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Co-Parenting After A High Conflict Divorce

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Father comforting son
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If you experienced a high conflict divorce you’ve learned by now that a final divorce decree does not put an end to conflict. If there are children and the need to co-parent after a high conflict divorce the angry parent may declare full out war instead of attempting to civilly work with you for the sake of the children.

I hear stories daily about the negative impact an angry ex can have on the other parent and his/her children. These stories are from parents who want to communicate with the other parent, negotiate activity and visitation schedules and move on with their lives.

The angry ex is resistant to communication or negotiation. He/she is not concerned with the children’s health issues, school issues, scheduling visitation or doctor’s appointments. Their interest lies in punishing the other parent for whatever harm they feel was done to them. Due to this the chances of there ever being a cooperative parenting relationship are slim to none.

Examples of Conflict Riddled Co-Parenting:

You may see your situation in one of the examples below.

  • Danny and Jennifer:

    Danny and Jennifer are divorced parents of two small boys. Danny is court ordered to maintain health insurance on the boys through his work related health benefit plan. According to the order, Danny and Jennifer are to split 50% of all out of pocket medical expenses.

    Their younger boy has a medical condition that requires frequent doctor visits and monthly prescription costs. Jennifer paid 50% of the out of pocket expenses for office visits and requested they send Danny a bill for his fifty percent.

    Danny received the bill and responded by telling the billing department that he had not signed a contract with them to pay any portion of his son’s medical bills. Yes, he has a court order stating he is to pay 50% but a doctor’s office does not recognize a court order and because of this Jennifer had to pay the remaining balance before her son could be seen by the doctor again.

    The couple has been divorced for two years. Danny has steadily refused to follow the court order and as a result Jennifer and the children have had to suffer the consequences of being over-burdened financially.

    Jennifer and the children are doing without because Danny is more concerned with hurting her than with his children’s well-being. He refuses to civilly discuss the situation with her, he won’t respond to emails from her and sneers and tells her to take him to court, “Force me to do it.”

    Jennifer can’t take him to court because she can’t afford an attorney. Danny is fully aware of the position she is in and revels in the fact that his refusal to pay is causing her extreme emotional and financial stress.

  • Mark and Diane:

    Mark and Diane have been divorced for 5 years, they have a teenage daughter. Mark had an affair during the marriage that lead to the divorce. Shortly after the divorce Mark married the other woman.

    Diane is unable to let go of the emotional pain the divorce caused her. In her mind Mark has to pay and she uses the one thing that is of most importance to him, their daughter. Diane has systematically poisoned her daughter’s mind against Mark. As a result, he has very little contact with his daughter.

    Diane began her campaign to punish Mark shortly after she discovered his affair. She immediately shared the details of the affair with their daughter who was 12 years old at the time. She delighted in sharing all the sordid details of her husband’s indiscretion, going as far as telling the child that men who cheat on their wife do not love their children.

    Over the years Diane has shared with her daughter court documents, email communications and put her own negative spin on the reality of the situation. She has engaged in a destructive crusade of Parental Alienation that has left her daughter in therapy due to clinical depression and Mark with virtually no parental rights.

    According to Diane, “If he had never left the family my daughter would be fine.” She takes no responsibility for the fact that it is her behavior since the affair that has had the most detrimental impact on her daughter.

When Co-Parenting Doesn’t Work:

Here is the problem as I see it; the Family Court System is ill equipped to deal with relationship problems during and after divorce. In most situations, taking an angry ex back to court does nothing but get you a new court order which does you no good when dealing with an ex who defies court orders.

I’ve met very few Family Court Judges who feel that mediating post-divorce parenting problems is part of their job. Their job is to get you divorced, get your case off their docket and move on to the next couple.

Jennifer could take Danny back to court; doing so would get her a new order and him a slap on the hand from the judge and would cost thousands of dollars. What good will a new court order be to her when Danny refuses to follow court orders?

Mark could hire an attorney and file a petition for contempt and interference of parental visitation. Just like Jennifer, he would come away with a new court order and in the long-run be in the same position he was when he started.

Your best reaction to an angry ex is to not react and keep your expectations low. The reasonable parent finds themselves wanting to give in, in an attempt to keep down the conflict. They also make excuses for their ex’s bad behavior and hold onto the hope that, “things will change.”

More than likely, nothing will change and it is up to you to handle the situation in a manner that helps you maintain your sanity and ability to fully parent your children. How do you do this?

  • No Contact:

    If your attempts to communicate with your ex are met with demeaning, belittling and abusive language you can refuse to communicate. Do not respond to any communication that is not respectful and on subject. This does not lead to effective co-parenting but it does lead to peace of mind.

  • Use a Parenting Coordinator:

    Your local Family Court may appoint a parenting coordinator to act as a go between in high conflict situations. This is an expensive alternative but having a parenting coordination will get you closer to attaining a healthy relationship with both parents for your children.

  • Ask a Friend or Family Member to be The Go-Between:

    If you can’t afford a parenting coordinator ask a friend or family member to step in and help. Is there someone that both you and your ex feel close to and can work with to smooth out issues such as visitation drop-offs and pickups? Someone who can field emails and help “mediate” any conflict that arises? If so, put them to use!

  • Communicate Only Through Email or Text:

    If face to face communication is an issue keep any needed communication to email and text. Keep in mind though that emails and text messages can be used in court as evidence. Don’t text or email anything to your ex if you are not comfortable with a judge also reading.

  • Seek Help From a Therapist:

    Dealing with a co-parent who is controlling, irrational and abusive can, at times make you feel as if you are the crazy one. A trained professional can help you work through your own anger, handle those high levels of stress and guide you in how to respond to your ex. If your children are showing signs of negative emotions I suggest they enter therapy also.

  • Don’t Give Your Ex What He/She Wants:

    Your ex is behaving irrationally and using controlling behaviors in order to send you a message, “I have no respect for you, you will not tell me what to do.” The ultimate goal of the angry ex is to get a reaction from you. He/she is pushing your buttons and when you respond angrily you are giving them what they want.

    If he/she constantly brings the children hope late from visitation and you respond by stepping into him/her and sharing a “piece of your mind” you are not hurting your ex, you are hurting your children. AND you are allowing your ex to control you! Every time you meet his/her bad behavior with anger you are saying, “what you are doing is working, it is driving me crazy.”

    As a result, the cycle continues. You become more stressed out, your children become more upset and your ex gets to go home secure in the knowledge that he still has the ability to control you. Don’t give him/her the satisfaction

Left over issues from the marriage, issues such as anger, pain, betrayal and loss of trust can hang on long after the divorce is final. Parenting becomes the scene for unresolved marital issues and no one suffers more than the children.

Your ex may be a good parent. When the children are in his/her custody he may do a stellar job of parenting and caring for them. Your ex may be a horrible parent who is incapable of caring for his/her children.

If that is the case you must take the needed legal steps to insure your children’s safety. If, however he/she is a good parent who has a problem co-parenting with you, your best response is to back off, refuse to engage in the conflict and don’t allow his/her issues to cause you to become someone with issues of their own.

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