Halloween can be a hard day for divorced parents that share children. Every parent loves seeing their kid dressed up. But how do you split the day up or split up the fun?
Co-Parenting During Halloween
Depending on what form of child custody you have, deciding on how Halloween will be spent can be difficult. There are different forms of child custody: legal custody, physical custody, sole custody, and joint custody.
Physical custody means a parent has gained the legal right (typically through a court ruling) to have a child live with him or her. Usually, if a parent has physical custody they also have sole custody of the child, which means the other parent has visitation rights.
There are two forms of sole custody a parent can have: sole legal custody or sole physical custody. Courts seem to be moving away from awarding sole custody to one parent as more information is coming out about the importance of having both parents in a child’s life. In cases where a parent has been deemed unfit due to a history of neglect or abuse, a known dependency on drugs or alcohol, or a new parent that has been deemed unfit, a court will usually award sole physical custody to one parent. It’s advised that unless a parent has demonstrated the above issues, that you do not seek sole custody, due to the importance of having both parents in a child’s life.
While the trend is to award joint custody, in cases where courts do award sole physical custody the parents still usually share joint legal custody (which means both parents are able to make legal decisions regarding the child), unless a parents has been deemed unfit to make those legal decisions.
Legal custody allows a parent to make decisions regarding various aspects of a child’s life, including: education, religion, and medical care or legal issues.
Joint custody is able to be awarded to the parents if they are divorced, separated, no longer living together, or if they never lived together but still shared a child. The awarding of joint custody to both parents means each parent is able to make decisions regarding the child. Joint custody also comes in various forms, including: joint legal custody, joint physical custody, or joint legal and physical custody. Usually if a couple shares joint physical custody they also share joint legal custody. But if a couple shares joint legal custody they do not always also share joint physical custody.
Learning to Co-Parent
The key to establishing a good co-parenting relationship is to remember that your kids are part you and part your ex-spouse. And hopefully this realization will help you manage those angry, frustrated, and sad emotions.
“The biggest obstacles to successful co-parenting are emotions,” says Alisa Peskin-Shepherd, principal of Transitions Legal, a family law practice that specializes in mediative divorce. “Emotional obstacles are usually anger, resentment and jealousy. Often parents have a hard time separating those feelings toward their former spouse from their attempt to focus on their children.”
The idea of focusing on your children might seem obvious, but that can be really difficult when you receive that text from your ex that makes you want to throw your phone directly into their face. There are some tips that can help though! Here are some tips from parents who have actually found the magic combination to a successful (meaning they don’t completely resent each other) co-parenting situation.
Building a Successful Co-Parenting Situation
Give Yourself a ‘Timeout’
“Take time to reflect on how your behavior and your decisions are affecting your child,” says Peskin-Shepherd. “Especially where there is constant disagreement, try to accept that you are not going to change the other person and find a way to make something work without being dependent on the other parent’s response.”
If you are not able to give yourself a timeout, and find that you are still stewing about conversing with your ex, consult a “co-parenting coordinator,” attorney or counselor – with or without your ex-spouse. This objective third party can be a great sounding board for ironing out your co-parenting relationship.
“Our expectations that two people who didn’t get along when they are married will suddenly be able to co-parent without some help is not reasonable,” Peskin-Shepherd says.
According to Alison Willet, a Birmingham resident and psychologist who has worked with high-conflict divorce, it is crucial for ex-spouses to heal fully from the pain that stems from their divorce if they plan to find a way to co-parent effectively.
The mother of three daughters and two step-daughters goes on to say, “People going through divorce need to take the necessary time to grieve the end of this major relationship and remember that at one time, they loved or cared about the other parent. When parents are psychologically intact, it will be easier for them to put the needs of their children first.”
Play to Your Ex’s Strengths (This Might Be Very Difficult)
By now you know what your ex is good and and what they’re not so good at. So play fair when it comes to your kids and your ex’s abilities.
“You probably know your ex-spouse better than anyone else,” says Chris Tucker, father of Finn, 9, and Simon, 7, and step-dad to Lucas, 6. “Play to those strengths – not in a manipulative way, but in a spirit of making the best use of one another’s talents.”
Tucker’s situation is: he has his boys two-thirds of the year; their mother visits monthly from Virginia. She also takes them over school breaks and summer. Tucker, his wife, his ex-wife, and her husband all work as a unit to parent the children.
