Child Custody: How to Bring Home a WIN for Your Children

Look, hiring a lawyer and “winning” a child custody case is a long, expensive, and grueling process. It creates further discord, tension, and stress for everyone involved and regardless of the circumstances, the children themselves tend to lose, no matter how positive you believe your intentions are.

The reality is Family Court can take years to resolve, thousands of dollars that could have been used for your children, hours of work for court dates and years off your life due to the stress. A great alternative to help create stability in your children’s lives through this already hard time is Co-Parenting.

Co-Parenting can be accomplished on your own, through the help of counseling and mediation, and a plethora of other ways.

The Co-Parenting Path

As difficult, and in some cases, as impossible as it may seem, Co-Parenting is a path that truly puts your kids first. It may not be easy, in fact, it probably won’t be easy.  But, it is best for your children. Children need to see their parents acting respectable to each other. A child’s parents’ relationship will serve as a model for the type of relationships they will one day have. Further, your children will grow up happier and healthier and they will one day know you did your best, given the circumstances.

Children who have shared parenting and whose parents Co-Parent are more likely to have higher self-esteem, which helps a child’s development. Low self-esteem often leads children to partake in juvenile delinquency.

Children who don’t have adequate time with both parents result in:

  • 63% of youth suicides
  • 85% of youth in prison
  • 71% of high school dropouts
  • 75% of adolescents in substance abuse rehab

By setting your differences aside and truly focusing on your children’s needs and Co-Parenting, you can create better outcomes for your children.

Tips for Successful Divorce Negotiations

Part of what you will be doing as you use the Negotiated Divorce system is negotiating an agreement with your spouse.  Negotiation is difficult under the best of circumstances, but in the context of a divorce where emotions run high, it can seem impossible.  The Negotiated Divorce system provides you with extensive written and video instruction about how to work toward an acceptable resolution with your spouse. The following guidelines can improve your chances of successful negotiation beginning right now.

Wait to negotiate about any issue until both parties confirm that they feel they have all the information they need to make informed choices about that issue.

Jumping the gun and trying to negotiate before information-gathering is complete is counter-productive.  Imagine that I offer to sell you my watch.  The price is $5,000.  I tell you that it’s a great deal, that you won’t do any better than what I’m offering, and that you’ll regret it if you don’t take it now – this offer is only good until 5 p.m. today.  Oh – and you have to decide with only the information you already have about it.  I can’t wait for you to gather any more information.

Can you do it?  Probably not, unless you’ve secretly had your eye on my watch for some time, know it’s in good working order, and have researched the issue thoroughly to know what you would have to pay for it if you bought it elsewhere.  You don’t have enough information to evaluate my offer, so you can’t accept it.

The same is true for negotiations in divorce.  I can make you the greatest settlement proposal in the world, but if you don’t have the necessary information to confirm my claims and underlying assumptions, you have to turn me down.  You’re suspicious of me because I’m trying to force you to decide right now, with no additional information; my feelings are hurt because you don’t trust me and you’ve turned your nose up at my great offer.  Chances are good that when you do get the information you need and you want to accept my offer, I’ll no longer be willing to complete the transaction, which may well have been a really great deal for you.  Or you’ll see my great offer as an opening bid and try to talk me off the price, which will offend me.  Waiting until information-gathering is complete on any given topic is the best way to proceed.

Do not surprise your spouse by trying to talk settlement when he or she is not prepared for it. 

You may have the world’s greatest idea, but if you try to pitch it to someone when they’re trying to wash the dog, or cook dinner, or work, it will probably not be well received. Make an appointment with your spouse to talk about specific issues for a limited amount of time.  Divide the process into small, discreet tasks.

Settle all issues at one time.  

Many couples who try directly negotiating their divorce settlements fall into the trap of making piecemeal settlements.  They will make what they think is a stand-alone agreement that meets some of their overall goals.  The problem with this strategy is that there will come a time when one spouse has satisfied all of his or her goals.  This person then has no incentive to continue to help the other person meet his or her remaining goals.  This often leads to an unraveling of the deal, leaving parties worse off than when they started, because now someone feels they have been betrayed or tricked.  The better practice is to make tentative agreements – “Assuming we can work everything else out to our mutual satisfaction, then we agree that we will divide our financial accounts as follows.”

