Co-Parenting Basics: Working with a Spouse you can Barely Look at

Family separation can be fraught with periods of acute stress and overwhelm, and when a person’s energy reserves are low, some express strong emotions by putting their former spouse down. If you or your spouse tend to have this behaviour I want to let you know that you can put that energy into new habits which will have a positive impact on your children. 

In this blog, I will be giving you my perspectives on how you can work with your former spouse for the benefit of your kids. The focus of the discussion below is on:

  • what methods and frequency of communication you will use to organize your child’s schedule, and 
  • the benefits your consistent efforts to build resilience and self-confidence will have for your kids.  

Put your energy into self-care and to finding out how you can work with someone you don’t trust

What follows are appropriate agreements for co-parents who experience three different levels of conflict intensity and frequency either during the relationship or the post-separation period.

Low Conflict – The fence has a lattice structure at the top for open communication between the parents. If you are able to make many decisions related to your children without conflict, then you may benefit from a parenting plan with minimal restrictions and documented expectations regarding method and frequency of communication. 

Medium Conflict – The wooden fence has no direct sight lines to the other side so that the privacy and autonomy of either parent’s home is assured. However, there is a double door which allows parents to speak at an arranged time, and as long as they both agree that it is an appropriate time for a s[ecific topic to be discussed. I recommend this measure because asking your co parent something potentially difficult during a planned child transition could lead to conflict in front of the kids.

High Conflict – The partition between the homes is made of brick or stone and it’s recommended that parents don’t speak in person or over the phone. A co-parenting app is a good choice to enable parents experiencing high conflict to communicate about necessary changes to the child’s schedule, and have the peace of mind that if the other parent communicates in a frustrated or aggressive way, the app will notify them before they open the message.

Your children will reap the benefits of your efforts to create and maintain a healthy co-parenting relationship

Steps to a Healthy Co-Parenting Dynamic

1. Focus on the Children

Put the well-being of your child at the centre of all communication with your spouse. They love and need both of you, and it is essential for their growth and development that you do all you can to make their environment positive and supportive.

2. Seek Support

If you are trying to deal with negative emotions or frustrations without help, and you are feeling stretched too thin, consider seeking support from friends, family, life coach or a therapist. With one or more people to talk to, your feelings have less chance of coming out against your spouse, or in front of the kids.

3. Mediation & Collaborative Law

Should your efforts negotiating directly with your spouse lead to not enough change, a professional mediator and collaborative lawyer is something you should consider. They can facilitate a communication that will be peaceful, or at least more tolerable. The lawyer will make sure you are informed of your rights, but will work with you to ensure settlement of issues is outside of the family courts.

During separation or divorce, it is important to be mindful of your self-care and to seek the support you need if the conflict increases, or you are just out of ideas on how to move forward. 

By prioritizing your well-being as well as that of the children, a respectful and supportive co-parenting dynamic can arise, where both parents can provide a nurturing environment in their own home that allows their children to thrive despite the challenges of separation.

But We Chose Mediation Because We Didn’t Want to Hire a Lawyer

Clients are often surprised during a free consultation when I suggest they should consider hiring a lawyer. 

The Family Mediation process, as practiced in Canada, has several variations and professional approaches. Clients who call several different professionals looking for the right fit may find it helpful to know ahead of time that a Family Lawyer is an integral part of creating a legally binding separation agreement.

Consulting with a Family Lawyer is an integral part of creating a binding separation agreement

Although it’s not required for a couple to separate and apply for a divorce, the independent advice and/or legal drafting from a lawyer can only add to the durability of the joint decisions made during the mediation process. When I first suggest including a lawyer, the two most common responses are either a rejection, because the client perceives that lawyers are not trustworthy, or, more often, they feel that their circumstances are relatively simple and lawyers will complicate the process unnecessarily.

If you don’t trust lawyers as a group, please allow me to vouch for the many I have met who are worthy of trust. The collaborative practitioners I work with, as well as those who offer unbundled legal services, are “settlement focused”, which means that they are devoted to helping you find an agreement that is in your interest. Although their role includes explaining the legal model of divorce and advocating for you to consider other options, they are doing so to help you avoid court.

You may also think that your circumstances are relatively simple and the conflict between you and your spouse is low. If this turns out to be how things proceed in the process, then it may work between you to only hire lawyers for legal advice and not for drafting the agreement. However, if you have concerns about your partner’s financial reporting or reaching agreement on expenses for the kids, then a mediated agreement that has been reviewed and written by a lawyer can provide you with extra security and peace of mind for the long term. 

Hiring a lawyer now is the ounce of prevention that makes the pound of cure unnecessary

This is true because lawyers can have their clients produce financial reports that are sworn statements in the eyes of the court. If you ever found out that your spouse was not fully transparent on their statement, it would be much simpler to seek the court to order that the agreement be changed to a fair result.

Another scenario that comes up sometimes is a party who is having difficulty making well considered long term decisions. Sometimes they make statements that they don’t want things like spousal support when they have an entitlement, or are determined to relinquish dividing valuable assets to get the process over with. 

If you have any concerns at all, I highly recommend that you have a free discovery call with a Family Lawyer before we mediate. 

I say this because if the above client happened to change their mind a year after the separation, they may be able to find a lawyer to argue in court that some of the hard-won agreement between you during the mediation should be set aside.