The Common Pitfalls of Co-Parenting
Divorce is supposed to be the hard part.
But co-parenting can be worse, if one of the parents is actively or passively trying to sabotage the other.
As child custody lawyers, we see many couples struggle with how to move on with their lives in a way that will create a positive environment for their children. There are no easy answers, but as long as parents try their best to work together for their children’s sake, things are better for everyone.
One of the most common things we hear from clients is that their ex-spouse or their ex-spouse’s new partner is bad-mouthing them to their children. What options do you have as a divorced parent if you discover this happening?
How to Deal with Bad-Mouthing
There are two options for dealing with bad-mouthing, and the approach you choose depends in large part on how severe the problem is. Parents can try and resolve the situation themselves by directly confronting the person at fault, or seek out a legal remedy. Let’s first look at the non-litigious option.
When you learn that someone has been bad-mouthing you to your child, no matter who was doing it, the natural response is to defend yourself. This can often lead to ugly confrontations, failing to resolve anything while in many cases escalating the problem. This kind of response might even help confirm the position of the person complaining about you.
Instead of responding in kind, stop and think about what is best for your children. It’s not healthy for your kids to watch their divorced parents fighting each other and placing them in the middle of the dispute. It’s wise to take a step back and consider all of your options, always focusing on your kids’ well-being. Here are a few approaches you can take that may help to deescalate the situation:
- Focus on how the bad-mouthing makes your child feel, rather than defending yourself
- Stay neutral and don’t try and draw sides
- Don’t counter-attack your ex or your ex’s new partner
- Present your side of the situation factually and non-emotionally
- Try to promote your children’s critical thinking skills and teach them to think for themselves
Your children will be better off if they have positive relationships with both parents, even after a divorce. However, if your ex is making this difficult, sometimes the only recourse is to take legal action.
What Are Your Options in the Legal System?
California has strict laws governing custody issues that rely on the principle of providing the best possible situation for the children involved. In many co-parenting situations, a method of mediating disputes is established during the initial divorce process. If this was the case in your divorce, you may already have guidelines to follow if your ex is creating problems.
However, if there is no parenting plan in place, or if it’s necessary to modify the original agreement, an experienced divorce lawyer will be able to help. It is important to note that judges do not like to make changes to previously agreed-upon custody arrangements, so you will need to present clear evidence that a new arrangement is in the best interests of the children.
What’s the Difference Between Estrangement and Alienation?
We often get asked about the legal difference between estrangement and alienation, and how they impact custody arrangements. Estrangement is defined as when a child has grown apart from a parent for reasons that are justified by the parent’s past behavior. Valid examples of estrangement include:
- The child has witnessed violence committed by one parent against the other parent;
- The child has been the victim of abuse from that parent;
- The parent has repeatedly exhibited immature and damaging behavior, or has on numerous occasions ignored the child’s well-being or failed in his/her parenting responsibilities;
- The parent exhibits a harsh and restrictive parenting style that could be deemed unreasonable and extreme;
- The parent has exhibited psychological, psychiatric, or substance abuse issues in front of the child.
On the other hand, alienation is defined as the breakdown of a child–parent relationship due to the efforts of one parent to turn a child against the other parent. Alienation is the direct result of manipulation that is meant to drive a wedge between a parent and child. This is a very serious situation and requires legal intervention.
As parents, we always seek to make children our top priority and do our best for them. If one parent is failing to live up to his or her responsibility, then action needs to be taken. At Huguenor Mattis, A.P.C., we take the well-being of children seriously. For a free consultation with a skilled and compassionate San Diego custody attorney, call (858) 458-9500.