Use Structured Settlement Discussions

Settlements negotiated directly between spouses will work best if they follow these guidelines:

  • Make an appointment with your spouse to negotiate for a limited amount of time.
  • Meet at a place that feels neutral to both parties, and where you’re unlikely to be interrupted by your children (or anyone else you might know).
  • Identify in advance one or two topics that will be discussed, then stick to those topics.
  • Agree that if anyone feels uncomfortable (for any reason or no reason) the discussions will stop with no questions asked.
  • If you make an agreement, write it down in simple terms that both parties feel clearly outlines their deal.
  • If you don’t feel comfortable making an agreement on the spot, consider making a commitment about when you will be able to make a decision.

So, the conversation inviting your spouse to a negotiation session would go something like this:

HUSBAND:   Will you meet me at Starbuck’s for an hour on Tuesday to talk about how we’re going to divide up the Christmas decorations?

WIFE: That sounds like a good idea.  Can we also address the children’s summer camp at the same meeting?

HUSBAND: Sure.  How about 2:00.  We’ll be done before 3:00 so I can pick up the kids at school.

WIFE: Perfect!

If it’s an uncontested divorce, don’t play the Ultimatum Game

Although the situation between economically distressed Greece and its European lenders changes daily, as they approached one deadline, European leaders gave Greece an ultimatum: Agree to an extension of the bailout program or lose the funding Greece needs to avoid default and exclusion from the Eurozone. They made a vague promise to renegotiate the original terms of the austerity program at a later date, but it was essentially a take it or leave it offer. Rather than acquiesce, the Greek finance minister reacted angrily: “…nothing good has ever come out of ultimatums. I have no doubt that in the next few days any notion of an ultimatum will be withdrawn.”  The new Greek government maintains that the austerity demanded of its people in exchange for the original bailout devastated the Greek economy and imposed untold social damage. It argues that if the European Union wants a chance of recovering its loans to Greece, it must loosen the austerity terms so that the economy can grow again.

But why would Greece reject the European lenders’ commitment to distribute billions of dollars of desperately needed funds when the alternative is bank runs, bankruptcy, exclusion from the Eurozone, and possible social chaos? At first glance, the Greek response doesn’t seem rational: the proposal provides needed breathing room and a commitment by the European lenders to ease the austerity terms in future negotiations. While the reasons for the Greek reaction are politically and economically complex, the simple explanation is that the Greek government views the European lenders’ proposal as unfair.

So what does this have to do with lawyers negotiating a divorce or couples pursuing an uncontested divorce online? It’s the issue of fairness, or at least what the parties perceive as fair, and how it can propel or stall a negotiation.

Using an experimental procedure called the Ultimatum Game, social scientists have demonstrated that people’s perception of unfairness will lead them to turn down a sure gain. Here’s how it works: the subject must decide whether to accept or reject an offer for a portion of a fixed amount, say $100, which is to be split between the subject and the offeror. The offeror decides how the money is to be split, but if the subject rejects the offer, neither receives any money. There is no second round, that’s the ultimatum: take it or leave it. The offeror might propose a fair split (e.g., $50 each), or an unfair one (e.g. $95 for the offeror, $5 to the subject). In either case, the subject receives more than he or she had at the beginning of the exercise. $5 is better than $0. Right?

Actually, no. The results of these experiments show that even though getting a small amount is better than getting nothing, the rejection rate for offers perceived as unfair (generally 30% or less of the total amount being distributed) is very high.

Why? Because humans value more than an economic return. Civil conduct, following social norms, and reaching a social agreement is important to a society’s and an individual’s well-being.  From that perspective, turning down an unfair economic offer is not irrational at all; it is saying that there are other interests at work which the offeror must also take into account.

The Ultimatum Game being played by European lenders and Greece on the international stage rather than in a social scientists’ laboratory provides a lesson for divorcing spouses: In instances when there is no Plan B or rejection of a take-it-or-leave-it offer will lead to dire circumstances (e.g., litigation), an offer that leaves your spouse better off but is perceived by him or her as unfair is likely to be rejected, even when considerable cost attends the resulting outcome. If you plan to make an offer, anticipate what he or she is likely to perceive as fair and be prepared to explain why your offer is, indeed, fair. And if it’s not, change it.

