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A New Year’s Resolution for Divorced Parents: Better Communication

On Behalf of | Dec 27, 2019 | Children In Divorce, Parenting Plans |

Divorce is challenging for anyone who’s gone through it, but it’s especially challenging for parents. First of all, the divorce immediately affects the people in their lives they love most. Every decision made through the divorce process has the potential to affect their children adversely. They can’t just operate from a place of self-interest; getting the best decree possible means taking care of their children as well as themselves.

When you’re a divorced parent, divorce doesn’t mean the end of the relationship with your ex. You’re no longer together as a couple, but you’re bound by your love for your children, and have to work with each other legally until your youngest child turns 18. The transition to divorce means you have to become accustomed to a parenting plan, and you have to communicate with your ex over that parenting plan.

If you’ve had challenges doing that in the past year-and you certainly wouldn’t be alone in that-you should use New Year’s Day and the idea of New Year’s resolutions to strive for better communication with your ex over parenting matters in 2020.

The first thing to know if how you best communicate. If face-to-face meetings work for you, find a neutral, public place to do those and don’t involve your children as part of those meetings.

If that’s logistically difficult, weigh phone calls, email exchanges, or online chats-but remember that you want to have consistency about how you confirm any changes you’ve made in those conversations.

An email written by one parent and acknowledged by the other is the easiest way to do that. But if you do agree to that, don’t be the parent that leaves confirmation hanging by refusing to reply. If you have concerns about what’s proposed in the email, and feel that it doesn’t accurately reflect what you’ve agreed to in a verbal exchange, you should clearly, politely detail that. It may take a few emails back and forth to arrive at mutual understanding, but it’s better to do that instead of having each parent with a different version of what’s been agreed to.

One of the biggest areas of confusion for parents navigating parenting plans is the wordings about when school holidays start and end. That’s especially true if children are in different school districts, or if one is in public school and another is in a private school or a pre-K program with a slightly different schedule. Make sure you’re set on the school calendar you’re using, and share a calendar between the two of you. We’ve highlighted in this past blog article, as well as this one, how technology gives you options for sharing and maintaining a shared calendar.

Also remember that the decree is meant to provide guidelines to fall back on when you and your ex can’t agree on some sort of alternative. It doesn’t have to 100 percent dictate what works for you. If the decree says that the holiday exchange must happen at Dec. 28 at noon, and it’s okay between the both of you to do the exchange at 2, you can establish that by mutual agreement and operate with that in mind. As long as the parents agree on deviations from the exact days and times laid out in the decree, that’s fine.

That said, don’t just assume that it’s okay to keep the kids a few extra hours because that works best for you. It’s a particularly sensitive issue for the parent who is getting the kids for his or her portion of the winter break on Dec. 28 (or whichever date is specified in your decree).

Think about it this way: The parent getting children for the second half of winter break hasn’t been able to enjoy Christmas Eve and Christmas Day with the kids, and is likely eager to start celebrating the holiday. We discussed the challenges of making “Second Christmas” special a few weeks ago, and interfering with that can make for potentially strained interactions in the future.

It’s not easy to be divorced and parent together. Communication helps minimize the misunderstandings, and it allows for your children to have the best experience possible in moving from house to house. When you’re frustrated or exasperated with the back-and-forth with your ex, remember to focus on the children. That’s advice we give often, and we stand by it every time we say it.