15 Tips for Dealing with a Toxic Ex-Spouse When Children Are Involved

By: Henry Gornbein
Last Update: November 24, 2016

I have written in the past about the fact that there is more than one aspect to a divorce. First is the legal divorce, where the judge ends the marriage and a document known as a Judgment of Divorce or similar paper is entered with the court legally ending your marriage. Just as important, and in some divorces of overriding importance, is the psychological divorce. The psychological divorce is the ability of one or both spouses to move on to the next chapter of their lives.

In particularly nasty divorces, one or the other is unable to move on due to anger, bitterness, and emotional or psychological problems, just to give some examples. The more toxic an ex-spouse is, the more problems there will be moving forward, especially if there are minor children.

Do’s and Don’ts When Co-Parenting with a Toxic Ex-Spouse Who Is Unable to Move Forward

  1. The poorer the communication there is, the more important it is to spell out every aspect of parenting time/visitation with the children. In some cases, pick-ups and drop-offs should be specified to the minute.  There should be a 15- or 30-minute grace period if someone is running late, but everything must be in a written order of the court. This puts teeth into the agreement or judgment if there are continuing problems.

  2. There must be language in the judgment spelling out that neither parent shall denigrate the other in front of the children and that neither parent shall put the children in the middle of the continuing disputes and toxicity of the warring parents. 

  3. If you cannot pick up the phone and deal with issues civilly, then it is critical to put everything in writing. This can be done through e-mails, text messages, or even websites such as Our Family Wizard®.

  4. In some cases, parents will videotape every exchange regarding the children for visitation. This can result in dueling cell phones, and frankly the courts do not like these situations.

  5. Sometimes pick-ups and drop-offs should be in front of a witness to prevent false allegations or escalation of problems in front of the children.

  6. In some cases, parents pick up and drop off the children at the foot of the driveway.

  7. In others, there will be pick-ups and drop-offs in a public place such as a library or restaurant.

  8. In extreme cases, pick-ups and drop-offs will be at police stations. This is clearly not good for the children.

  9. Dealing with extracurricular activities and school events can be tricky with a toxic ex-spouse. Some suggestions include making sure that everyone is notified. Make sure that each parent has copies of all sporting events, school activities, and other extracurricular activities.

  10. If there are issues over expenses regarding extracurricular activities such as baseball, hockey, dance, or other events, these should be negotiated and clearly spelled out in the divorce or settlement agreement to avoid future problems.

  11. In extreme cases, the court may appoint a therapist or attorney to act as a parenting coordinator to deal with the ongoing disputes involving children and parenting time/visitation schedules.

  12. In other cases, the court might appoint an attorney to represent the children as the legal guardian known as Guardian ad Litem to protect the legal rights of the children.

  13. In some cases, the court might order the parents and children to work with a counselor or psychologist to help deal with these ongoing problems.

  14. Sometimes the parents can be put into mediation to try to resolve these continuing disputes without the need for a formal hearing.

  15. Last but not least, in some cases, which I call the never-ending divorce where one parent or the other will not move on with life and continues the battle, a court can hold a formal hearing. In these hearings, I have seen one parent lose many of his or her rights and time with the children and in extreme cases lose custody and be forced to see the children only on a supervised basis.

The most important point to remember is that your children are the innocent victims of your divorce. Do not put them in the middle of your ongoing battles. Do not show them the court papers. Do not alienate the children from the other parent. Remember that children understand more than you realize, and the more power they are given, the more that they are going to manipulate and play one parent against the other.

Try to step back and remember that your children should be free to love each of their parents unconditionally.

These are some of my thoughts. What are yours?      


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