Divorcing Couples Log Roll Their Way to Agreements

When divorcing couples use an online divorce service to manage their divorce without the help of lawyers, they sometimes ask: “We’ve got some tough issues to settle, but we don’t want to make it worse by bringing in lawyers to argue. How do we get started?” It’s an excellent question—and fortunately, there are some good precedents from everyday life that divorcing couples can follow: Athletic coaches conduct warm-up drills, parents encourage baby steps, teachers start with the basics, and negotiators log roll.

In other words, start small, build momentum.

To understand the concept of logrolling, consider this example from international diplomacy. When disputing countries begin talks aimed at reducing tensions, they often start with agreements that are simple and low risk, such as arranging for their artists to work together or for their medical professionals to train one another in specialized services—relatively low-risk exchanges requiring minor, non-threatening concessions. By doing so, they get the log rolling; that is, building positive momentum before tackling the tough issues to come.

These experienced diplomats understand that an effective way to build the conditions necessary to resolve complicated issues is, to begin with, less important ones that will yield easily to compromise. Doing so injects optimism into the negotiation, sets precedents for future compromises, and builds trust.

So how can couples who are using an online divorce service logroll their way to settling disagreements?

Consider the problems of deciding how custody of the children will be divided over the summer break or how responsibility for paying off credit card debt will be shared, even in uncontested divorces. Such issues can be difficult to resolve when a divorcing couple feels strongly about what’s at stake and anticipates having to wring tough concessions from one another to get what each wants. To build positive momentum, it helps couples in this situation to settle less complicated issues before tackling the tough ones. For example, a divorcing couple with young children might first decide who will bring drinks to the next soccer game, agree upon a good time to have the next parent-teacher conference, and arrange for one parent to take the children to the next dentist appointment. A couple with difficult financial issues to resolve might start with less complicated ones, such as setting a date for a garage sale or dividing up the kitchen utensils. Making several such mutual concessions at the start, no matter how simple or risk-free, gets the log rolling: fostering optimism and a spirit of compromise that will carry over to the tougher discussions yet to come.

Getting a Divorce? Don’t Let the Tail Wag the Dog

Almost any family law attorney can describe a case wherein a couple spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to settle issues of asset division, alimony, child support, and custody. In other less costly instances, the money spent still far outstripped the value of the issues at stake. In one case, a father wanted to set his child support obligation $200 per month lower than the state guideline. When the mother balked and mediation did not resolve the matter, the father took it to litigation. The Judge subsequently ruled in the father’s favor, saving the father approximately $16,000 between then and when their child turned 18. Their legal fees, however, totaled $65,000. Not a financially smart way for either parent to resolve this impasse.

Not every divorce costs $65,000 to settle one matter, but it is not uncommon for everyday couples with modest financial estates to pony up $15,000 to $20,000 in lawyers’ fees to settle what could have been an uncontested divorce. Can couples reach agreements and get divorced without draining their accounts? In a word, yes. But it takes common sense, a commitment to fair-minded agreements, and a willingness to set aside emotional payback as the goal.

First, divorcing couples must remember not to let the tail wag the dog. They, not the lawyers, decide how the divorce will proceed: contentiously (with the associated legal expense) or civilly (which leaves little for a lawyer to do but fill in the documents). In fact, couples who are the most committed to saving money and time, settle their divorce without any lawyers at all by using an online divorce service that provides the information and guidance they need to reach fair agreements and complete the necessary documents—at a reasonable cost.

Whether a couple uses lawyers or does their divorce on their own, here are five frequent mistakes that can drive up the cost.

  1. Being dishonest about financial matters, including withholding information. When one spouse learns that the other is not providing complete, accurate financial information, mistrust poisons every subsequent discussion. Lawyers have solutions when this occurs: depositions, discovery, and testimony. These tactics are effective, but expensive, time consuming, and intrusive. Don’t kid yourself: Hiding or misrepresenting assets is likely to cost you more in the long run than being transparent from the outset.
  2. Using lawyers to settle inconsequential issues. It’s important that couples avoid heedless concessions just to get divorced. But do you really want lawyers, at their hourly rate, to go back and forth about who will take the children to and from soccer practice or how the kitchen utensils will be divided? They didn’t go to law school to settle such trivial issues; and it’s not what you had in mind when you originally hired them.
  3. Being stubborn and inflexible. When emotions run hot, it’s easy to dig in one’s heels to make a point: “I won’t be pushed around.” But make sure your heels aren’t digging too deep a hole. Spending thousands of dollars in legal fees to make your spouse responsible for the cost of summer camp is not the best use of community assets.
  4. Seeking vengeance, rather than a legal settlement. Divorce is first and foremost, a legal process with a legal outcome. When couples decide to use that process for non-legal purposes, such as to get revenge or publicly humiliate the other, the divorce will get very messy and very expensive, very fast. Interestingly, research in this area has found that getting revenge feels very good for a very short period of time; then it doesn’t feel good at all.
  5.  Refusing to communicate in a civil manner. A divorce requires couples and their representatives to communicate: information exchanged, requests conveyed, proposals submitted, trade-offs suggested, offers accepted. This process becomes terribly difficult and inefficient when straightforward communication is replaced by argument and conflict. The goal of divorce is to reach a legal agreement, not to replay everything that went wrong in the marriage.

