Putting the children first: Creating a co-parenting plan

Dear Mr. Dad: My husband and I are getting divorced. Unfortunately, we're so angry at each other that we can no longer even be in the same room together. Fortunately, despite our anger, we still understand how important each of us is to our children-and how important our children are to each of us. Do you think we'll be able to come up with a parenting plan that works for everyone? And if so, how do we do that?

A: The quick answer to your first question is a definite Yes. The fact that you and your husband can't stand each other is irrelevant. The two of you are putting your children and their needs first, and that's the biggest predictor of not only your ability to create a good plan, but also of how well your children will cope with your divorce. As to the second question, here are some steps you can take that will help you build a successful, long-lasting co-parenting relationship.

Hire a collaborative lawyer. Too often, divorce is an expensive, soul-crushing, adversarial process. It doesn't have to be. Collaborative lawyers focus on helping their clients find common ground, minimize legal expenses, and come up with settlements that work for both parties.

Think of your soon-to-be-ex as a business partner. The children, of course, are a successful business that neither of you wants to destroy.

Draft a parenting agreement. If you and your husband can't be in the same room together, your lawyers-especially if they practice collaborative law-will help.

Support each other's relationship with the children. It sounds like you're already doing this, but some readers may not be quite where you are. As a rule, unless your spouse is doing something dangerous or damaging to the kids, let him (or her) parent them the way he (or she) wants to. Hopefully you'll get the same in return. If you need guidance, your collaborative lawyer will help keep you on track.

No secrets about the kids. Let your ex know about anything important going on in your children's lives that he (or she) might not know about. If you can't speak, okay. Texting and email are fine. Just stick to calendar items and stay away from criticism and judgment. The effort will be greatly appreciated, guaranteed.

Decide in advance how you'll resolve conflicts. Disagreements are a given, so spend some time now planning for how you'll deal with them. That plan may include mediation.

Be nice. Stuff happens. Emergency trips, illnesses, out-of-town guests, weddings, and other impossible-to-foresee events can mean asking your ex to keep-or to let you keep-the children a few extra days. Whether you're asking for help or offering it, you'll catch more flies with honey than vinegar, as my grandmother said.

Know your limitations. There are certain things you're capable of doing (or willing to do) and certain things you're not. Be very clear on the difference and make sure your ex knows too.

Agree on a fair custody schedule. There is no one-size-fits-all solution to the huge question of where your children will live after the divorce. In an upcoming column, we'll talk in detail about the many options and how to pick the one that works best for you and your family.

Plan regular meetings. These can be formal, informal, in person, on the phone, via email, with a mediator, or with your lawyers.

Respect each other's privacy. What you do on your own time is not your ex's business. If you don't want your ex to ask your (or the children) a bunch of nosy questions, keep your own nosy questions to yourself.

Follow the Golden Rule. If you say you're going to be somewhere, be there. If you make any other promises, keep them, and treat your ex the way you'd like to be treated. Expect the same in return.


Tribune News Service

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