Divorced Parent Tips for Making Effective Co-Parenting Decisions

iStock_000011324244XSmallDivorced parents are sometimes required to make joint decisions where their children are concerned. While the marriage has ended, the need for cooperative parenting continues. In our family’s particular case a recent instance involved our 8 year daughter and her need for orthodontic treatment.

Depending on the circumstances of a divorce, and the passage time since the divorce, post-divorce co-parenting decision-making can range anywhere from “piece of cake” to “this is worse than the divorce.” For us it fell somewhere in the middle of the scale range.

Still the need to agree on the selection of an orthodontist for our daughter started off on terms that were uncertain to achieve an agreement. My ex-wife wanted to visit five different orthodontists! I considered that unnecessary (an understatement), and in addition our daughter’s general dentist (a personal friend of mine and a business client) provided orthodontic treatment. The loyalty factor aside, I thought there might be advantages to consolidating dental care with one provider.

Despite these initial differences, I’m happy to report that as of the time of this writing our daughter is about two-thirds of the way through her orthodontic treatment and the progress is excellent. Based on our experience, here are some ways other divorced parents might successfully approach co-parenting decision making:

1) Maintain Flexibility
In most negotiations it’s seldom that either of the negotiating parties gets everything their way. Keep this in mind and be willing to make some concessions, especially on unimportant issues. In the eventual selection of our daughter’s orthodontist we agree that I would visit two of the five orthodontists my ex-wife had identified.

2) Focus on the Desired Outcome
Keep in mind that co-parenting decision making is not a win-lose contest between you and your ex-spouse. The goal is to make a decision in the best interest of your child. Keep the end goal in mind and you’ll be better able to avoid getting stuck on minor issues. In our case the objective was to ensure that our daughter received competent orthodontic treatment regardless of which parent’s personal preferences were observed.

3) Structure the Process
If agreement on a co-parenting issue isn’t immediately possible, try to agree on a process that if pursued might facilitate an eventual agreement. Establish the steps you’ll follow in an effort to reach a decision. If the process yields additional information or insight then it’s possible for an agreement to come more easily. In our case agreeing to review prospective orthodontic treatment providers’ websites and then to visit each for a consultation helped us arrive at an eventual selection.

4) Use Email
The use of written communication such as email can help keep the decision making process structured and minimize the potential for conflict. In the early period after our divorce we used email almost exclusively. If emotions are involved then make it a rule of thumb to wait at least 24 hours before sending or responding to an email. Hopefully the legal system as it pertains to your family remains in the past. Although to be safe ask yourself if your written email message were ever introduced in a courtroom proceeding, how would it be perceived? While email communication used wisely can be a useful tool, be aware it also creates a permanent record.

5) Seek Third Party Help (if necessary)
If you’ve tried your best and just can’t reach a decision on some important co-parenting decision, consider bringing in a family coordinator or counselor to help. Professionals such as these work with divorced parents regularly and can often be helpful in facilitating a process to reach an agreement. In most cases it’s not the counselor’s job to make a decision for parents, but to provide support and guidance to help parents reach a joint decision on their own.

Ron McCoy, Adler Cosmetic and Family Dentistry

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About the Author: Ron McCoy is a freelance writer and regularly writes on family and healthcare issues for <a href=”http://www.adlerdentistry.com/”>Adler Cosmetic and Family Dentistry</a> in Boulder, Colorado.

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