Fairness is not an “F-word”

Having Fair Standards: A Divorce Without Lawyers

When you divorce without lawyers, some divorce professionals (like mediators) tell divorcing spouses not to use the term ‘fair’ when discussing what they want in a divorce agreement: “Fair is an F-word. We don’t use it here. You’re not going to get fairness. You’re going to get a divorce.”

But many don’t agree with this philosophy, perceiving that it confuses the necessity of learning to accept life’s inevitable setbacks (“life isn’t fair”) with the equally important task of helping one another find meaning and value in life by offering fairness wherever it can be found. And it can be found—even in the midst of a difficult divorce.

Naturally, how you define fairness may be quite different from how I define it. What seems entirely fair to you may seem outrageously unjust to me. And therein lies the problem when negotiating: How do we reach a mutually acceptable definition of fairness that allows us to settle our differences? And fairly so?

Achieving that standard isn’t always easy but it is absolutely worth striving for—and not a goal that should be dismissed as naive and pointless. Like so many aspects to negotiating or mediating a divorce or a parenting plan, the answers lies in attending, separately, to the way you negotiate as well as to what has to be settled.

A fair way is a fair process: identifying each family member’s interests, respecting alternate points-of-view, providing a safe environment for creative brainstorming, avoiding personal attack and deceit, and not relying upon coercion and bullying to persuade agreement. In other words, a fair process means playing fair. It is about civility, courtesy and respect — the very values that parents want to teach their children.

And to determine what is fair, you can often turn to external standards and guidelines. Whenever possible, obtain the facts:

  • Unsure about the value of a family car? Check the Blue Book for an objective, neutral figure.
  • Not sure how to estimate the current equity in your home? Consider taking the average of two neutral appraisals as an agreed upon “fair value.” Or check the tax records for the appraised value.
  • Puzzled and worried about the best parenting time schedule for a preschooler? Consider what the psychological research and outside experts say about what young children of divorce really need.

Fairness: Playing fair; seeking fair standards.

Know Your Divorce Paradigm

Divorcing couples who want to settle their own divorce and to use an online divorce service to avoid excessive legal fees need “to know their paradigm.” What do we mean by that?

You’ve heard the terms “work mode” and “play mode.” Perhaps you’ve commented: “I’ve got my work hat on now” or “I put on my social face when we go to parties.” In other words, we match our behavior to the context to make the most of the experience. The same analogy holds true for different ways to solve a problem, such as agreeing upon the terms of a divorce. If we intend to rely upon an arbitrator, such as a judge, to make a decision for us, I best pull out my litigators’ tools. I will develop persuasive arguments for my position and against yours and approach the matter as a win-lose deal. I have no stake in the extent to which your interests are satisfied; I am only interested in meeting my own. But if we intend to negotiate a divorce without lawyers, I will employ my problem-solving tools. I will propose compromises and mutual concessions and suggest trade-offs that help both of us. Most importantly, I have a stake in your interests; if yours aren’t met, we don’t have a deal. And if we don’t have a deal, my interests won’t be met either.

Litigating and negotiating are different paradigms utilizing different tools to accomplish the same goal: to resolve an impasse. A litigator’s tools (e.g., staking out a position, arguing, threatening, withholding information) are designed to win a contest. It’s all about power: “I have a stronger position.” A negotiator’s tools (e.g., proposing compromises, mutual concessions, trade-offs, re-framing) are designed to solve a problem. It’s all about mutual benefit: “I have an idea that works for both of us.”

