You want to know how to really hurt your parenting case? Be a bad co-parent – if you marginalize the other parent, make unilateral decisions, withhold information or communicate abusively to him, the judge will hold this bad co-parenting against you, even if you’re otherwise a good parent.
As a family law attorney, I help clients in many ways, including negotiating cases, helping to shepherd them through the legal process, drafting documents, and litigating for them in court. And I counsel clients by providing legal advice, and suggestions on steps they can take to help their case. In this role, attorneys are counselors, and often, the terms are used interchangeably – judges will call us “counsel” in court, and some attorney business cards even read “Attorney & Counselor at Law”.
What is a Co-Parent?
Wikipedia defines co-parenting in the family law perspective as: “a situation where two parents work together to raise a child after they are divorced, separated, or never having lived together.”
Being a good parent is important – instill positive values in your children, help them with their education, provide them with a safe & nurturing home, participate in activities with them, etc. But someone can be the best parent in the world, while one-on-one with a child, but be a lousy co-parent.
When two parents live in different households, they have to do all of the things a good parent must do, but with the added challenge that they have to cooperate with the other parent, often in acrimonious situations. In a child custody case, It’s often hard to prove whether someone is a good or bad parent, since what happens is behind closed doors, and the other parent may also claim credit when a child thrives.
But engage in bad co-parenting, and the evidence is usually there in the form of communications the other parent will introduce at court. So from the perspective of helping your parenting case, being a good co-parent is at least as important as being a good parent, and maybe even more so.
Co-Parenting Advice from Attorney & Counselor
As a counselor, an attorney’s job is to help a client to help his/her own case by providing advice on good steps to take, and on what to avoid. Over the years I’ve found myself saying many of the same things over and over, or worse, picking up the pieces in a case where a client didn’t listen to advice – i.e. trying to save a client from herself. Much of the time, the problems involve parenting, and dealing with the other parent.
I finally decided it was time to put pen to paper and try to summarize those years of advice into a concise co-parenting article with tips on what to do and what not to do. The goal was not to provide scholarly research into what a good co-parent was, how bad co-parenting hurts kids, or even to discuss the law. Rather, it was to provide practical advice based upon decades of child custody litigation experience on what works, and what does not work, in a custody case.
The problem was that there was so much to write, that even cutting out all but the basics resulted in a lot to digest. So instead of one article, there are two. I’m proud to introduce the two newest articles in the Colorado Family Law Guide:
- Good Co-Parenting: Tips to Win at Colorado Child Custody. Remember the Golden Rule about treating others the way you want to be treated? These are the steps which a parent should take to make sure he/she is perceived as a good co-parent. And none of them are that challenging – they may even seem obvious to many of us. But to a parent in a difficult co-parenting relationship, they may not be easy.
- Bad Co-Parenting: Ways to Kill Your Child Custody Case. This is the flipside – the bad things no parent should be caught doing! And many of these may not be obvious at all – there are certainly a lot of pitfalls when engaged in child custody litigation with a parent on the other side trying to turn everything you do against you.
These lists are not complete – doing that would require an entire book, and plenty of co-parenting books have already been written. Instead, they are Cheat Sheets – handy references of tips to integrate into your co-parenting relationship.
Bad Co-Parenting vs Child Custody
We recently wrote a blog about the legality of badmouthing the other parent – that somewhat obvious form of bad co-parenting is just one example. Here is the list of bad co-parenting examples everyone in a child custody case should avoid (really, every parent should avoid these, period, but as an attorney, my focus is on what hurts your family law case, not trying to turn you into a perfect parent):
- Profanity, insults
- Derogatory nicknames
- Venting or criticizing
- Badmouthing other parent to kids
- Interfering with the other parent’s parenting time
- Calling/threatening to call police/DHS
- Recording or photographing children for evidence
- Withholding information
- Unilateral decisions
Hopefully at least several of these will stand out as “obvious” – but even so, please do read the bad co-parenting article – you’d be surprised how many things a parent may think she is completely justified in doing actually make her look bad to the family law judge. And that’s especially true with sticking strictly to the parenting plan (“inflexibility”) or making unilateral decisions.
Avoiding these won’t make you a perfect parent, but it will make it harder for the other parent to gain a custody advantage by successfully characterizing you as a bad co-parent.
Good Co-Parenting Helps Child Custody
Purging the bad is critical, but going the extra mile to be a good co-parent is where you can really shine. And as indicated, none of these are tough – it’s not like climbing a mountain, but simply being a decent human being for the sake of the kids – and your child custody case – even when the other parent is difficult. Here are the top 7 ways to be seen as a good co-parent:
- Communicate in writing
- Keep the other parent informed
- Keep communications positive
- Promptly respond to communications
- Make decisions jointly
- Be flexible
- Foster a positive relationship
Do you see a trend? Most of these revolve around communication. The importance of positive communications cannot be overstated – even if you hate the other parent with a passion, keep her in the loop, in a positive, cordial way, and not only may that help your co-parenting relationship, but if necessary, you can point to a history of good communications in a child custody case. Read the good co-parenting article for more details.
Being a Good Co-Parent Helps You!
First, to state the obvious, children are happier when their parents get along, being civil to one-another, showing up for events, and being flexible when something arises, and not badmouthing the other parent. So that alone should be sufficient reason to be a good co-parent.
The other parent will also appreciate good co-parenting from you, and maybe even show you some flexibility after the 4th or 5th time you have agreed to swap weekends. Or maybe not. You’re being a good co-parent for the sake of the kids, and your own sake, so any benefit to the other side is simply a byproduct.
Finally, back to being a counselor – if you really want to help your family law attorney, don’t engage in destructive conduct which damages your child custody case. And go the extra mile to shine as a co-parent, not because the other parent deserves it, but if for no other reason than self-interest – it will make you look good in court.
Trust me – I’m a lawyer, and a counselor!