Making co-parenting work with a toxic former spouse

When family law judges in California and around the country make child custody decisions, they tend to favor co-parenting arrangements. The results of several studies suggest that children are less likely to be traumatized by a divorce if they are able to spend time with both of their parents, but making co-parenting work can be extremely difficult when one of the parents is selfish, narcissistic or bitter.

The pitfall to avoid in these situations is being drawn into arguments that revisit the issues that led to the divorce in the first place. This can be difficult when resentment runs deep, and it can be extremely damaging to children when they expect raised voices and hot tempers at every custody exchange. The best way to avoid arguments is to anticipate them and plan exchanges carefully to ensure that any contact with a toxic former spouse will be brief. Remaining calm even when provoked avoids conflict and sets a good example for children.

Taking a businesslike approach to parenting can also be an effective way to avoid rows and emotional outbursts during custody exchanges. Most parents want the best for their children, and focusing on matters like health care, social activities and education while avoiding comments about personal issues could keep even volatile co-parenting arrangements on track. Contact in these situations should be made using email, and messages should be brief and avoid areas that could ignite an argument.

Efforts to make co-parenting work are not always successful, and there may come a point when spending time with a toxic parent is no longer in the best interests of the child. When co-parenting arrangements place children in situations where they are routinely exposed to violence, alcohol or drug use or other potentially damaging behavior, experienced family law attorneys may petition the court to have child custody arrangements modified.

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