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Divorced and co-parenting: Your child's Bill of Rights

Based out of Dallas, Texas, Mary McCoy is a writer and social worker for disenfranchised women and children. She's a single mom, lover of Texas barbecue, and a die-hard fan of yoga

Think of the children

Divorce can be terribly painful, but that doesn't mean your child should suffer the fallout. Your child has the right to a loving and nurturing environment, even as your marital relationship transitions into co-parenting.
Divorced parents arguing

Consider your child's Bill of Rights as you learn to co-parent with your ex.

What is co-parenting?

Co-parenting is a parenting situation that occurs when the parents of a child are not married or intimately involved. More often than not, the arrangement occurs following a divorce or separation. Co-parenting is based upon the assumption that both parents have equal responsibility for a child's upbringing, regardless of their relationship with one another. It requires parents to communicate with one another about their child's activities, concerns and discipline.

Unfortunately, co-parenting is often easier said than done, because parents can find it challenging to communicate effectively with one another when they're still dealing with the pain of a breakup. But even though it's challenging, you still need to try. The well-being of your child depends upon your ability to communicate effectively with your ex, unless there's a reason for him to be completely removed from your child's life.

Jacqueline Newman of the law firm Berkman Bottger Newman & Rodd works with divorcing couples on a regular basis, and she emphasizes the importance of healthy communication and co-parenting through a breakup. "Children are incredibly perceptive. They can tell when there's tension in the room," she said. "That's why it's so important for the well-being of your children during the divorce process and afterwards to treat your child's other parent with respect and civility. Act like adults — so the children can continue to be children."

Children's Bill of Rights

Of course, emotions can run high following a divorce — which can interfere with the intentions of even the best parents. Newman provided us with the following Children's Bill of Rights as a starting point for co-parenting with your ex.

Each child shall have the right:

  1. Not to be asked to choose sides between his or her parents
  2. Not to be told the details of legal proceedings between his or her parents
  3. Not to be told bad things about the other parent's personality or character
  4. To privacy when talking to either parent on the telephone
  5. Not to be cross-examined by one parent after spending time with the other
  6. Not to be asked to be a messenger from one parent to the other
  7. Not to be asked by one parent to tell the other untruths
  8. Not to be used as a confidant regarding legal proceedings between the parents
  9. To express feelings, whatever those feelings may be
  10. To choose not to express certain feelings
  11. To be protected from parental warfare
  12. Not to be made to feel guilty for loving both parents

How to find help

Even if you understand your child's rights, it's not always easy to practice co-parenting with an ex-husband. After all, there's a reason you're not married anymore. If you want to abide by the Children's Bill of Rights but it's not going well, consider the following action steps.

  1. See a Marriage and Family Therapist (MFT). In the best case scenario, both parents want to support their child through effective co-parenting. If you and your ex are both committed to your child's rights in the divorce, but you're not so sure how to move forward, it's a good idea to see a therapist who specializes in co-parenting. The therapist will help you get on the same page in a safe setting.
  2. Stick to your guns. Unfortunately, it's not always possible to convince a stubborn ex to communicate fairly and effectively. Even if your ex-husband is breaking every rule in the Children's Bill of Rights, you must make the difficult decision not to sink to his level. This is easier said than done, but it's vitally important that your child have at least one parent to serve as a role model for effective communication and care.
  3. Try parallel parenting instead. If your ex-spouse is truly committed to turning your life and all of your conversations into a nightmare, consider practicing parallel parenting. Essentially, parallel parenting requires you to make a decision to stop looking for a healthy conversation with an unhealthy person. The technique will require you to set firm boundaries on communication and how you will respond to your ex.

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My biggest parenting regret
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