Source: Sandy Bailey, Montana State University Extension Family and Human Development Specialist & Montana Mediation Association 1/23/02
After divorce, children are members of two families and former spouses need to cooperate to make both homes supportive and secure for their children. Co-parenting skills are especially important, said Sandy Bailey, Montana State University Extension family and human development specialist.
In a new MontGuide fact sheet, "Co-Parenting After Divorce," Bailey offers information that may be helpful to parents who are going through divorce or have gone through divorce in the past and are looking for new ways to cooperate.
The bottom line in the four-page fact sheet is that children are generally better off when they are able to maintain the family relationships that were important to them prior to the divorce and when their parents are able to cooperate and be generally supportive of one another. That might not always be easy, but Bailey says that planning helps.
Even if they would prefer to avoid each other, parents need to develop a "limited partnership." The partnership needs to be clear, include both households, and be practical.
According to Maureen McInnis, a member of the Montana Mediation Association who operates a custodial mediation practice in Great Falls, the more parents can cooperate together the more they can stay in control of their parenting plan.
There are a variety of possible arrangements for a parenting plan and arrangements may need to change as the child gets older or if family situations change.
Sometimes the child lives with one parent and spends alternating weekends at the other parent's home. Some families alternate between the school year and school vacations. In other families, children move from one home to the other by splitting the week, a period of six months or the whole year.
On special occasions, some families split the day, some switch off year to year and some are able to have the parents come together and share the day with their children.
Different arrangements work for different families. Things to consider include the child's age and temperament, keeping life consistent for the child and keeping contact with both parents frequent.
There are many things to bear in mind when creating a healthy post-divorce environment, but the first thing on the list is to focus on your child's needs first, says Bailey.
She also acknowledges that cooperation may not be possible in every family. "If working with your former spouse is not possible, remaining in your child's life is still important. Some people do this through 'parallel parenting,' where they parent individually, but each continues to remain actively involved in their child's life."
Co-parenting classes are available in some communities, and in cases where cooperation is difficult, a mediator may be able to help facilitate differences between parents so that they can come to an agreement. For information on mediation resources, contact the Montana Mediation Association at (406) 522-0909. For a copy of "Co-Parenting after Divorce," (MT200111) or other parenting resources, contact Denise Seilstad, MSU Fergus County Extension Agent.