Co-Parenting with a Difficult Person:
(See also Co-Parenting)
Sometimes, even with following all of my advice above, you are still stuck with dealing with a difficult co-parent who is looking to cause problems at every turn. Understand that the Court almost always allocates Joint Decision-Making instead of Sole Decision-Making because Joint Decision-Making promotes to the child the impression that the parents are a united front, that both parents are equally important, that both parents care about the child’s future, and allocation of Joint Decision-Making encourages both parents to stay involved with the child and to try to share various opinions to arrive on the best and well thought out decision for their child.
Having said that, I have frequently seen the Court allocate Joint Decision-Making where it was clear to me that the parents had no ability to make any kind of decision together, or where it was going to be used as a sabotage to make the other parent’s life difficult. There are very few viable options in this scenario, assuming my advice on general co-parenting tips has not been able to solve the problem.
1. If you know that you are going to have a difficult co-parenting relationship from the beginning, try to set out as many of the major decisions as you can in your parenting plan. For example, determine what doctor’s office your child will attend, what school they will go to, what age they will be allowed to have a car, the method of selection and purchase of the car, etc., etc. And build in what the joint-decision-making process will be when you run into a new issue where a decision must be made. There are two basic ironies present in this advice. The first irony is that it assumes that you can get along well enough with the co-parent to come to a parenting plan agreement in the first place. (The Court is far less likely to add in any specifics like these to a Court Order if you end up presenting the case to a Judge to decide it.) The second irony is that no parenting plan or court order can be comprehensive enough to predict every situation or to prevent a hostile co-parent from causing problems if the hostile co-parent is determined to cause problems.
2. Pick your Battles. Do not fight over everything under the sun. Don’t take stands “for the principle of it” or to show the co-parent that they can’t boss you around. If it’s not going to be damaging to your child, let it go. Fight the big battles that need fighting and don’t engage on the small stuff. If you engage on every tiny little battle that comes up, you are allowing the other parent to upset you, you are increasing the stress on your child, and you are encouraging continuance of the fight. Whether you wanted the divorce/separation or not, you’ve got it, and you deserve to not be locked into permanent conflict with your ex. So, to the extent possible, don’t engage when your ex tries to pick a fight. On a positive note, the non-engagement will drive your ex crazy, and will eventually encourage them to find a different way to communicate since they will not be getting what they want.
3. Co-Parenting Classes. These classes are often helpful for getting people to have some introspection about their contribution to the co-parenting conflict, and they give some techniques and guidance for how to form a new co-parenting relationship that is workable. The classes are often attended by both parents at the same time (that may sound like the last thing in the world you want to do, but time to suck it up and be an adult. Do it for your kids.) If you go this route, please try to remember: you cannot change the other person; you can only change yourself. So, instead of going to the class with the attitude of listening for everything that your co-parent is doing wrong, go to the class to listen for what you could do better.
4. Counseling. See a counselor about the best way to deal with someone like your co-parent. Have them help you change your method of communication to one that will be more likely to get you what you want.
5. Get a Decision-Maker. A Decision-Maker is like a mini-judge. They get appointed to your case for up to two years . and they can resolve issues that are disagreements or are grey areas in the parenting plan/court order. This involves handing over control of your children’s lives to someone else, which is a frightening thought, but sometimes it is better than being in a constant frustrating impasse with the co-parent, particularly when the co-parent is obviously irrational. A good Decision-Maker will try to teach both parents how to be better co-parents. Here comes the irony again: both parents have to agree for a Decision-Maker to be appointed in the first place, and both parents have to agree to any extension or new appointment when the old appointment expires.