Do's And Don'ts For Co-Parenting

I have practiced marital and family law since 1984. I have been successful in cases that many would expect to have turned out differently. Pursuing a successful outcome in a time-sharing dispute is hard work, primarily for YOU. The more specific you can be the more credibility you will have with the court.

I am not trying to tell you how to parent. Most of you reading this have not been in this position before and it is a very emotional time. I am simply letting you know the issues that have come up repeatedly in over 30 years in this business and things that have annoyed judges in the past.

The following language comes from Florida Statue 61.21.:

Parents should be aware that this process seriously affects their children as much or more than any of the economic issues. Be the best parent you can be and keep their interests paramount.

A large number of children experience the separation or divorce of their parents each year. Parental conflict related to divorce is a societal concern because children suffer potential short-term and long-term detrimental economic, emotional, and educational effects during this difficult period of family transition. This is particularly true when parents engage in lengthy legal conflict.

The advice that follows helps your case and helps your kids:

  1. It is presumed that parents will have "shared parental responsibility" for their minor children. This will be the case unless you or your spouse has serious psychological problems, substance abuse problems or the two of you are so much at odds that it is impossible to work together. Sole parental responsibility is very rare. One of the primary considerations for the court when determining time-sharing is which parent is going to encourage the best relationship with the other parent. Thus, you want to try to work with the opposing party if at all possible.
  2. I have provided the criteria from Florida Statute 61.13 which is the statute that governs time-sharing and parenting plans in another link just above where you found this on. Please read the criteria. Take them into account with regard to your future dealings with the other party.
  3. Please do not call DCF (Department of Child and Family Services) unless there is clear evidence of abuse and/or you have spoken to me first. Children get hurt. Unexplained bruises happen. Most of us are used to knowing what is going on with our children; when something unexplained happens we feel out of control. Calling DCF will not help you regain control of the situation. If, on the other hand, DCF comes knocking at your door, be polite. A DCF worker who feels he or she has been used to gain advantage in custody litigation can be a strong ally.
  4. Do not call the police without speaking to me first unless there is an emergency situation. It is natural for children to think someone did something wrong if the police are present.
  5. Keep your communication with the other parent in email if possible. It provides a record of what transpired, so the court is not relegated to "he said, she said." Do not create a big blame game in your emails. Keep them business-like. Assume a court will see it and always treat the other parent with respect.
  6. Attend every special event with your children that you are able to attend even if it is the other parent's time with your child. The legal action aside, your children are feeling insecure in the midst of the break up of your marriage or the potential modification of your time-sharing arrangement and the presence of both parents is comforting. If it is the other parent's time, do not intrude. He or she should set the agenda, for instance what time they are leaving a fall festival, etc. You should have the right to say hello to your child, give them a hug and participate to the extent possible under the circumstances. If it is your time please do not discourage the children from being respectful and affectionate with the other parent. If that parent is dominating your time with the children, make a note of it. Don't put your children in the position of having to choose who to talk to, etc.
  7. Do not ask a child who he or she wants to reside with. Children are entitled to input after the age of 12 if the court finds they are sufficiently mature but it is up to the court until they are 18. You may tell them they are entitled to some input. You should tell them the final decision is for the adults to make. I would not dwell on the custody issues with the children, just respond to their questions. Certainly let them know you love them, you want them to live with you and you are proceeding as you think is best for them. Do not downgrade the other parent.
  8. If you and your spouse have exhausted your efforts to resolve your differences, and you can sit together peacefully, tell your children together that the marriage is coming to an end. You must each agree not to discuss the reasons for the break up as each of you will have a very different opinion as to why this has occurred. Telling your children together will make them feel more secure and your spouse will feel less insecurity about what you might have said to the children in his or her absence
  9. Please do not discuss divorce issues with your children. The other parent's romantic life, spending, drinking or gambling habits are not something you should be revealing to your children. If they are already well-aware of these issues and raise them with you, be as positive as possible without being unrealistic. For instance: "I am sorry that your dad drinks so much, perhaps he will get some help. In the meantime, we have to go forward. I am sure he loves you and will always love you."
  10. Social media has become ingrained in our culture. People sometimes believe they are only communicating with their friends but that may not be the case and even your children may find a way to read what you have to say. There are detectives that are hired to find a way to access this information. Your spouse could subpoena the information. Please do not put anything on social media that you do not want a judge to see and understand they do not want to see you publicly shaming your spouse.
  11. Being alone is not easy but if you are reading this you are probably still married. If you are going to become or are romantically involved with another person, please do not introduce that person to your children. If your marriage has only recently broken up and even if you are already divorced it may be best to wait to introduce a new person to your children until the relationship appears to be one that is going to last. Children feel vulnerable when their parents have split up; if they feel you have replaced the other parent they may feel that they too are replaceable, giving rise to insecurity.

I know that this is a highly difficult time. Please try and follow my advice, it is what you are paying for. Remember, judges are generally disciplined individuals; they will respect individuals who show self-control in their dealings with their spouse.