Originally published in Divorce Magazine
Not only have I been practicing high-conflict divorce for 18 years, I am also a divorced father of two teenagers. At the moment, my ex and I are in a “good place” and our children are doing well. Here are a few tips I have learned from my practice and personal experience that might prove helpful when co-parenting:
1. No disparagement. There is no more tempting time to speak ill of the other parent to your child (or allow third persons to do so in your child’s presence) than during a divorce or when they have a new significant other. This is absolutely destructive to the psyche of a young child who needs to identify with both Mom and Dad. If you choose to do so, you are damaging your child’s understanding of their identity. If you have nothing nice to say, don’t say anything at all. If you can say nice things about the other parent, you are also saying nice things about the part of your child that identifies with the other parent. Lead by example and you will have a respectful child.
2. Do not involve your child in the litigation. Children’s minds are precious and full of wonder. They are not prepared to process adult problems. Don’t taint them by involving them in your issues.
3. Do not involve your child in the process. Your child should never see a courtroom. There are some instances where a child should speak to a psychologist or other qualified mental health professional. Shame on the parent that attempts to have a child speak to the Judge and be subject to cross-examination of another attorney. Not only will this experience permanently scar the child, it often demonstrates to the judge that you are willing to sacrifice your child’s well-being for your own vendetta. Except in exceptional circumstances, this should be avoided at all costs.
4. Choose your battles in court wisely. Judges are not well suited to micromanage co-parenting issues. If you take a parenting issue to a judge, it better be important. I have seen many people miscalculate the decision to bring their ex to court over something minor. It often backfires, making the co-parenting situation worse and empowering the other spouse to continue with whatever objectionable behavior you originally complained about. Parenting coordinators or other mental health professionals offer much more constructive approaches to resolving co-parenting issues than a courtroom.
5. Love your child. It’s OK if your child sees that things are not perfect and that things don’t always work out. Unfortunately, this is the reality of life. But you can also create an atmosphere where your child is loved and gets lots of attention. It is very easy to become self-involved at moments like this. Don’t – your child is more important. Once your child reaches a certain age, your chance to leave an impression will be lost. Go give your child lots of love and positive attention. Hugs are good too.
Eddie Stephens is a partner in Ward Damon located in West Palm Beach, FL. Mr. Stephens was admitted to the Florida Bar in 1997 and is Board Certified in Family and Marital Law. After starting his career as an attorney for the Palm Beach County Property Appraiser’s Office, Stephens has developed a successful family law practice focused on highly disputed divorces. Through hundreds of hearings and dozens of trials, Stephens has honed his practice by making straightforward arguments that bring opposing sides closer together in order to find a successful resolution.