Time to pack for that beach honeymoon. Sunscreen? Check. Swimsuit? Check. Ex-Husband? Huh?? Get along with your ex, by all means. You divorced each other, but you’re still co-parents who will see each other at important family milestones, and are responsible for raising kids. But you don’t need to go to extremes and bring your ex on your honeymoon.
In our area of the law, we see the entire spectrum of relationships between former spouses, from completely detesting each other so much they cannot be in the same room, to being friends who can count on each other. And everything in-between.
While it’s not always possible for ex-spouses to get along (particularly it there has been spousal abuse), when children are involved, there is no substitute for parents who can at least tolerate each other.
Parents are better off with a 1-page parenting plan written in crayon, and actually getting along, than with a comprehensive 20-page masterpiece which addresses every contingency, but hating each other. Getting along means not worrying about contempt for being late, flexibility if you need to swap holidays due to something coming up, and not worrying about the other parent badmouthing you to the kids. Hating each other means the exact opposite, and no matter how well-drafted a parenting plan you have, it will not withstand an onslaught from a parent determined to use the kids to get back at the other. I know – we’ve drafted some exhaustive plans in high-conflict cases, only to be surprised at how low parents can sink to undermine it.
Enter Gwyneth Paltrow, perhaps known better now for Goop than her acting. She and Coldplay’s Chris Martin divorced in 2016, and last month it was reported that after remarrying, Paltrow brought the kids, and her ex, on her honeymoon in the Maldives. And her ex brought his new girlfriend along as well, in what is sounding like a real-life soap opera.
It should be noted that this appears to be Paltrow’s second honeymoon, as she and new husband spent their first one in expensive European hotels (I do not normally peruse the gossip press – honest. Our firm administrator, Tracy, pointed this out to me). Second honeymoon or not, this demonstration of getting along with her ex is certainly a bit bizarre for most of us.
Behind the humor is an important point – we don’t have to be Gwyneth Paltrow, but you’ll be a lot happier if you can get along with your ex.
Books have been written, and courses taught, on coping with post-divorce relationship challenges, from trying to get along with your ex-spouse, to coping with blended families. And there are plenty of web sites touting the benefits of getting along with your ex, and providing tips on how to get along with your ex.
At Graham.Law, we’re pretty good attorneys, but we are lousy therapists, unqualified to give that kind of advice. But several of us are parents, and we know that kids pick up on both positive and negative vibes. So while we can’t tell you how to get along, we can at least help you keep up appearances:
- Avoid fights. The least-ambitious goal applies to parents who can’t be in the same room as each other without a fight breaking out. If this is you, then then joint meetings and the like are out of the question, and the best thing you can do is to avoid a breach of the peace. Have a parenting plan which minimizes exchanges of the children (e.g. one parent drops off at school, the other picks up), use curbside exchanges, or exchanges in public places (a McDonald’s or Starbucks, not a police station, which sends a lousy message to the kids). While the kids will come to know you hate each other, that’s better than them actually seeing the fights.
- Don’t Show Hatred. Even if you’d like nothing better to run him over, back up, and run over him again, at least smile and pretend to be civil. Don’t badmouth your ex, publicly or to the kids, or Photoshop her out of family photos.
- Attend Children’s Events Together. Show up for your daughter’s soccer game, or your son’s cub scout pack meeting. You don’t need to drive together, but if possible, sitting together would probably make your children’s day.
- Participate in Meetings Together. While schools will often accommodate divorced parents by setting up two parent-teacher conferences, that sends a lousy message to the kids. Instead, try to participate meaningfully in school meetings, doctor’s appointments, etc, so your kids can see you co-parenting, and hopefully on the same page.
- Be Flexible. The kids know this is Mom’s Thanksgiving, but Dad has family visiting, and they spend it with Dad instead. They know that what means – their parents actually get along!
- Shared Family Events. Now we’re starting to get a bit more touchy-feely. While your daughter may appreciate having two birthday celebrations, doing so is somewhat like airing dirty laundry to her friends and their parents. So by all means, try to have a joint birthday or graduation party for both sides of the family. Note that this is an aspiration, not a mandate, and I would never set parents up for failure by requiring joint events in a parenting plan.
- Family Trips & Honeymoons. OK, go the full Gwyneth Paltrow, and bring your ex along.
Getting along with your ex is not easy – between potentially having a sense of betrayal from the marriage ending, to believing your ex was unreasonable or lied during the divorce, there are certainly plenty of barriers to civil relations. But getting along will pay off in spades, even if you’re not quite as extreme as Gwyneth Paltrow. In the immortal words of William (Bill) S. Preston, Esq, “Be excellent to each other.”