Are you drinking?” When the child responded by saying they were at Home Depot with their mother, the father told the school counselor that he had the impression that the child was drinking at Home Depot with their mother.
Once everyone sat down together to discuss the situation, it was concluded that the child had snuck wine without either of their parents knowing, at a family holiday gathering. This is one example of how quickly things can be blown out of proportion and be misunderstood when parents don’t communicate with each other.
One of the most serious issues is child abduction. For instance, one parent will decide to take a child out of the state or out of the country. In the United States, if a child is taken out of their state, before there is a court order, for six months that first state loses jurisdiction to enforce judicial orders.
It must also be noted that the home state of the child only changes if there is no prior court action started in that home state. This means that if the child is moved out of their state before there is a court action where the child’s home state is and they are gone for six month, then a parent can effectively change the child’s home state.
Other common issues involve parenting plan conflicts and/or activities about which both parents are not in agreement. Under these circumstances, Minnesota courts usually rule that the parent who has the parenting time is the parent who decides what the child will be doing during that time.
Conflict Between Parents
In most cases, both parents are responsible for conflicts that arise, although one parent will usually blame the other. During a disagreement between parents, it’s better to resolve differences out of earshot of the child. Also, each parent should make an effort to not insult the other parent in front of the child. The parents will have the best results if the child sees them as a united front. For this reason, both parents need to put in the effort.
One parent might want to be cooperative one day and not the next, or vice versa. The goal is to get people to stay in a place where they cooperate together and maintain focus on the best interest of the child.
If one parents seems prone to conflict, this will hopefully improve with time. Regardless, the best way to handle this is to remain calm during interactions and avoid escalating disagreements, as well as request that the other parent respond in writing (e.g., email or text).
It can also be helpful for parents to limit the frequency of texts, whether that’s to one per hour, one per day, or whatever the parents agree to. It is okay for parents to take their time before responding to a text message, and this can be a helpful way to prevent certain situations from escalating.
It is also okay for parents to apologize to each other. For instance, a parent might say something like, “I’m sorry if I came off rudely, I didn’t mean to.”
Do I want to be happy or do I want to be right? This is a good question that every parent should ask themselves when facing a difficult situation. In most cases, I think most people would choose to be happy.
It’s also a good idea for parents to repeat what they think they have heard or write down the details of their discussions so that they can be revisited. This can be very helpful during future issues or disagreements.
Calling In The Professionals
In conflict cases wherein a child is already displaying signs of distress or is in need of help from a therapist or counselor, both parents can come together to help everyone involved understand what is happening. No situation is going to be 100 percent easy, but enlisting the help of someone who cares is often a very helpful option.
There are situations wherein parents are unable to discuss certain issues and obtain a positive outcome. This is troublesome, especially if the child is hurting, in danger, or being dishonest; these types of situations call for the assistance of a professional.
If sex abuse has been an issue, it’s important that the child is given an outlet to discuss it and work through it; this is a topic that parents aren’t equipped to discuss with their children. If drugs or alcohol have been a large component in the child’s life, that’s often an area where counseling is useful.
Litigation As A Last Resort?
Litigation should be a limited resort, but not necessarily a last resort. It can help parents begin to set boundaries, parameters, and rules. With time, the goal is that it will become easier for parents to cooperate and reach solutions without litigation.
A family who tries to bring a new motion every year to address issues that do not concern the potential endangerment of the child or other serious issues will be wasting their own resources, because the courts simply don’t have enough of their own resources to listen carefully to all the details of every case. In essence, a family who overuses the court system is asking the courts—which are already stretched thin—to decide on issues that the family is actually better equipped to handle.
Parties who cannot reach agreements between each other can seek legal solutions, but this can be expensive, especially if legal solutions are sought over the course of many years until the child turns 18 years old.
The courts cannot issue an order for everything in the child’s life; the courts are there to help parents resolve difficult situations, not to carry families through the upbringing of a child. Parents and families make way better decisions for their children than courts do, because the courts will only have a few minutes and some cases hours to assess the situation and review the information before making big decisions that will impact everyone.
The courts generally won’t get involved with minor decisions such as what the child eats, what time they go to bed, or what activities they engage in. The courts are not going to force parents to agree on a bedtime, so one parent might make their nine-year-old go to bed at 8:30pm, while the other parent might let their child stay up until 11pm. Similarly, the courts are not going to force parents to agree on a specific diet for their child, and as a result, some parents encounter disagreements over this.
Another issue that the court is unlikely to weigh in on, but that parents may disagree about is academics. For instance, if one parent wants the child to study astronomy while the other parent wants the child to study writing, the court isn’t going to rule on that one way or another.
The courts do want the best for the families they serve, but they are ill equipped and don’t have enough time to listen to all of the things that families go through. For this reason, parents need to figure out a way to work through certain issues with each other.
When Litigation Is Necessary: Case Example
I am currently handling a case wherein my client wants to seek medical attention for her child, who has been self-harming during the pandemic and dealing with a lot of difficult emotions. The other parent, however, wants the child to just push through this difficult time, and does not think medical attention should be sought.
To ensure that this child receives the medical attention she needs in order to remain safe and establish emotional stability, we are moving for our client to be granted full legal and physical custody of the child, which many professionals around the family support.
It should be noted that the Minnesota courts are not ruling on the issue of whether children should receive the COVID-19 vaccine. It’s great if the parents can agree on this issue, as well as on decisions regarding the wearing of masks and washing of hands, but the courts don’t dictate whether a child should be vaccinated.
For more information on Effective Co-Parenting For Divorced Couples, an initial consultation is your next best step. Get the information and legal answers you are seeking by calling (651) 796-3400 today.
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