Macleod & MacCallum’s Five Top Tips to help you co-parent after separation
Whether you are a mum or a dad, whether you have one child or five and whether your separation was amicable or “messy”, it is likely you are going to have to co-parent after your separation. With co-parenting, the most important thing for each parent to remember is that perhaps the only thing you still have in common is your children.
Here are five top tips from Macleod & MacCallum’s award winning Family Law Team, to help you try to co-parent.
1. Minimise conflict
Parents should always be aware that it is not separation or divorce in itself that can cause emotional damage to children, it is conflict. When co-parenting, it is vital that children are shielded from animosity and arguments. Children have a wonderful capacity to pick up on tension and non-verbal cues, even if they are not overhearing arguments. To successfully co-parent, be mindful of presenting a positive outlook on contact (sometimes referred to as “access”) and not only what is said, but how you say it. To help you and your ex-partner reduce conflict and focus on that one thing you still have in common (i.e. your children), you may want to consider Solicitor Mediation or Collaboration.
2. If you make a mistake, correct it.
We’re all human and following separation, some tension and upset is most likely unavoidable. If you do say something inappropriate about your ex-partner in front of your children, through upset or anger, it is important that you correct yourself. Don’t simply hope that the children will forget what they have heard and not repeat it. Say to your children “what I meant was…” or “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean what I said there”. It is important this doesn’t become a common occurrence, but on the rare occasion it does, stop, think, and correct yourself.
Following on separation or divorce, it is important that when co-parenting both parents continually reassure their children and encourage and promote their relationship with the other parent. Children are naturally loyal to both parents and will often endeavour to please whichever parent they are with at that time. Children can commonly display different behaviours when in different homes and will often be more tearful and emotional with their primary carer than with the other parent.
Young children in particular don’t have the capacity to understand everything that is going on around them and can often try and make sense of their new circumstances by trying to say what they think that parent needs to hear. Children will test boundaries in new situations and can often try and explain situations to themselves by taking on responsibility for negative situations such as arguments between parents. This is known as “magical thinking”, where children think they are responsible and make magical links between events, essentially adding 2 and 2 together and getting 6! When co-parenting, it is important you are aware of this and constantly seek to reassure.
4. Show a united front
When co-parenting, it is very important that parents show consistency. If children question or query arrangements or decisions it is important that each adult responds making it clear that it is the parents who have made the decision together. For example, “mummy and daddy have decided that this is when you are going to go for contact…” as opposed to “daddy says you have to go and see him this weekend…”. It is also important that, whilst exactly the same rules cannot apply in both households, an effort should be made when co-parenting to agree certain boundaries for behaviour and routines, such as bedtimes.
5. Talk directly to your ex-spouse or partner
It is not uncommon for former partners to use the children as “go-betweens” to communicate with the other parent. This can put a great deal of strain upon children, who can feel caught between the adults in their lives, particularly if negative messages are being forced on them. Find a way to communicate with each other that works for you, whether that is via email, telephone or text message. If you had difficulties in the past in communicating with each other in a civil and respectful way, consider attending Family Mediation to try and improve your parental relationship for the benefit of the children.
Co-parenting may not be something that comes naturally to you. If you find yourself struggling, don’t be afraid to seek professional advice, whether that be from an experienced Family Law solicitor or from Family Mediation Services. In Inverness, we are lucky in that our local Family Mediation Service provides not only mediation but they also have experienced staff offering child and young person’s counselling services, and offer a free “Parenting Apart” session.
If you need legal advice about contact (access), residence (custody) or shared child care contact a member of Macloed & MacCallum’s award winning family team.