Public policy as established by the New Jersey legislature favors joint legal custody and shared parenting. The policy is based on the idea that both parents have an equal right to love and care for their children. More importantly, children are generally best when they have the emotional support and the ongoing involvement of both parents. Most parents have the ability to develop and sustain safe, stable, and nurturing relationships with their children. Developing and maintaining these relationships require that the children spend significant time with each parent, whenever possible. All too often, each parent thinks that he /she has all the right answers and that he or she is the only parent who should love, care for, nurture the child. Wrong! Consequently, learning to effectively co-parent can save you lots of money and more importantly, lots of time spent in court going over the same ole, same ole . . .
For the next couple of weeks, I will focus on children and how to have child focused parenting time; how to co-parent. As an attorney, I spend far too many hours of my day speaking with adults who believe they “own” their children exclusive of the other parent. I speak with parents who use their children as pawns in some unspoken drama where they either relive anger and grudges from their past or plot revenge against the other parent. There are many ways parents can respond to a child’s needs with sensitivity and provide the child love and guidance, and these may differ between parents and among cultures. Both parents don’t have to be exactly alike. The thing is that when you have children together regardless of what the current state of your relationship with the other parent, you owe it to your child to help them to grow up healthy and happy. Here are some do’s and don’ts for creating a child centered parenting relationship.
Most Children Benefit When:
- Parent support their child’s relationship with the other parent by:
- Helping the child have regular contact with the other parent when they are not together by having regular facetime or Zoom calls, texts and e-mail messaging;
- Speaking positively about the other parent;
- Responding positively when the child talks about their time with the other parent;
- Helping the child feel good about their time with the other parent;
- Showing each other respect when attending the child’s activities at the same time;
- Supporting contact with grandparents, stepparents, and other extended family members so the child does not lose these relationships;
- Allowing the child to display picture of the other parent and other family members;
- Respecting differences in parenting styles and practices; and,
- Signing a child up for activities that affect the other parent’s parenting time only after agreement of the other parent.
- Parents support consistency in their child’s life by:
- Following the parenting-time schedule;
- Explaining the schedule in age-appropriate words;
- Following similar times for bedtime and naptime in each home; and,
- Sharing information about the child such as illness, medication, behavior and discipline.
- Parents communicate positively with each other by:
- Using respectful communication with the other parent;
- Agreeing on communication methods with the other parent;
- Letting the other parent know about the child’s activities and appointments as soon as possible;
- Giving as much advance notice as possible to the other parent about special occasions or requested changes to the parenting schedule; and,
- Providing the other parent with travel plans and how the child and the parent can be reached well in advance of travel.
Most Children Are Harmed When . . .
- Parents do not support their child’s relationship with the other party by:
- Making the child choose between the parents or “take sides”;
- Failing to show respect for the other parent
- Questioning the child about the other parent’s activities or relationships;
- Making negative remarks about the other parent or the other parent’s family;
- Allowing others to make negative remarks about the other parent or the other parent’s family;
- Discussing what led to the parents’ break-up within earshot of the child;
- Failing to allow an informant or a child of any age to develop a relationship with the other parent;
- Inappropriately preventing or restricting the child’s contact with the other parent;
- Posting inappropriate photos, video, and comment about the other parent or the other parent’s family on social media;
- Sharing (adult) information or documents with the child about the parents’ legal, financial or other disagreements, including child support ow what is going on in court; and,
- Asking the child to keep secrets from the other parent.
- Parents do no support consistency in their child’s life by:
- Dropping in an out of the child’s life;
- Failing to show up on time or at all for scheduled parenting time;
- Failing to follow through on agreements about changes to the parenting schedule;
- Failing to follow through on commitments or agreements with the child;
- Interfering with parenting time because child support has not been paid.
- Parents do not communicate positively with each other by:
- Using their children as a messenger, spy or mediator;
- Using disrespectful language; and,
- Failing to communicate with the other parent in a timely manner.
And the real “biggie” that is all too frequently violated is what happens at the transition for parenting time. Parents do not support conflict-free transitions at parenting time exchanges by:
- Engaging in arguments;
- Showing a hostile attitude;
- Making negative remarks or gestures to the other parent;
- Engaging the child in extended good-byes; and,
- Bribing or guilting the child not to go with the other
Parents do support conflict-free parenting time transition by:
- Treating the other parent respectfully;
- Being on time and informing the other parent if there are unavoidable delays;
- Having the child ready to go on time with the other parent
- Letting the child carry “important” items with them between parents’ homes;
- Informing the other parent if another person will be taking the parents’ place for the transition; and,
- Being aware of the impact of having other people involved in the transition – This means if you have your new boyfriend pick up your children, it could cause conflict.