On the day people say, “I do”, there are few who imagine a time when they’ll say “I don’t”. In the post-separation roller-coaster, it is usual for parenting skills to suffer for up to two years. This makes a lot of sense – no matter how amicable your separation, and how careful you are to protect your children, it is likely one of the most stressful events you have ever had to navigate. There are many decisions to make and negotiations to step through with someone you used to love and now have different (and possibly many) feelings towards. Be gentle and kind with yourself in this process. Here are my top recommendations to parents navigating the aftermath of separation.
Don’t delay getting legal advice
In pre-separation lives, most people’s functioning knowledge of who does/gets/chooses what is understandably limited, based at best on stories from other people who have been through something “similar”. An initial chat with a lawyer can help you understand what your rights and responsibilities are, and quickly orient you to how to best separate legally. This can include helping you understand how child support works; how to set up shared parenting arrangements; and how decisions about divisions of assets are made. A preliminary chat with a lawyer may help you miss some of the minefields that could otherwise lead to a protracted, conflictual separation. Free and low-cost legal advice is available. If proceeding to retaining a lawyer, look for non-adversarial representation with a lawyer whose primary line of work is in family law.
Buy this book:
This book is cheap, short, easy to read, and will possibly be the most useful guide you have in figuring out how to talk to your kids about your separation, and about the other parent. If possible, read it before there’s even an opportunity for your kid to start resisting seeing the other parent. With chapters written for both the favoured and unfavoured parent, it is chock-full of useful tips, and even examples of scripts, to help you talk to your kids. The authors have been working with complex child-parent estrangement problems for many years, and this book gives you quick and easy access to their extensive collective wisdom.
Use this Website:
This subscription-based service will cost you less for a year than you pay your lawyer or psychologist for an hour, and that alone makes it incredibly good value (around $100USD). This website and its associated app are specifically designed to improve co-parenting between separated parents. Increasingly, it is being included in Court Orders across the USA and Canada to reduce family conflict. It contains tools to simplify coordination of shared residential care including:
- A family calendar to track the children’s activities and organise parenting time trades
- An expense log for keeping track and splitting relevant expenses
- A payment transfer system that keeps track of your reimbursement documentation for you
- A shared space for keeping your children’s health and school records
- A trail of documentation that’s easy to download and support any Family Court process. There is no option for “he said/she said” because every action is stamped with who made it and when.
Here are my two favourite features:
- A “Tonemeter” that will help improve your communication with the other parent, alerting you to aspects of your communication that may come across as emotional, aggressive, or hurtful.
- If necessary, or desired, you can easily add your family health professional (for free) who can oversee interactions and make recommendations.
Children can also have a free account, which allows them to view the shared family calendar and message boards, create and view journal entries, and view the family resources section.
Try these Apps:
Divvito is a free messaging app for separated parents. It will flag messages that use inflammatory language, and will delay sending them to give you time to revise your message. If you do not revise the message, the app will replace harsh words with less hurtful alternatives. The app organises conversations by topic, to make it easier to keep track of decisions, and does not preview contents in push notifications, so your children are less likely to accidentally see them.
Amicable is a free app with a slightly different and potentially money-saving purpose. This app is designed to be a simple and fast way to “collect, share and communicate essential divorce information with your ex.” It has questions and templates to help you create your own parenting plans, financial arrangements and settlements. Amicable is a UK-based app, and you should seek legal advice on how legally binding any agreements would be in Australia.
Engage a Co-Parenting Coach or Family Therapist
Contrary to what you might expect, in this context attending Family Therapy does NOT mean you are working towards reconciliation, and nor does it mean you and your ex necessarily need to even attend at the same time, in the same room.
A Co-Parenting Coach generally works with you and your co-parent (or just you, if your co-parent is unwilling), to help you with practical, pragmatic skills to facilitate a collaborative co-parenting relationship. Co-Parent Coaching is ideal in the early stages of co-parenting. Many co-parents have all the right intentions, but it’s hard trying to figure out all the “what’s best for the kids” in the context of heartbreak, anger, financial stress and uncertainty.
A family therapist is someone who can work with your whole family system to support you through this transition into a successful separated co-parenting relationship where your children can thrive. The therapist can assess your children’s mental health and well-being and assist them with psychological flexibility and resiliency tools for adjusting to their new family arrangements. The therapist can work with both parents (separately or together) to optimise parenting and communication skills in this tricky time, reducing conflict, and easing stress for the whole family system.
In engaging a co-parenting coach or family therapist, ensure that they have experience working systemically/contextually with separated families, and that they have familiarity with the Family Court process.
Engage your own Therapist
Take care of yourself! This may be one of the hardest transitions you ever go through. The support of family and friends is important; however a psychologist provides you with a neutral skills-based focus for helping you manage stress, navigate difficult scenarios, and ensure you are equipped with plenty of self-care and resiliency tools as you make your way through to the next chapter. Ensure that your psychologist has experience in working contextually with separated families, and that they have familiarity with the Family Court process. It can be beneficial to give your psychologist permission to share information, at your discretion, with other treating health professionals involved in the family system, particularly if a Family Therapist has been appointed. Always remember, your divorce lawyer is not your therapist!
For those who have walked this trail before:
Are there recommendations you would share to your companion travellers? What has helped you move to a successful co-parenting relationship with your ex? Please share your wisdom in the comments below.