How to Overcome the Challenges of Co-Parenting with an Uncooperative Ex

One of the biggest challenges of co-parenting is having to co-parent with an uncooperative ex. Co-parenting during the early stages of separation isn’t always smooth sailing, and if you’re dealing with an uncooperative ex-partner it can make things especially challenging.

With the heightened emotions of divorce, for some people the animosity and resentment they feel towards their ex-partner makes it very difficult to communicate in a calm and civil manner.

While every co-parenting journey is different and the level of co-operation between exes varies, there are several ways to navigate the behaviour of an ex-partner who is being difficult.

Co-parenting with a composed and consistent approach is essential to offering children stability, security, and the opportunity to develop a healthy relationship with both parents.

Start by setting boundaries

When dealing with an uncooperative ex-partner, it’s important to distinguish clear boundaries and remain vigilant about keeping these in place. Setting boundaries varies for each individual and can include emotional boundaries – to help you move on and detach yourself from the relationship – or setting out clear rules in terms of method and frequency of communication.

Unless there’s an emergency, it’s not necessary to respond to your ex-partner’s texts, emails, or calls on demand. Giving yourself time and space to respond allows you to reflect and reply in a measured and composed manner.

It’s common for those with high-conflict personalities to disregard others’ needs or requests, and to have great difficulty in respecting boundaries. Don’t be reluctant to repeat and reinstate boundaries if need be.

While this repetition might feel tiresome, it will aid in effectively communicating your long-term expectations and allow you to set up a co-parenting relationship that works best for you.

Develop a low-conflict communication style

It can be challenging to remain calm when facing criticism or anger from your ex-partner but matching their communication style, or intensity, will only increase the level of conflict. Remember that you can’t control what your ex does, what they say, or how they feel, you can only control how you respond. Emotionally disengaging from the comments or actions of your ex allows you to respond, rather than react.

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When communicating with your ex avoid becoming defensive, angry or emotional. Instead, focus on the details and logistics necessary to plan and discuss your shared co-parenting responsibilities. By removing the emotion from your communications and focusing solely on the needs of the children, you are enforcing the boundaries which are necessary to reduce the opportunity for conflict.

Encourage a healthy relationship with the kids

Separation is never easy but it can be especially difficult for children who may struggle to understand the reasons behind the change in family dynamics and living arrangements.

The primary objective of co-parenting is for children to continue to have love and support from both parents, despite separation of the family unit. When parents co-operate and share responsibility post-separation, children are more likely to thrive. Keeping this at the forefront of your mind, will help you keep discussions civil and child-focused.

Limit your children’s exposure to conflict when possible

When communicating with your ex-partner—or about them—in front of your children, it’s important to remain calm and neutral. Exposing your children to conflict is only going to cause them distress and anxiety.

If your ex-partner chooses to speak negatively about you to your children, and they raise this as a concern, make sure to acknowledge their experience and offer an age-appropriate explanation for your ex-partner’s behaviour. For example, you might explain that it’s an emotional time, which can create anger in people. This can then be followed by the reassurance that they are loved, safe, and supported by both parents.

Keep a record

If you have tried to reason with your ex-partner but their behaviour isn’t improving, you might consider keeping a record of your conversations to document the issues you’re experiencing. If the situation continues to escalate, this can be used as evidence in court. Communicate over email or text to ensure you have access to the conversation in writing.

There are also a number of Parenting Apps which can assist in containing communication to issues directly relevant to the children, whist maintaining a complete record of all messages.

If you’re having difficulty communicating with your ex in person, it’s important to try and limit these interactions as much as possible. When, and if, these face-to-face interactions are unavoidable, consider having a third party accompany you – this could be a family member or friend. Alternatively, a family lawyer can also communicate or negotiate with your co-parent on your behalf. 

Speak to a professional

An uncooperative ex can make the most simple discussions or decisions impossible to navigate. If you’re having trouble co-parenting after separation, a family lawyer can act as a great support. Engaging a family lawyer for advice doesn’t have to lead to a court case, rather a lawyer can give you the necessary guidance required to determine the best outcome for your family.

While co-parenting can be complex, these strategies can help you work towards establishing a more amicable arrangement with your ex-partner.

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Written by Annelis Bos, Partner at Coote Family Lawyers.

Annelis is an Accredited Specialist in Family Law.  She is a member of the Law Institute of Victoria, the Law Council of Australia, Family Law Section.  She presents regularly to the Profession on numerous aspects of the Family Law Act.


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