What happens to many couples who are trying to agree upon an uncontested divorce without lawyers, however, is that they forget the context in which they are trying to solve a problem. They use a litigator’s tools as though to win a contest rather than a negotiator’s tools to solve a problem. But without an arbitrator present, who will listen to opposing perspectives and decide? Not you or me, we’re too busy trying to score points. Does this help you understand why so many arguments end badly?

If we intend to solve a problem directly, we have to make a conscious decision to be negotiators and leave the tools of litigation behind: “I’m not here to argue or overpower you, I’m here to find solutions that work for both of us.” This means: I will listen rather than grandstand, offer mutual concessions rather than ultimatums, and suggest novel solutions instead of one-sided proposals.

Trust: Hard Won, Easily Lost

Trust is like water in a wellspring; it is either being replenished or depleted, built up or drawn down. And as water is to life, so trust is essential to the relatedness of all kinds: between friends, spouses, parents and children, humans and pets, businesses, and states. But in the midst of a divorce, the wellspring of trust may have run dry. And when couples want to pursue an uncontested divorce without lawyers, lack of trust can be the biggest barrier to an agreement.

So what is trust? A common definition is that trust is confidence that someone will do as they say they will do. In other words, trust is an expectation of reliability; it is about hope and it is about the future. It is built upon a series of experiences in which you and I do, indeed, reliably live up to our word. You share confidence; I keep it. I lend you my car; you return it with a full tank. Small steps build up reserves of trust and give us the confidence to take more risks and to make larger commitments.

But trust is easily broken – often times by just one betrayal. And when that happens, the one feeling betrayed may become suspicious, alert to further betrayal, and oversensitive to any perceived slights. Caution replaces risk taking; defensiveness replaces disclosure; self-protection replaces openness.

When suspicions grow to general distrust, people usually want to break off a relationship. But this isn’t always possible. Businesses have contractual financial ties, divorced parents have co-parenting responsibilities, conflicting countries have shared borders, divorcing spouses have to work together—to get divorced.

So when acrimony and suspicion rather than trust prevail, can trust be replenished? In a word, yes. But it is a long path, often marked by obstacles and setbacks. The irony is that trust can only be reestablished by risking again with the one who committed the original betrayal – the opposite of what one is inclined to do when feeling hurt and mistreated.

To build trust out of distrust, it is usually necessary to proceed in small steps – incremental risks and commitments that slowly replenish the wellspring until sufficient reserve sets the stage for larger commitments. But as filling a well with a single cup takes time, all trust drains quickly if one betrayal cracks the well.

There is, however, an exception to the slow process of replenishing trust. In some instances, an overarching crisis or event enables people in conflict to set aside their differences and abruptly reverse the erosion of trust. We experienced this as a nation in the months after 9/11. Communities pull together to handle local crises such as natural disasters or Amber Alerts. Families set aside personal animosities to manage a member’s critical illness. Such events heighten the awareness that we depend upon one another, that we need one another, that we are all better off collaborating with one another.

Respect Your Children and Everyone They Love

Children aren’t born with a natural ability to respect others; in many regards, respect is cultural. This has to be taught. In fact, children are natural manipulators, working to meet their own personal needs. It is our job as parents to teach them to not only respect us and others but to also respect themselves.

The best way to teach respect is to model it. Always remember that kids mimic everything they see. When you treat them and all of those they love, with the respect that will help to guide their behavior. Conversely, if they see their parents behaving in a disrespectful manner, that will encourage them to be disrespectful. They are putting all of their trust in you to teach them right from wrong. Be the role models they need and deserve!

In some ways, the definition of respect may be universal. However, we are all different people who have different ideas of what respect means to us. This is why you need to ensure you’re in alignment with your co-parent. Being consistent will help to alleviate confusion for your children and better facilitate the learning process for them.

“How would your life be different if…You stopped making negative judgmental assumptions about people you encounter? Let today be the day…You look for the good in everyone you meet and respect their journey.” – Steve Maraboli

Encourage Your Child’s Family Relationships

Family is fundamental to the healthy development, growth, and socialization of children. They thrive on love, learning, and human connections. Nature and nurture factors will both strongly impact a child’s outcome. The more love and support they have, the more confident, independent and loving they will be.

