Successful Coparenting: Secrets to Make Communication Between Divorced Parents More Effective
Written by: Megan Dell
Most divorced or separated parents hope to have a healthy co-parenting relationship with their former spouse. When deciding custody cases, the South Carolina Family Court looks to the children’s best interests to establish a parenting plan.
Analysis of the child’s best interests includes considering whether divorcing parents support the child’s relationship with the other parent; whether either parent has involved the child in the parents’ dispute; whether the parents have spoken negatively about the other parent in front of the child; whether the parents have the ability to be actively involved in their children’s lives; and the stability of the two households, especially when compared to each other.
Read on to discover successful coparenting tips to make communication between divorced parents more effective!
How Domestic Violence Affects Co-Parenting
When setting a parenting plan, the Family Court will also consider whether one parent has perpetrated domestic violence or child abuse. When there is a history of such behavior, the family dynamic related to power and respect makes it extremely difficult to communicate directly about their children.
Therefore, without one or both parents engaging in therapeutic treatment, a successful co-parenting relationship is unlikely to occur. The judge’s focus is likely to be minimizing necessary communications between the former spouses to keep the child’s life as conflict-free as possible.
Restraints to Protect Your Children’s Well Being
In South Carolina custody cases, certain restraints for both co-parents are generally ordered by the Court.
- Restraining each parent from exposing the child to the excessive consumption of alcohol, the misuse or abuse of prescription medications, and/or the use of illegal drugs;
- Restraining each parent from exposing the child to persons who may be construed as either parent’s new partners;
- Restraining each parent from exposing the child to discussion of the litigation; and
- Restraining each parent from exposing the child to disparagement of the other parent.
Many parents struggle with these ‘standard restraints’ because though they want to minimize conflict for the child, they also want to develop new personal relationships and do not want to feel like they are lying to their children.
Not only should you avoid speaking negatively about your ex-spouse, you should be cautious about how your conversations with your children can undermine the respect they have for their other parent. Examples of this can include:
- Asking the children to provide information to your ex-partner;
- Prohibiting the children from casually discussing their other parent’s house;
- Quizzing your children about your ex’s personal relationships or activities;
- Encouraging your children to keep secrets from their other parent;
- Sharing communication between parents to the children for any reason;
- Discussing the reasons for the divorce with your children outside of a therapeutic environment;
- Undermining your co-parent’s parenting style, including discipline techniques, rules, routines, and the like; and
- Prompting your children to discuss the co-parenting schedule or financial obligations.
Types of Co-parenting Communication Between Divorced Parents
When preparing custody and visitation agreements, our office tends to divide communications into three categories, as follows:
Required Communication to Successfully Co-parent
Co-parents are generally expected to keep each other informed of their home addresses, work addresses, all relevant phone numbers (home, work, and/or cell), and their email addresses. Both you and your former partner should promptly notify each other of any changes to your contact information.
Communications about Decision-Making
Depending on whether you and your co-parent share joint legal custody, you may be required to communicate about major decisions affecting your child’s health, education, religious upbringing, or participation in extra-curricular activities.
Identity of Professionals Involved in Your Child’s Life
If you enroll your child in a school, event, activity, or medical treatment, then you should provide the enrollment information to the other parent promptly. Such notification should include the name and contact information of any professionals involved.
Miscellaneous Required Communications
Though these circumstances do not occur in most cases, it is important to notify your co-parent of any of the following events:
- Your child is sick enough to be absent from school and/or extracurricular activities;
- Your child is sick enough to need medical treatment from any provider;
- Your child is seriously injured such that medical treatment from any provider is required;
- Your child is disciplined by their school;
- Your child is criminally charged or otherwise faces criminal sanctions;
- Your child is involved in a car accident;
- Your child disappears and cannot be found; and/or
- Your child expresses a suicidal threat or a homicidal threat.
Desired, but Not Required, Communications
Notification of Special Events
Each parent should provide the other with information about the children’s school events, such as concerts, performances, award ceremonies, class parties, or graduations, and any extracurricular events, such as games, tournaments, competitions, performances, or recitals.
In a shared parenting plan, it is likely your child spends a significant amount of time with each parent. Exchanging regular updates with your co-parent can help your child transition between two households. Even if your parenting styles differ, keeping each other informed about your child’s day-to-day behavior, discipline problems, and milestones can ensure you’re on the same page, which will only strengthen your co-parenting partnership.
