QUESTION

“I’ve just come out of a nasty divorce. I was in a very toxic situation with a man who was willing to go to great lengths to frustrate me. He was unfaithful and verbally abusive towards me, but he strongly believed his behaviour was normal.

Despite my deep dislike of him owing to his treatment of me during our six-year marriage, my main fear is for our two children.

He’s now threatening not to pay maintenance for them. They love him so much, and I’m scared what the divorce will do to them. Can you advise me on how to manage a co-parenting relationship after such a messy breakup?” - FUSTRATED WOMAN

ANSWER

To a child, divorce is like a death with no funeral and it fundamentally changes their entire worldview and sets them on a path no one can predict.

That path is highly influenced by how the parents behave after deciding to go their separate ways. Properly managing the aftermath of the breakup demands a lot of maturity, as children are usually the biggest casualties.

One parent tends to run away from their responsibilities, or the other abuses their custody of the children by, among other things, manipulating the situation and the children against the other parent.

However, according to the Children’s Act the parental responsibilities and rights that a person may have in respect of a child include the right to:

- care for the child

- maintain contact with the child

- act as guardian of the child

- contribute to the maintenance of the child.

Whether the end of your relationship was cordial or a nightmare, the law requires that you always put your children’s best interest first when making any decisions. There are ways to do this.

IMPROVE YOUR COMMUNICATION

Don’t let your issues with the ex get in the way of your co-parenting responsibilities. Put your anger and bitterness aside when communicating about your children.

Conflict-free communication is not only good for your children’s wellbeing, but your sanity as well. If you're still too angry to speak face to face, send an email or pick up the phone. Plan what you want to say so you don’t let your emotions get the better of you.

DON’T TURN YOUR CHILDREN AGAINST YOUR EX

Some parents use their children as a weapon to hurt their ex. Your children shouldn’t have to suffer just because of your failed relationship. Bashing your ex in front of your kids will impact them emotionally for years.

It's also unfair to make your children feel like they need to choose between their mother and father.

DON’T BURDEN THE CHILDREN

Emotionally charged issues about your ex should never be part of your parenting. Never sabotage your child’s relationship with your ex. Never use your child to gain information about things going on in the other’s life.

Putting children in the middle of your adult issues promotes feelings of helplessness and insecurity.

DISCUSS THE IMPORTANT STUFF

To ensure the success of your co-parenting arrangement, make sure you agree on discipline and routine. This will ensure consistency, and make co-parenting effortless.

Children will frequently test boundaries and rules, especially if there’s a chance to get something they can't normally have with one parent. This is why we always advise a united front in co-parenting.

Issues like household budget, education and medical decisions should also be discussed at the start of your co-parenting relationship. Leaving these until long after the breakup, when the other parent has settled into a pattern of lifestyle, will be to the detriment of the children.

ENCOURAGE RESPECT

Your ex is still a biological parent to your children. If your child is tempted to demonstrate they are loyal to you when they're in your company by speaking disrespectfully about your ex, be matured enough not to fall for it.

Make it a rule to rebuke them when they do so, even though it may be music to your ears. Importantly, protecting your ex from your children in this way will increase their security in the long run.

DON’T GIVE INTO GUILT

Guilt-driven parenting will either cause you to become strict and controlling, or become too lenient. Understand the psychology of parental guilt. Recognise that neither granting wishes without limits nor being overly controlling is good for either of you.

Resist being the “fun guy” or the “cool mom” when your children are with you. Children develop best with a united front. Co-parenting with a healthy dose of fun, structure and predictability is a win-win for everyone.