Tools for Co-Parenting During and After Divorce

Co-parenting during and after a divorce is a challenge for most families. The friction that caused the divorce in the first place may continue during the divorce process and long after the parties finalize their divorce. For the benefit of their children, parents must find ways to set aside their personal conflicts and learn to communicate well with each other. The America Academy of Pediatrics expresses it this way: “The most important predictor of a child's long-term adjustment to divorce is the way his parents adapt to their separation—specifically that the divorce ends the discord the child was experiencing.”[i] [ii]

 

Day to day communication between parents can be incredibly stressful if no mechanism has been put in place to facilitate it. Although texting is a common communication tool, it can be destructive when strong emotions are involved.  Lagmann family law attorneys frequently remind their divorce clients that they face many co-parenting years ahead, until the youngest child turns 18, and that their children are watching each parent carefully and learning how mom and dad are relating to each other. If parents get stuck in their old negative patterns of communication, children may learn those negative patterns and repeat them in their own relationships with their significant others.

 

So how do parents end the discord?  Wisconsin statutes provide courts the option of ordering divorcing parents to attend educational classes about the effects of divorce on children. In most counties, attendance is mandatory, and every county has agencies or nonprofits that provide those brief one-time classes. But there are additional resources parents should consider to help facilitate communication with the other parent:

  • In Milwaukee County, Jewish Family Services provides an excellent co-parenting program for parents called Processing Emotions and Communicating Effectively (PEACE). The time commitment involves 8 to 10 sessions per parent, but when both parents are committed to communicating well with the other parent, participants find the program well worth their time and effort.  JFS does bill insurance companies, although there may be co-pays.
  • A website called Our Family Wizard (OFW) is especially helpful in cases where there has been domestic abuse, where there is an uneven balance of power between the parents, and in cases where communication between parents has been especially toxic. Parents can use OFW to send emails, share placement calendars, and communicate about their expenses and their children’s school activities. Parents can also allow a third party such as a Guardian ad Litem or therapist to view the parents’ communications on their OFW account.   Each parent must pay $100 per year for an OFW subscription, but in certain circumstances the benefits can be worthwhile.  OFW has expanded to provide apps for most mobile devices.
  • 2Houses is a free co-parenting website and mobile app with some of the same tools as Our Family Wizard. 2Houses Info Bank offers a shared address book, which is useful to keep contact information for the children’s pediatrician, dentist, and other important contacts.  The info bank also provides a place to enter the children’s medical information and to store documents so that they are accessible to both parents.
  • Cozi is a similar free online website and mobile app designed to help all family members coordinate their schedules and “to bring order to the chaos of modern life.”  Although not specifically targeted at divorced parties, its shared calendar can be a useful co-parenting tool in some circumstances.

 

No matter what tools parents choose to communicate with each other after divorce, they should always keep in mind that even their youngest children are carefully watching and listening and learning from their parents’ habits. With that in mind, try to imagine what your child will be describing 20 years from now when he or she utters that scary phrase: “Oh my God! I’m becoming my mother!”

 

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