High-conflict co-parenting takes a toll on children, families, and the co-parents involved. It took the mother of my oldest daughter and me five years to figure out how to have healthy and constructive interactions with each other, and to develop a parenting plan that worked for both of us.
From 2014 to 2018, my daughter’s mother and I would not speak to one another about anything. All we did was disagree on just about every situation that pertained to our child.
On top of that, we were both in and out of family court during that five year period. Despite the communication difficulties of the past, my daughter’s mother and I were finally able to communicate with each other in a healthy manner following our March 2018 family court trial.
The 3 key elements that improved our high-conflict co-parenting.
1. We Developed a Fair Parenting Plan
My daughter’s mother and I had a very high-conflict co-parenting experience. The court developed our first two parenting plans; once in 2014 and again in 2016. Each plan gave birth to more issues. The high degree of conflict my daughter’s mother and I had encountered concluded when we agreed on a parenting plan in which we both were satisfied with. We had more conflict when the court created our parenting plans versus when we created and agreed on a plan together; we aimed for a win-win.
When it comes to negotiation, it is important to reach a settlement that produces a win-win outcome. Any perception that leaves a party feeling the opposing party has the upper-hand is guaranteed to lead to conflict. In that respect, it was healing for me, as the non-custodial parent, to have reached a parenting plan that was fair and equitable. Creating a plan with proper checks and balances initiated the first step towards the civility we both needed to move forward.
Specific to the parenting plan we came to agree upon in March 2018 — our third parenting plan — it was important to create a plan that clearly defined when my parenting started and stopped and when her parenting time started and stopped. We developed a plan that eliminated anything that could lead to infringing on one another’s parenting time. We also ensured a third party would not interfere with our parental responsibilities.
Third parties in accordance with our order would be family members, spouses, significant others, or any other party that is not the biological parent of our child. Additionally, we also devised boundaries for the way we would communicate with each other; making communication a contemptible issue if the boundaries set were disregarded or violated.
Communication, without proper boundaries, creates room for conflict. Regardless of what third-party communication application co-parents decide to use — and there are several out there — conflict is inevitable without the proper boundaries in place. The mother of my daughter and I have our communication boundaries clearly outlined in our parenting plan/custodial order.
In our order, my daughter’s mother e-mails me on a Monday and I e-mail on a Thursday. When one party sends an e-mail, the other party is obligated to respond to their e-mail that day. The e-mails are ordered to only discuss parenting items, which means personal viewpoints about the other parent are not allowed. It is contemptible if that boundary is violated. Additionally, If there is an emergency that cannot wait, then text, phone call, or any other means of communication is authorized. Emergencies are considered for the purpose of health, school, etc.
Now we are allowed to deviate from our boundaries upon mutual agreement only. Mutual agreements, not outlined in the court order, are not enforceable by the court. In the event the communication ever gets out of hand, it is very easy to reset the boundary and declare that the court-ordered plan for communication is followed.
As a result of this boundary, I am proud to say my daughter’s mother and I have gone conflict-free for over a year at the time of this post. Our communication has improved and the court order is now more of a guide for us to follow. Although enforceable at any time, we refer to it only when need to. Otherwise, she and I are consistently working it out among ourselves.
3. Keeping the End in Mind
Another key element that helped diffuse our five-year conflict was agreeing to a plan that aimed at reducing and mitigating high-conflict co-parenting. If what was proposed was not going to meet that threshold, then it was not added to our parenting plan. Given our history, we both knew exactly what was going to set us off. So we agreed and devised a parenting plan that disarmed our ability to hurt one another.
Autonomy was one of the areas we both needed. In previous plans, there were too many exchanges between us. All parenting time evolved to where both our parenting times had become uninterrupted. Based on our unique situation, we settled on me having five consecutive days and she would have nine consecutive days; this covers a period of two weeks. No more in the middle of the week exchanges for a dinner night and excessive driving.
Pick up and drop off is at school, making the interaction between her and me much less. At best, my daughter’s mother and I have face-to-face interactions a few times a year; about maybe five times. While our parenting plan may not work for others, it is an ideal option for us and has helped us vastly improve our high-conflict co-parenting issues.