Children of intact families are generally surrounded by family members who are naturally encouraging their relationships with the rest of their family. Even if one parent works outside of the home or travels frequently, the children know they will return, they are talked about in their day-to-day lives, and they are likely surrounded by their pictures, possessions, and presence in their home.

With separation and two separate homes, parents need to make a more conscious effort to encourage their child’s relationship with their other parent and family members. Children need to know they are loved unconditionally, and they are allowed to love without restrictions or guilt. Teach your children the importance of family.

“Family is not an important thing. It’s everything.” – Michael J. Fox

Open and Honest Communication

It’s no secret that communication is challenging. As co-parents, it’s critical in order to ensure you are working together collaboratively as parents.

Good communication will help manage and balance the child’s two homes, help to develop trust, and it will allow you to comfortably talk about school, health and other important topics to maintain a mutual understanding of the children’s current and future needs.

There are a few rules that are non-negotiable:

  1. Adult matters shouldn’t be discussed in the presence of children
  2. Listen to understand, not just to respond
  3.  Communicate honestly in a timely manner

If you are struggling with face-to-face communication due to conflict, personal schedules, etc., you can begin with other forms, such as video, phone, email or text. Written communications will be more difficult to read tone and non-verbal cues, but it can be a very effective method. It may also be helpful to begin your partnership as if you were in a formal business relationship, similar to if you were communicating with your child’s teachers or babysitters.

Communication is a skill that everyone can improve. And if you and your parenting partner have had communication problems in the past, you will need to identify the past pitfalls in order to better communicate with each other. It requires patience, but the value of good communication has no price tag. It is invaluable.

“If your relationship has enough trust, honesty and understanding, it should never require promises, terms and conditions.” – Nishan Panwar

Clean the Slate

You’ve likely been through a lot. Mistakes have been made. Words have been said that can’t be taken back. When relationships end, there is often hurt, animosity, tension, and conflict due to a wide variety of reasons. As valid as they may be, it is of vital importance to not let those feelings cloud your judgment, especially regarding the well-being of your children.

In order to sincerely commit to an open, honest and trusting co-parenting relationship, you need to accept your differences and let go of the past. Separation may be the end of one relationship, but it should not end any relationships for the children involved. It is also the start of a new relationship between you and your co-parent.

The first step to starting a successful co-parenting relationship is to Clean the Slate. This doesn’t mean internalizing bad feelings just to maintain appearances, but making a conscious decision to put the past behind you and to start anew. You are parenting partners, equals in your children’s lives. This will mean biting your tongue at times and putting your own personal feelings aside for the health and happiness of your child.

“You have a clean slate every day you wake up. You have a chance every single morning to make that change and be the person you want to be. You just have to decide to do it. Decide today’s the day. Say it: this is going to be my day.” – Brendon Burchard

Coparenting: Agree to Balanced Duties and Healthy Boundaries

Balanced Duties and Healthy Boundaries may be something you, personally, feel ready for, but your ex may not. Whether they don’t want any duties at all, or they want complete control, there are still steps YOU can take and ways YOU can positively encourage them to follow suit.

When you have limited time and your parental rights have essentially been taken away due to your ex or the “family” court, you can show through your consistent behavior that you have no desire to fight and that you just want better for your child. Conversely, when an ex seems to be backing away from parental responsibilities, rather than forcing them into a relationship, you can encourage them, and let them know how important they are to their child. Some parents may lack feelings of self-worth after a separation.

It can be frustrating if you feel as though you are the only one trying to work on a co-parenting relationship. But the truth of the matter is – more often than not, both parents feel as though they are trying. The problem is likely that we just don’t see it, appreciate it, or the effort is not what we NEED – rather, it is what the other person BELIEVES we WANT. Either way, the benefits your child will receive from having two actively involved parents, will be worth it!

If you feel as though you are the only one trying, try to put yourself in their shoes. Imagine being in their situation – their life, their job, their home, their role. Imagine how they perceive your words and your actions. Could they believe that they are making a valiant effort to co-parent? Though this exercise can be extremely difficult to do, if you practice it genuinely and sincerely, wholeheartedly, it can help you to better adapt to your challenges and improve your communication significantly.

Remember, you can’t change your ex, you can only change yourself. But, your child will fair best with two happy, healthy and active parents. So, you can choose to be a positive influence in your ex’s life or you can choose to be their biggest nightmare. Either way, your behavior impacts your child’s perception and their reality – so always keep THAT in the front of your mind.