“We like to think of ourselves – Colleen, her husband, my wife and I – as members of a family ecosystem,” says Tucker. “This means that everyone involved is invested in and accountable for raising our kids, and it goes a long way in building trust and mutual respect.”
Commit to Cooperating
This can be the hardest part of a co-parenting relationship – cooperating.
According to mother Shaindle Braunstein-Cohen, “Effective co-parenting does not require friendship, but it does require cooperation.”
“My ex and I get along when we have contact, but we never have contact outside of our son,” she says. “When my son wanted to show his dad his new room in our new home, he did. Successful co-parenting involves only one thing: loving your child more than you hate your ex.”
When her ex moved out-of-state, Braunstein-Cohen gained full custody of her 14-year-old Seth. When he wants to see his dad or vice versa, both her and Seth’s father to make it happen. “Sure, that meant I had many holidays without him, but it wasn’t about me,” she says.
You can’t keep living in the past either.
“The kids can become an obsession, a club to beat your ex over the head with,” says Braunstein-Cohen. “You can’t live in the past, and you also can’t live in the future. Just live in the now. The moment is here; it’s what you’ve got. Make the best of it.”
Get it in Writing
Peskin-Shepherd advises parents to put everything in writing. That means that all plans and agreements should be kindly communicated to the other parent. This should be part of your working situation. If it’s in writing, it is harder for one person to argue about the agreed arrangement. This should be done for even the smallest things if you know that there is potential for arguments later down the road. This is especially necessary for vacation time and scheduling, agreements regarding financial decisions, and paying for child’s needs. A majority of these things will be part of your child custody agreement, but anything that comes up out side of that should also be agreed to in writing.
Vacation time and money issues are common post-divorce problems, says Peskin-Shepherd. “Parents can agree on how to pay for extracurricular activities, summer camps, boots and winter coats,” she says. “Have a mindset of cooperation to avoid problems. Likely the compromise your ex-spouse is asking of you today will be the one you need tomorrow.”
Set High Intentions
Keely Henry dealt with an ugly divorce. She did not want it to affect her son, Sullivan, 8. “I knew I could not let this ugly experience lead our lives,” she says. “I was going to have to communicate with my ex over the course of our son’s life. The only thing to do was set the ideal on a higher notion, above emotional distress.”
Because of that, Henry and her ex decided to celebrate holidays and birthdays with Sully together, which means including Henry’s new life partner and her ex’s partner, the woman that her husband left her for. “We all collaborate on my son’s parenting, with his dad and I as the final sayers,” she says. “It really is simple. Set the goal for the higher, not the lower.”
Let Go of Wanting Control
Even thirteen years after their divorce, Jodi Rubin and her ex-husband disagree about the same things they did not agree about when they were married. But they’ve been able to reach a place of mutual respect that allows them to co-parent their three children, Jordan, 19, Paige, 15, and Ethan, 13.
“It’s not about you,” says Rubin. “Instead of worrying about each other, worry about the kids. It’s a parent’s job to turn their children into productive and emotionally healthy adults, and you can’t do that if you’re focused on each other.”
Silence your Support System
Your friends and family will want to defend you, but there’s nothing helpful about your mother sending your ex a nasty email. The support system should remain impartial, and if they’re not, you need to intervene.
“There were times I had to check my mom as she ranted and raved about what went down,” Henry says. “Or girlfriends – awesome friends who had not been married or had children – not understanding how I could handle some of the things the way I did. There were moments I could hardly do anything but scream and cry – and I did, but on my own watch. There will be tough times. You can get something positive from them.”
Keep Your Ego in Check
It goes without saying that you’re going to doubt your parenting ability and fear that your children will want to be with the other parent. But you have to resist the urge.
“It’s easy to see your ex-spouse as a threat,” says Tucker. “Remind yourself that your ex is also your children’s parent and would also step in front of a bus for them. Trust that they also have your children’s best interests at heart.”
Says Braunstein-Cohen, “Be totally honest with yourself. Everyone has ego involved; they want their child to know they were not at fault, that they are a better parent. Let it go and really think about what makes your kids happy.
“Obviously you don’t agree or sometimes even like each other very much – that’s why you got divorced,” she adds. “Get over it.”
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