August 1, 2006
Written by Staff at The Centre for Mediation & Dispute Resolution
Co-parenting after divorce: Can there be a happily ever after?
Once the divorce becomes final, the truly challenging part of co-parenting starts. New relationships, blended families and new homes all create a completely different set of conflicts, some of which may not have been imaginable, let alone anticipated. The children, caught in the middle, feel the impact of their parents’ tug-of-war. The end result: children’s schoolwork and social relationship suffer; relationships with parents may become painful and strained.
Connie and Bruce Medcalf divorced in the Spring. The parents of two young children, they were determined to make the transition to separate homes and separate lives a peaceful one. Bruce met a woman with no children who wanted to start a new family; Connie met someone with two grown children who had no intention of parenting someone else’s kids. In their divorce agreement, the Mecalfs agreed that Connie would take the children Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday and Bruce would have them Thursday, Friday and every other weekend.
Problems began to crop up when Connie’s boyfriend wanted her to go away with him during the school week. Bruce’s “now new wife” worked during the week and was unable to take care of the children. Bruce could not take any time off from work. Luckily, Connie’s mother agreed to take the kids Monday through Wednesday if Bruce would pick them up for the remainder of the week including through the weekend. After the anger and annoyance died down Connie and Bruce realized that they needed to be more proactive with their parenting schedule; Connie’s therapist recommended mediation. With the help of a skilled mediator, some scheduling information from their new partners and a calendar, they were able to put together a parenting plan that included vacations and special events. They also reached an agreement on how to handle request for changes and conflicts. To be on the safe side, Bruce and Connie included an agreement to meet with the mediator at the beginning of each school year to review their parenting schedule and discuss any problems that had occurred during the year.
Unlike the Metcalfs, the Goldbergs never had a peaceful parenting experience. From the beginning, Debbie was angry with Jim’s new girlfriend, new car and new house. She was determined to get back at him no matter what the cost. Jim was fed up with Debbie’s attitude and did nothing but insult her in front of their 14-year-old son Ben. Struggling with adolescence and his parents’ anger, Ben began to act out. He punched another kid at school and started hanging around with a new, less than desirable group of friends. Debbie blamed it all on Jim, and, of course, Jim blamed Debbie. The school principal and the guidance counselor set up a meeting with Ben and his parents. Ben broke down and said he couldn’t stand his parents fighting all the time and criticizing each other in front of him. Debbie and Jim met with Ben’s therapist, who suggested that they needed to put some rules and guidelines in place and that a mediator might help with the situation. The mediator helped Debbie and Jim with some problem-solving techniques and together they crafted a co-parenting plan that focused on Ben’s needs, not on their anger.
When it comes to co-parenting, not all divorce agreements take new and changing circumstances into account. Oftentimes, when a neutral third party—a mediator, gets involved, the hurt and anger take a back seat to a more pragmatic approach. Frequently, therapists will recommend mediation either as an alternative to, or in conjunction with, therapy. Emotions are pushed aside and problem-solving skills take center stage. Parenting is a challenge in the best of circumstances; it may help to involve a mediator to offer a new perspective and a better plan.
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