It takes a village to raise a child, right? We all have experiences that we can share to help others. Following, five parents from our community share their personal experiences around Balanced Duties and Healthy Boundaries:

Talk to Each Other

“We have been co-parenting for 16 years, so I guess you’d say we’ve learned a lot! I felt that Healthy Boundaries was a hard one for my ex to get. In HIS defense, Communication was probably my most challenging area! Since I kept the house after our divorce, my ex seemed to feel a little too ‘at home’ for the longest time. He would let himself in without even knocking, helped himself to food in the fridge, and would even go down to the freezer in the basement to re-stock the fridge. It drove me insane! I slowly started to change the house to make it more ‘mine’. Over time, I bought new furniture, I painted, and I even re-carpeted! He just could NOT take a hint! So, finally one day, I blew up at him. I hadn’t even been to HIS house, yet he acted like he was at home in mine! Well, to my surprise, he said he was trying to act comfortable for my sake and the kids’! He said I was making it difficult because I kept changing things, and it made him less and less comfortable in ‘my’ home. Hmm, if only we had that whole ‘Communication-thing’ figured out. So, my lesson here isn’t so much about what the “healthy boundaries” are, but an important suggestion to TALK TO EACH OTHER about what those healthy boundaries are! This little gap caused the both of us two years of angst! Luckily we laugh about it now!”

Healthy Boundaries

“Because my ex only has the kids every other weekend (and he has limited funds), I always supply him with diapers, toys and clothes for the kids. I regularly receive hand-me-downs, so it’s an easy, affordable way to help him a little. The kids grow so fast, it doesn’t make sense to always have 2 of everything. Also, I coupon shop, and I like to bake too, so I sometimes even send food and drink with him. For that, I always ask him in advance though. I feel that is one of the “healthy boundaries” in our relationship. It allows him more time to focus on the kids while they’re together too. I’m not doing it to make him feel bad or to control what the kids wear and what they eat. I’m doing it because we are raising our children together. He pays child support. If I can easily do something that makes things a little bit easier for him, while benefiting the kids, why wouldn’t I?”

It’s Not Easy

“I am trying to co-parent with a narcissist. They say it can’t be done, and though it’s certainly not easy, I would argue that it can be done. I will say that it takes a lot of patience, forgiveness and biting of the proverbial tongue. But, for six years and going, it has completely turned my life around for the better. It has awarded me more time with my girls, and I (secretly) feel that I’ve helped their mother be a better mother to them. In turn, the living hell I experienced, made me a better father. I started by offering to help her whenever I could – grabbing some groceries for her, fixing her van, getting her tickets to a concert and offering to “babysit”. I’m no dummy. Slowly but surely, I had more time with the girls, I had less threats to deal with, and we started opening up to each other. Though I’m almost always walking on eggshells, I don’t excessively praise, necessarily pander, or let her walk all over me. But, I have definitely learned to pick my battles, and I accept a lot of things I once thought impossible, to the extent that I do not respond to her insults and accusations and to the extent that I sometimes worry about our daughter’s emotional and psychological well-being. But, the fact that I have increasingly more time with our girls, and my ex often confides in me and trusts me, has made it all worth the while.”

Don’t Assume

“Best advice I can give is DON’T ASSUME! Whether together for one year or twenty, you are two people with distinct feelings, expectations and perspectives. Don’t simply assume you already know each other’s duties or what boundaries need to be set. Your relationship has changed! Calm, mature discussions and respect will go a long way! And, keep in mind that feelings, expectations and perspectives can and will change!”

Learn As You Go

“I may be old fashioned, but to me, I always expected my ex to stick up for me. It may sound silly. But, he was always the disciplinary, and I used to appreciate it particularly when he would stop the boys if they were being disrespectful to me. It’s not that I can’t do it myself obviously, but there was something I really liked about him telling them to respect their mother. When I finally confronted him about it, asking why he didn’t do that anymore, he said he felt like he was crossing boundaries. He didn’t want to make it seem like I wasn’t a disciplinary, since I had them alone half of the time. He said he still teaches them to respect their mother and women in general, but he also didn’t want to confuse the kids about our relationship or take away from my authority. There’s a lot to learn and a lot of ways you’ll need to adapt. Be patient with each other. In some cases, you may need to learn as you go….”