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Co-parenting communication crucial after divorce

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Sad little girl hugs father while mother watches from afar.

In this article, you’ll find answers to questions like:

1. How to develop a plan?
2. Should we involve our kids?
3. How to make it work?

In Florida, a parenting plan is required on how each parent will share time and care for their children following a divorce. Although the plan is detailed, local family therapists say parents need more effective conversation to ensure successful co-parenting.

1. HOW TO DEVELOP A PLAN?

The state-mandated parenting plan addresses scheduling, drop-off/pick-up, child care, extracurricular activities and modes of communication. However, you should also consider how and when to introduce new relationships, how to involve extended family and what to do if you need to deviate from the plan, says Randy Heller, a licensed marriage/family therapist.

“There are nuances that aren’t about the law but about the children that a trained professional can help you with, if you get stuck on working out challenging issues,” Heller says. “For example, there is no place in the legal plan that is about significant others. To fill emotional gaps, the tendency is to bring people into the family dynamic before the kids are ready. The kids get attached and then may suffer another loss if the relationship ends.

“The first year of post divorce is the most delicate,” Heller continues. “Parents should talk about their expectations for handling other relationships and not assume.”

2. SHOULD WE INVOLVE OUR KIDS?

As much as possible, you should be flexible and keep consistent routines across both households. Heller suggests scheduling co-parenting meetings to appropriately involve your children in decisions.

“By talking openly during these meetings, parents remain informed about anything significant that has transpired in the other parent’s home,” she says. “This may help them avoid interrogating the child on what happens in the other parent’s household and to not use the child as a messenger.”

Heller stressed to not ask children about where they want to live or elements of the parenting plan. Loyalty issues or preferences might develop, which may lead to alienation from a parent.

The optimal way to involve children is to focus the conversations on them, says Michelle Bello, senior therapist at Community Partners of South Florida for the Positive Parenting Program, known as Triple P.

“We want parents to act in a way that contributes to a healthier child,” she says. “The way we speak about our children and how we act in front of them will affect them.”

3. HOW TO MAKE IT WORK?

• Get professional help: Both therapists recommend parents seek help from a mental health professional trained in divorce to manage the transition. The Center for Family Services of Palm Beach County and the Center for Child Counseling offer local services. If you don’t have insurance, fees are based on a sliding scale. 

• Use technology: If tensions are high, use shared calendars or other apps to relay scheduling information and minimize interactions.

• Again, focus on the children: “Come together around your kids,” Heller says. “You need to love your children more than you dislike or hate each other. Just because they were not a good spouse to you doesn’t mean they are a bad parent. If parents can effectively co-parent, the children can be resilient.”

Bello adds: “Even more than wanting their parents to get back together, children want their parents to get along and stop fighting. Effective co-parenting means prioritizing what’s best for the children.”

SOURCES:

Florida Parenting Plan
• Michelle Bello, licensed mental health counselor and Triple P senior therapist, Community Partners of South Florida
• Randy Heller, licensed marriage/family therapist; adjunct professor, Nova Southeastern University; board member, Florida Academy of Collaborative Professionals; member, Collaborative Family Law Institute

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