Very often in long distance parenting situations, the co-parents are embroiled in contentious fights. This might well be the case for many co-parenting situations, in general but I am most familiar with long distance co-parenting. Sometimes the contentious co-parenting relationship becomes a legal battle and sometimes they are toxic and personal. Unfortunately, the personal fights also sometimes extend to the kids or even result in PAS (Parental Alienation Syndrome).
The co-parenting relationship is one of the most important keys to a long distance parenting arrangement. When it’s going well, things move like a well oiled machine. When it’s going poorly, the co-parents dread talking to each other. The relationship failure can cost the non-custodial parent custody, visitation, involvement in their child’s life and even their relationship with their own kids.
Very often in the long distance parenting community, the question comes up : I’m in the worst case scenario with my co-parent. My parental rights are being threatened. What do I do? These 10 strategy recommendations are for the long distance parent that is facing that worst case scenario in a contentious co-parenting relationship.
- Back to Basics. Pick up one of these books and learn the very basics of maintaining a co-parenting relationship, even with an ex you dislike or who’s being a jerk. All of these books have come recommended from other long distance parents. For the price of a paperback book, you can have a wealth of advice that could fix your relationship.
- Clean up Your own Communication House. In a contentious co-parenting relationship, everyone points fingers. Sometimes, it’s worth it to take a look at our own communication habits. Make sure you have the fundamentals of smooth co-parent communication down. Build upon that with some tried and true co-parent communication tactics.
- Be informed and educated. Know your rights, the law, your case and your judge. Read every piece of paper related to your case. Know what’s allowed and what’s not. Read up on divorce and custody in your district and your state. Read up on long distance parenting case law in your state. When does the co-parent have to accept your calls and how much notice do they have to give you? What do you need to provide to them and when? At the end of the day, it’s not your attorney or the other parent who will lose sleep if you get the short end of the stick. Do your future self the favor of preparing ahead of time and doing all the right things.
- Document everything. Use an online tool or paper and pen but keep a log of what’s happening. What you’re logging will be different from case to case. Log the events that are related to problematic activity. Every line should include the date, time, witnesses and what happened. Keep track of an event even if it’s borderline. It’s better to have too much documentation than not enough. In your documentation, stick to the facts that you personally observed.
- Be a Pack Rat. Keep every piece or paper, every email, every text message, every picture, screenshot, recording. Find a way to organize yourself that works for you. In 10 years, when your kids are grown up, you can have a big bonfire and celebrate not needing it anymore. But if you are in a situation that could end up in court, every scrap of proof is evidence of your story.
- Build a habit of Disengaging. When you or your co-parent is unreceptive or angry, disengage from the conversation. You can come back to it later when everyone is fresh. When you are both angry, you will only get more frustrated and your concerns will not be addressed.
- Take it to Court. No one wants to be in court but sometimes, that’s your recourse. If your co-parent is keeping the kids from you, that’s the only way to get a remedy. You don’t have to have an attorney to make a case if your case is sound and well documented. There are ‘self help’ legal resources in most states or districts. Most court systems have legal fee waivers for low income people. Build your documentation, keep all of your records. When you have a case, take it to court.
- But don’t take ridiculous things to court. Yes, it pisses you off when they miss your call – but sometimes, they have a valid reason. Temper your own emotions with reason. Don’t file frivolous motions in court or the judge will stop taking you seriously. When you have to file something in court, make it worthwhile and weed out the stuff that was simply an insult to your pride. It’s also in your best interest to take a realistic stock of yourself and your own actions BEFORE it comes up in court. Fix it, mend it, change your ways until you are completely confident you have done your best.
- Consider asking the court for a court-approved co-parent communication system. There are several software apps that different court systems use for this purpose. Basically it’s a system you log into to talk to your co-parent and all communication goes through this system. Bonus though, because the court recommends it, they also generally have access to everything that is communicated between you and your co-parent so when you go to court, they already know what’s been going on. Two such systems are TalkingParents and OurFamilyWizard.
- Maintain healthy boundaries. No matter what the custodial parent says, your personal life is none of their business. Your family, your choices, your religion, your relationships – all of those are yours, not theirs. Keep it that way.
- Have courage and be kind. Stand up for yourself and don’t be afraid to do it. Don’t threaten the other parent with it. They don’t believe you. They think they are right too! Just bide your time, be thoughtful and methodical. When you get what you want or need, celebrate your success without lording it over the other parent. Take it as a sign that you did a great job and that you’re on the right track.