The 4-1-1 on Co-Parenting
By Alyson Falk
“Co-parenting,” though not a legally defined term in the Texas Family Code, is what the Courts expect of parents who share legal and physical custody (“conservatorship”) of their children. But what is it?
A favorite family law quote of mine is this: “Love your kids more than you hate your ex.” You should think of this as the “co-parenting mantra,” and you should repeat it to yourself when the co-parenting gets ugly.
Co-parenting is a way of being, not a checklist of things to do, though below is a list of some suggested things you can do to be a better co-parent. Co-parenting requires that you remind yourself on a daily (or hourly!) basis that your actions and decisions with respect to your ex and your children will have a long-term impact on your kids and their ability to have healthy, successful relationships in the future, including with you. Making decisions with a co-parenting mindset is an investment in your kids’ healthy futures.
- Be positive when it’s time to go to the other parent’s house. “You’re going to have so much fun at mom/dad’s house!” It may pain you to utter the words, but it’s for the benefit of your kids.
- Schedule time to have a meaningful discussion (does not have to be an in-person meeting!) with the other parent each time you must make an important decision for your kids.
- Tell the other parent when you’re taking a child to the doctor for however minor an issue. However, if you have a genuine concern the other parent may interfere with medical treatment, then tell the other parent as soon as possible after the appointment.
- If the other parent isn’t copied on an important email from the school, a doctor, a counselor, etc., forward the important email so the other parent is kept in the loop.
- Do not actively conceal important information about your kids from the other parent.
- Don’t grill your kids when they come home from the other parent’s house. Let your kids have a healthy boundary between houses so that each space is a safe place.
- When your kids want to share something with you about something that happened during the other parent’s possession time, that is not an invitation for you to interrogate them about the other parent’s home, life choices, girlfriend/boyfriend, etc. It’s tempting, but don’t do it.
- Involve the other parent in planning for big, milestone events in your kids’ lives. Excluding your co-parent, or making a situation impossibly difficult for your ex, will only cause tension for your kids.
- Make agreements with the other parent when you can about requests for schedule modifications.
What co-parenting is not:
- Sharing regular meals or family trips together. This happens in the movies and in other unique familial circumstances, but it is not expected of a normal co-parenting relationship.
- Spending copious amounts of time with your ex. You don’t even have to like the other parent to be a good co-parent, so you definitely aren’t required to spend time with him/her.
- Being best friends with your ex. You likely still need healthy, strong boundaries with your ex.
If you are new to co-parenting, scheduling time with a licensed mental health professional in your area who specializes in co-parenting can help you. If you feel uncomfortable about going to this form of therapy with your ex, then go alone and get feedback from the professional who can guide you based on your circumstances.
“My ex won’t co-parent!”
Despite your personal efforts to be a good co-parent, you may face an ex who refuses to co-parent at all. You can be hopeful that your good efforts will rub off on the other parent, but when they don’t, it is imperative for you to keep your eye on the prize—your kids. If your ex is behaving badly, that is not an excuse for you to behave the same way. Your kids are watching how you act and respond, so it is important that you put their needs above any emotional reactions you may be having.
Not for Every Family
If your ex has committed family violence against you or your children, or other family members of his/hers, then a Court will not require you to co-parent with that person. Likewise, if your ex manipulates you in a dangerous way, stalks you, harasses you, etc., then a Court may not expect you to co-parent with that person. When doing all the recommended co-parenting actions listed above puts you in a vulnerable and dangerous situation with the other parent, then co-parenting as described in this article is not best for you or your children.
In many situations, this type of behavior will result with you having Sole Managing Conservatorship of your children, in which case you will not be required to reach agreements with the other parent about decisions you make for your children. You will still have a duty to inform the other parent about significant information regarding the health, education, and well-being of your children, but you can do that in a way that retains healthy boundaries with your ex.
When to Consult with a Lawyer
If you think you may qualify to be a Sole Managing Conservator, meet with an experienced family law attorney right away to evaluate your options. Every case is different, but those involving family violence are serious and urgent. Family lawyers are here to help you get the best orders for your family in these circumstances.
If you have questions about your custody orders and what is expected of you, invest in a meeting with a lawyer to go through each term. Having clarity about your legal obligations is key.
If you need custody orders or are interested in modifying custody orders that do not work for you and your kids, meet with an experienced family law attorney to evaluate your options.
An equal commitment to conscientious co-parenting by both parents is ideal, but it doesn’t always come easy, and for some families it just isn’t possible. If you’ve exhausted all attempts at co-parenting, or you feel that your custody orders are no longer a good fit, call Lazar Law at 512-477-1600 and schedule a time to talk to our experienced Austin family law attorneys about the changes you’d like to make.