By Erin Levine
In 13 years of working in family law, I’ve worked with hundreds (thousands?) of individuals and couples who have decided to end their marriage. A significant portion of those marriages involved children. Some of those marriages ended amicably, many did not. But, no matter how the marriage ended, you’re still going to have something in common for the rest of your lives together: your love for your kids.
Here are a few tips to keep up your sleeve as you navigate your next chapter with your ex, while keeping your kids the #1 focus:
Plan Summer Break (and all Holidays) Early
If you haven’t started planning for summer activities with your ex, yesterday would be a good time to start! But seriously: summer calendars do fill up fast, and you’ll both want to spend time with the kiddos before they head back to school this fall. Same thing goes for all holidays, in general. And, keep in mind: if you and your ex are unable to come to an agreement, you may need the court’s assistance – and it can take 4-10 weeks to get a hearing.
READ MORE: 4 Tips to Plan a Fun Getaway with Your Kids
A couple of questions to get the planning process started:
During summer break, is it important to you that the kids spend equal time with both parents?
Is Fourth of July more important to you than Labor Day?
What time do summer gatherings or annual vacations usually take place for your family and for your ex’s family? Does timing allow for your child to be part of both families’ vacations or family reunions?
What kind of travel time is required to get to your family’s or your ex’s for the holidays/annual vacations? If travel time means that your child(ren) can’t spend time with both families, consider alternating every other year to allow your child(ren) to be with both families.
And remember: if you already have a court order or parenting plan in place, review it annually. Time can change things a lot. As your children get older, they can spend longer periods of time away from each parent. Your conflict sometimes lessens, and summer breaks and holidays may have become easier for you and your ex to navigate.
Maintain a Shared Calendar
“As a divorce lawyer, and having to currently co-parent with an ex, I can tell you that communication should be on autopilot. Yes and no by text are perfect ways to communicate. There should be no emotion in the response and stick to plain facts. Try to build mechanisms so you have to communicate as little as possible. For example, use Google Calendar to notify one another of events, and have communication from the schools send directly to both parents.” – Amy Saunders, Esq., Legal Solutions
As hard as it may be for you, for the good of your kids, it is important that you and your ex maintain regular communication about their schedule. A couple of my favorite calendar tools:
Google Calendar: It’s free, and by sharing a calendar, you and your ex can both make additions or edits. The Google calendar can sync with your phone, and thus your other calendars – making it easy to schedule custody sharing around everything else in your life.
Our Family Wizard: This app lets you create a family calendar, and it offers a message board. All communication through this app is recorded. So, if there’s ever an issue, this app will have a complete record of calendar dates and messages between you and your ex. Bonus: older kids can download the app to access the family calendar helping them stay informed of their own schedules.
Zimplified Life: Created by a divorced father with three kids, Zimplified is a website and app that helps you manage calendars, expenses, store kids’ health information and receipts, as well as communicate about child-related activities. It’s an all around helpful tool.
Keep Kids in the Loop
“My recommendation is to get past the anger of the separation and remember that you were entrusted with one of the greatest responsibilities in this universe – to raise mentally and emotionally stable, productive young people who are capable of making positive contributions to society. An angry and confused child is a possible starting point, but it definitely doesn’t have to continue that way.” – Dr. LaFarra Young-Gaylor of Young Pathology PLLC
No matter how young or how old your child is, keeping them in the loop about their own schedule is key to making them feel part of it, and not like an object shuttled from home to home.
Keep a visual. Consider keeping a visible custody calendar – a whiteboard or a regular calendar – visible in your home that changes by child’s age: photos or drawings of mom or dad for a younger child and text indicating custody schedules and other life events (soccer practice, trips to Grandma’s, etc.) for older children.
Talk, talk, talk. Especially for younger children, repetition of plans for the week is important. When the time comes for custody transfer, having talked about it frequently ahead of time will help your child remain calm and confident during each transition.
Make them part of the plan. The night before custody transition, talk with your child about the fun things they plan to do at Mom’s or Dad’s, to reinforce the mindset that they’re about to have a different kind of fun. Help them pack a bag of clothes, toys or other items, like a favorite game or this week’s latest artwork, to share with their other parent.
In the end, remember that the #1 rule of co-parenting is that it’s about the kids, not about you. It can be extremely hard, but the more you can separate your disagreements with your ex from the way you both co-parent your child, the easier it will be for your child to continue feeling loved by both parents, equally.
(And, if you liked this post, check out more co-parenting blogs on my website, HelloDivorce.com!)
About the Author
Erin Levine is a Certified Family Law Specialist and the owner and managing attorney of Levine Family Law Group, based in Oakland, CA. She is the founder and CEO of Hello Divorce, a platform that helps users divorce on their terms, offering curated articles and resources, DIY videos, instructional form templates, flat-fee legal services and mediation. Learn more or register for a free Hello Divorce starter membership at www.HelloDivorce.com. For advice, inspiration and tips to help you navigate your divorce, follow Erin on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest.