Few situations evoke such bitterness, anger, and passion as a battle for child custody. When parents are unable to solve their differences in an amicable or even civil manner, the result is a high-conflict custody case. Intense emotions, verbal and even physical aggression, and an inability to properly communicate can create an ugly situation that no child should ever experience. Unfortunately, in their desire to hurt each other or “win”, parents don’t always realize the impact their behavior has on their children.
There are five ways that divorcing spouses can de-escalate a hostile custody battle and work together as co-parents for the benefit of the children. Some of them require a committed effort to put aside hostile emotions, while others involve support and assistance from neutral third parties such as meditators and parenting coordinators. When the outcome is a better environment for the children, cooperation is 100% worth the effort you both put into achieving it.
Pay Attention to What Your Behavior is Doing to Your Child
It is extremely easy to be so caught up in the heat of battle that you forget the impact your words and actions (as well as those of your spouse) are having on the kids. Controlling your emotions is not easy, especially if you feel provoked, but doing so can keep the situation from escalating. If you are calmer, your spouse may follow suit, setting the tone for a more respectful co-parenting relationship. Plan for when and where to have conversations that may be tense or negative to ensure that your children do not overhear the discussions, or sense or experience the hostility. Take a break after a difficult conversation before diving back into parenting to ensure that you are as calm and positive as possible with your kids.
Compromise When and Where Appropriate
Perhaps you feel that compromise will make you feel like a doormat or send the message to your former spouse that they can change the parenting plan whenever they feel like it. While you shouldn’t feel the need to yield to every request, it can be extremely beneficial to compromise in situations that are especially important to your ex, or that have little or no impact on you. A good rule of thumb is to try being as flexible with them as you would like them to be with you. When the children see you both willing to be fair with one another, it will make them feel less anxious and conflicted. For example, if your ex wants to take them to a game or a concert they’re dying to see, and it would result in a 30 minute deviation from the custody schedule, saying “no” just to deny your ex will also deny your children, and they may end up resenting you for it.
Develop a Written Parenting Plan
When a parenting plan is in writing, it gives both of you a solid reminder of what you discussed and agreed to. There is no ambiguity or opportunity for misinterpretation later on. Because everything is in writing, there is less chance for you to argue about the same matter later on. If you make a change to the parenting plan, or a new pattern develops that you wish to continue, just take a minute to write it down. Minimizing argument opportunities will translate into civil communications and an improved co-parenting experience.
Divorce mediation is recommended for couples who want to dissolve their marriage on relatively amicable terms. On the surface, this might seem like an unusual de-escalation method for a high-conflict situation, but in a mediated environment, the goal is to contain the conflict so that it doesn’t spiral out of control. A trained mediator can de-escalate a hostile situation by guiding the session so that both parties become non-confrontational, by preventing both spouses from fixating on negative situations, and by showing you how to solve problems in a more constructive way. Most of the time, you are not in the same room as your spouse. The mediator goes between the rooms, and by helping you both focus on what you can agree on, mediation can take the bitter edge off of your divorce and change your feelings in ways that your children will sense and appreciate.
Work with a Parenting Coordinator
Parenting coordinators are a child-oriented means of alternative dispute resolution. These specially trained and accredited third parties aim to teach healthier and more appropriate problem-solving skills to parents and enable them to make decisions together regarding the parenting of their children. Poor communication is one of the cornerstones of a high-conflict custody case, and parenting coordinators help you improve your skills in this area. Although they can and will make decisions for you if no agreement can be reached, their goal is to help you and your spouse reach an accord on your own. It’s an ability that will serve you and your children well.
For assistance in resolving your difficult North Carolina custody dispute, contact Haas Tharrington today. We look forward to helping you and your former spouse put your differences behind you and focus on developing a healthier co-parenting relationship.