The Best Ways to Solve Disagreements About Parenting Plans
After divorce or separation, disagreements about parenting plans can reopen old wounds. Conflict over parenting time exchanges and other parenting decisions can cause anxiety for parents and children alike. You can help you kids by learning healthy habits to solve disagreements with your co-parent and minimize the stress at home.
Put the Child's Interests First
When you are facing a parenting time disagreement, ask yourself: "What would be best for my kids?" Is your position on the issue a matter of convenience for you, or is it based on what your children need to be healthy and happy? It can be easy for parents to focus on their own needs and wants. If you and your co-parent both put your child's interests first, it will be easier to find common ground and a resolution to your disagreement. This doesn't mean your children get final say. Instead, it means you should look at the problem from their perspective and apply what you know as a parent.
Create a Concrete Plan
All too often, parenting plans are vague, granting one parent "reasonable" parenting time "as the parties agree". When disagreements about parenting plans arise, these orders aren't helpful. You and your co-parent need a concrete plan that guides your scheduling, and your decision-making.
Sit down with your co-parent before disputes arise (or in a calm between the storms). Agree to put your kids first, and work out a concrete plan for:
- How will you make decisions together or who will be the go-to parent for different types of decisions (medical, school, extracurricular activities)
- What information each parent will make available and how
- What a normal week's (or two-week period's) parenting schedule will look like
- How you will handle holidays, school breaks, and vacations
Be specific, down to the times and places parenting exchanges will happen. You can always agree to make exceptions when someone is sick or a family reunion happens on the off weekend. By having a concrete plan in place ahead of time, you will reduce disagreements and give your children certainty, so they know what to expect day-to-day.
Remove Emotion From Your Discussions
There is a reason (or maybe many reasons) why you are no longer with your co-parent. Some of these likely have a lot of emotion connected to them. When disagreements about parenting plans arise, they can stir up all those old emotions and make it hard to make rational decisions. Do what you can to remove emotion from your parenting discussions and treat your co-parent more like a business partner. It may help to:
- Make all communication in writing (text or email) so you can compose your thoughts
- Set up a shared calendar where all the children's appointments, practices, and events are listed
- Give yourself a cooling-off period before responding to an upsetting issue
- Communicate directly with your co-parent rather than involving your children
If you have trouble separating your emotion from your parenting discussions, you may want to work with a family specialist, therapist or counselor to develop strategies to minimize the emotional impact of your communications with your co-parent.
Get Help from a Family Dispute Counselor or Mediator
Ideally, you want to be able to solve disagreements about child custody and parenting plans on your own, without professional help. However, some times differences in parenting strategy, communication issues, or even parents' behavior can make it hard, or even impossible to resolve these issues alone.
There is help available: Family Dispute Resolution and mediation with a neutral facilitator. These programs bring co-parents together to identify needs and wants, discuss options, and find a solution that works for everyone involved. These collaborative practices teach parents dispute resolution strategies, so you can work better together in the future and avoid coming back to the table, or the courtroom, again and again.
Kimberly Miller is a Licensed Associate Marriage and Family Therapist and certified collaborative law practitioner. She can use these techniques to help you and your co-parent solve disagreements while honoring your privacy and keeping you out of court. If you would like to learn more about parenting plans and how to come to resolutions in the best interest of your children, please contact Kimberly.