Communications to Avoid
Developing a healthy co-parenting relationship is hard, and you are bound to make mistakes along the way. Before communicating with your co-parent, review these guidelines to maintain respect and boundaries:
- Do not bring up any issue that does not directly affect the future well-being of the child. (Revisiting prior behaviors is not productive; if your communication is focused on the past, then you need to reassess the purpose of your message and rewrite it.)
- Do not speak negatively to your co-parent. This includes using profanity in any form of communication. It also means that you should never engage in “name calling” toward the other parent, even if you are only intending to tease them.
- Do not offer criticism of your co-parent’s parenting decisions, skills, or abilities, even if you intend the communication to be constructive feedback.
- Do not threaten litigation. Your co-parent knows the Family Court exists, and they do not need you to remind them.
Access Co-parenting Resources to Improve Communication Between Divorced Parents
Effective co-parenting without communication is impossible. Parents should access resources to develop effective strategies to reduce conflicts and enhance cooperation for better decision-making. Various books and co-parenting communication apps for separated parents can help foster positive co-parenting relationships.
These tools can empower parents to navigate challenges and provide the best support for their children.
Our office loves to recommend books to help parents navigate co-parenting successfully. Here are links to some of our favorites:
The Best App for Communication Between Divorced Parents
As divorce has become more common, and as we have become more reliant on technology, co-parent communication apps have become available. The most popular of these is Our Family Wizard. Even when use of a co-parenting communication app is not court-ordered, many parents find them useful for having all of their child-related information in one place.
The standard features of these apps include messaging, a shared calendar, a shared information bank (to provide information about professionals involved with the children), and the ability to request reimbursements for various child-related expenses from the other parent.
The messaging feature of Our Family Wizard offers a “tone meter” to help assess whether your draft message is argumentative or aggressive before you hit Send. It also shows you both when a message was sent, and when it was first seen by the other parent.
Family Calendar for Divorced Parents
The family calendar allows parents to detail the school calendar, school events, holiday visitation schedules, summer visitation schedules, medical, dental, or other health appointments, and extra-curricular activities. These events can be added for each child and easily viewed in different colors in the app.
Child Support and Reimbursement of Expenses
In most cases, one parent is obligated to pay child support to the other parent. Our Family Wizard allows these payments to be tracked within the app. Additionally, when parents are required to divide uncovered medical expenses or other child-related expenses, requests for reimbursement can be sent — and paid — within Our Family Wizard.
A feature that is specific to Our Family Wizard is the ability to give read-only access to professionals involved in your divorce case or custody litigation. Those professionals can include the guardian ad litem, a family therapist, or your custody attorneys.
Records from Our Family Wizard are usually admissible in court, though you or your child custody attorney may need to contact the company to have the records authenticated. Though the communications are not court-monitored, the ease with which you can provide copies of the records to the Family Court makes use of another app worth the inconvenience.
These records can be used to prove a co-parent refuses to communicate. A lack of communication can affect custody determinations in the future, as custody and visitation can always be modified to serve the children’s well-being.
Records from a court monitored parenting app or a co-parent communication app can also show deviations from the parenting plan were agreed upon, the Court’s order regarding decision-making was complied with, and information about the children’s health or education, or the associated expenses, was shared with the other parent.
Tips on How to Co-parent Effectively
- Be a civil communicator and avoid the trap described above. This is likely to be hardest in the early days of your separation. (And, if it continues to be extremely difficult, you should seek advice from a family therapist who is familiar with co-parenting arrangements.)
- Instead of focusing on the weaknesses of your difficult ex, focus on your own strengths and ensuring your time with your child is the best it can be. When you communicate about your kids, focus on reporting facts about your child’s life, or asking about events in your child’s life that occurred while they were with the other parent.
- Don’t involve third parties, like your new partners, in your co-parenting communication. Communications about your children’s well-being should be between you and your former spouse.
- Prioritize communication with your former partner. Do not delay in responding when they ask questions or request information. Be forthcoming: your co-parent is entitled to as much information as you have about your child’s life.
- Even though you have separate lives, if possible, show your child you can interact positively with their other parent. This will reinforce for your child that you are a united front, committed to meeting their needs together.
Get Advice from Charleston Custody Attorneys
If you are unsure about your co-parenting rights or responsibilities, seeking the advice of experienced custody attorneys is crucial. We can help you navigate complex custody arrangements and ensure your agreements are detailed enough to foster effective co-parenting communication.