Co-Parenting with a Vindictive Ex-Spouse

By: Wendi Schuller
: February 23, 2017

Divorce brings a whole new set of complications to parenting. Having to deal with an unreasonable or vindictive former spouse adds additional stress to the situation. It may not be possible to parent as a team, and that is okay. Having a detailed parenting plan lessens the need to keep going back and forth on the small stuff.

If anticipating that splitting up holidays will be a battle down the road, get that addressed in the parenting plan. Ours was very detailed, which included the percent each parent paid for various medical, dental, and other charges for our sons. My attorney also wrote an incredibly precise divorce decree, which was quickly approved by the other collaborative attorney. These actions enabled post-divorce life to go smoother.

Avoid Using Your Children as Tools for Revenge 

Be careful that the youngsters are not used as tools for revenge. One parent may try to limit or stop visitation from the other one. Having the shared time clearly spelled out in the parenting plan may prevent this behavior. If you are on the receiving end of calls stating that the kids are sick and cannot see you, react in a positive way in order to end this game playing. Reply, “How kind of you to let me know, so I can be prepared. I’ll have some soup ready and pick them up with barf bags in the car.”

Don't Give the Other Parent Ammunition

A way to minimize conflict is not to give the other parent any ammunition. Be reliable, on time, and bite your tongue if necessary to avoid criticizing them in front of the kids. Be cognizant of parental alienation, which is when one parent attempts to turn the children against the other one. If you are the target, consider getting legal advice on how to proceed. Go ahead and correct any misconceptions (lies), such as, “Mommy says that you had a girlfriend.” Let your offspring know that there was never a girlfriend in the picture when you were married. You are standing up for yourself by correcting the fallacy. You are not putting down the source (your former spouse), but rather clarifying the accusation.

Involve a Neutral Third Party 

Whether or not to confront your ex if they are using your children to spread tales about you depends upon your situation. Trying to have a dialogue with a toxic ex may be counterproductive. A third party, such as a mediator, can intervene and spell out what is acceptable. Our collaborative attorneys worked together to mandate that our sons get therapy during our divorce. If you feel that the kids are having a difficult time with custody issues, then meeting with a therapist can give them a chance to express pent-up emotions. The kids' therapist can work with parents to make co-parenting easier on the children.

Reduce Direct Interaction with Your Ex 

It is best to have less interaction with a vindictive ex who is out for revenge. This gives less opportunity for them to try and push your buttons. It may be that you parent separately and not as co-parents. Technology has made this feasible with an app or online calendar which allows each parent to add activities, events, and so forth to the schedule. Since both parents have access to it, neither has to give reminders to the other parent, as both can check it themselves. This cuts out direct communication. There are services that handle e-mails between co-parents so there is no direct messaging. They tone down inflammatory language or paraphrase the content if necessary. It's nice not receiving a nasty text or e-mail from a toxic former partner.

Document any problems and keep a record of threatening interactions in case you have to take legal action in the future. Get the support you require in order to stay healthy, well-balanced, and sane. Remember, we need some fun and playtime in our lives, just as our kids do.

Suggestions mentioned in this article are more for the extreme cases, particularly where there has been abuse or mental illness present. For the majority of people, co-parenting is doable and becomes easier as time goes by. Having flexibility, respect for the other person, and putting your children’s interests first enables co-parenting to be successful.