In my experience as a family law attorney, parenting conflicts and disputes almost always boil down to one thing: communication. Parents get upset when their co-parent doesn’t tell them about something crucial. This creates bitter feelings, and that bitterness eventually brings them back into the courtroom. Just when you thought your custody battle was over, you end up right back where you started, looking at the possibility of a trial to change custody because of ineffective communication.
At the same time, you can’t exactly detail every moment of your visit to your ex. That isn’t practical, and it is a major invasion of your privacy. Still, communication needs to stay open enough to make the co-parenting relationship practical and effective. So, how do you know what to tell your ex about your kids? Here are the quick rules of thumb I give my clients in a new co-parenting relationship.
Make Everything an Open Book
You do not have to detail every moment of a visit to your co-parent. That being said, don’t hide anything. If your co-parent has a question or wants to know a particular detail, be ready and willing to share it with them without any hesitation. The sooner you establish a relationship where they know you have nothing to hide, the more smoothly the co-parenting relationship will go. It also gives you the permission to ask questions about things you are curious about, and if they refuse or hesitate in answering, then you can clearly see the red flag.
All too often I see co-parents back in court over a disagreement. One parent releases an important piece of information that it is clear the other parent had no idea about. Trust me when I say that sitting in a courtroom is not the time you want to give, or receive, information for the first time. Sometimes that little piece of information can prevent the dispute from getting that far in the first place. You can keep this from happening to you by keeping no secrets about your kids from the other parent.
Problems or Conflicts of Any Kind
Is one of your kids developing some problematic behavior? Did you get into a fight with your teenager that did not resolve by the next custody exchange? Communicate these issues to your co-parent. It allows them to continue parenting through the issues when the kids are with them. It also shows your kids that even if you two are not together anymore, you are still united in parenting responsibilities.
Problems with the kids can also lead to more serious disputes if they are not shared. For example, I once had a client whose daughter was showing some concerning behavior that may be indicative of abuse. The mom was devastated, but did not share this information with the dad. Several weeks later, when the behavior had worsened, she approached the dad for consent to have the child start therapy. The dad, having no idea about any of this, took it personally and refused to consent, fearing that the mom was setting him up and accusing him of hurting the child. Had they discussed the behavior when she first noticed it, the mom would have had a more solid foundation and the dad may have shared her concern, leading to faster intervention. Instead, they ended up back in court because the dad did not know who to trust.
Anything That Involves Money
Money is a hot button issue in court. Kids are expensive, and no one likes to be hit with an unexpected bill. Whether it’s a bounced check or an upcoming sports uniform, communicate about those things with your co-parent as early as you can. This will help avoid disputes later about owing each other money, especially for expenses you are supposed to split.
I will never forget the client who came to me because her ex signed their child up for a sports team. She had no idea the child was playing the sport or that her ex was paying fees and buying uniforms. At the end of the year, he gave her a pile of bills and expected her to reimburse her for half of the expenses. The mom was baffled and, more than anything else, she was hurt that she did not get to be involved in the activity. When you communicate these things to your ex in advance, you can discuss finances and alleviate the dispute that comes from being given a pile of bills to reimburse all at once.
Success and Celebrations
Parents are so quick to discuss problems, but they are not so quick to celebrate success. What was a great thing that happened during a visit that you can share at the next exchange? Did you remember to share certificates and trophies from school? Sharing the good times is so, so important for you and for your kids. At the co-parent level, it allows you to share in the joys that come with parenting. It also tells your co-parent that you respect their role enough to give them important information, good and bad. Especially during an exchange, it helps you show your kids how proud you re of their achievements. It also shows kids that their parents can communicate about things that are pleasant, not just about problems.
The short answer is this: tell your ex everything about your kids. Make it practical, but don’t hide anything. Hidden happenings are the ones that end up back in court sooner than anyone wants to be.
A Note About New Children
If you have more kids with a different partner after leaving your ex, tread lightly when telling you ex anything about the new baby. While you should be able to share openly, it is hard to know what can be flipped around and used against you later. Since your ex has no relationship to your new baby, they do not need any information about them. I recommend only sharing with your ex the same things you are sharing with your mutual kids. That way nothing the kids say will surprise them.
If you are unsure of what to tell your ex about your children, or anything for that matter, click here to schedule a coaching session with me.