Getting out of a toxic relationship is hard, but co-parenting with a toxic ex can draw the burden of emotional abuse on for indefinite periods of time. Courts expect everyone to get along, but trying to reach agreements or have existing agreements maintained is nearly impossible with a toxic ex who insists on using the situation to maintain a power edge over you.
We were at Disneyland with a group of other moms. It was supposed to be a day to relax and enjoy time with my son and our friends. Of course, a message came through from my attorney. After nearly two years, there were still accusations being thrown by my ex. So much for a day at the Happiest Place on Earth.
Everything becomes a trigger when co-parenting with a toxic ex. My therapist had already explained to me the concept of crazy-making and much of what my ex did was just that. Even being on my own, I was still in a bad situation because my ex wasn’t interested in co-parenting, he was only interested in gaining an advantage where he could. He wanted things the way he wanted them when he wanted them.
That didn’t matter if it was a change in the schedule he wanted for the holidays, he’d simply say it was his holiday even when the court order clearly stated otherwise. Accusing me of being a negligent mother because my son wore a scarf knit by my grandmother around his neck, my ex claiming it was a choking hazard.
Getting Through a Difficult Divorce
Getting divorced with a toxic ex starts with setting your real set of boundaries. This can be hard because you may be emotionally torn for a variety of reasons: a broken heart, wanting to protect your child, or wanting to believe they will agree when there are lawyers and judges involved. A difficult divorce is one that even the smallest of things can’t be agreed upon.
My son and I were finally in our new home, small but ours. My ex insisted on coming over to assess Matthew’s living arrangements. I shouldn’t have let him, but I felt I didn’t have anything to hide. On my list was a washer and dryer for the garage. My ex offered to get it for us. Three months later he demanded repayment for something he willingly gave me. There was no way to prove what he said.
Divorce can take a long time when conflicts exists and conflict will almost always exist with a toxic ex. Everything you say will be refuted, every accusation about you will be made, every opportunity to argue will be made. When you try to ignore the craziness, you’ll be accused of ignoring the situation. My divorce process was my life for two and a half years. I thought co-parenting would be easier once the case was settled and we were officially divorced.
Setting a Custody Schedule
Getting a custody schedule in order as soon as possible will be the first thing you need to do to co-parent with a toxic ex. The advice given to me was that once the schedule is set, don’t ever ask for adjustments to it. That opens the door to the other party not needing to follow it. Keep in mind how important the custody schedule is to your child, too.
Even with a 50/50 split in time, my son hated the back and forth of the schedule: Mondays/Tuesdays with mom, Wednesdays/Thursdays with dad, and alternating weekends to create a 5-day custody window regularly. This type of back and forth is hard enough on a child; start changing them because you want to go out with the girls only adds stress to an already stressful situation. Don’t misunderstand me, wanting to be with adult friends is good and important. But do your best to make that on your off days.
He fought two and a half years for joint custody and won. The first phone call I got from him the day after our divorce was finalized was to take his custody weekend because he was busy. That was the start of hundreds of declined and missed custody days.
When you don’t alter from the schedule, at least on your end, you can always go back to the schedule as your point of power. If my ex wanted to switch days, I’d say no but that I was happy to take or son if he didn’t have the time to watch him. I’d always simply say, I preferred to stick to the schedule and our regular planned activities. It was true whether it was set playdates or sports, I didn’t want to lose time with things my son valued and his father wasn’t likely to take him to.
Legal Custody and What That Means
Legal custody is the right to make decisions about how your kid will be raised. It gives a parent the right to choose things like schools, athletics, doctors and medical care, and can even define social activities or hobbies. It is possible to not have your child live in the house and still have legal custody – meaning your child can live with you full time but your ex may still have input and the rights to state how your child is raised.
My son was turning 16 with a car already waiting for him in the driveway. I hadn’t thought about the requirements before I tossed him the Hawaii driver’s education book. He was living with me 100% of the time yet we quickly realized that his dad would need to be there in person or get a liability waiver notarized because he still had 50% legal custody. The waiver never came and the car sits in the driveway waiting for its owner to become a licensed driver.
I can’t count the number of times that legal joint custody has created a problem in a choice I was making for my son, whether it was travel decisions or him getting his driver’s license. Co-parenting is a way to share the big decisions, but when you disagree it requires court action or simply no action as in the case of my son getting his driver’s license. It’s been a year and he’ll wait until he’s 18 to get his licenses despite being a responsible, A student.
Physical Custody and What that Means
Physical custody is simply where your child lives. You can have a co-parenting agreement where the child lives with one parent 100% and the other parent has 100% legal custody. While it is possible, the more likely scenario is shared custody of some sort. Physical custody does affect things like taxes. If you share 50% physical custody, make sure your court orders state who gets to claim the child on tax returns.
While my co-parenting agreement was originally 50% physical and legal custody, the orders stated that I could claim my child for taxes and thus get head of household rather than single. It helps save on taxes big time and not something you want to overlook.
“As your son gets older, he will dictate where he stays and for how long. Kids want to spend less time with their parents and more time with friends as they get older. Physical custody becomes less of an issue.”
That’s what my attorney told me as we discussed the outcome of the court case. At the time, my son was so young that the thought of the custody schedule one day not mattering was little solace to the fact that he wouldn’t be with me half of the time. Physical custody and custody schedules are one of the hardest parts of co-parenting.
Co-parenting Dos and Don’ts
It may seem simple, follow what the court order says and you’ll be in good shape. However, as detailed as the court order is, there are so many dynamics to a parenting plan that it gets hard to keep emotions in check if you are still healing from the divorce.
Here are some things to do when co-parenting to keep conflict down:
- Follow the court order as much as possible including pick up times and scheduled days.
- Give the other parent plenty of notice for doctors’ appointments, school meetings, or changes to the schedule.
- Keep all formal communication to email or a co-parenting communication app so you have a record of what was said and when.
- Be acutely aware of how your child is feeling irrespective of your own feelings.
- Learn to use a non-accusatory or inflammatory tone. Be concise in communication and stick to the facts of what needs to be communicated.
Here are some things to avoid when co-parenting to keep conflict down:
- Don’t forget your child’s best interest ALWAYS.
- Avoid being demanding or accusatory to your ex; if there is a real problem regarding your child’s health and welfare, call your attorney or get a mediator.
- Don’t assume you have any control over who your ex introduces to your child, disciplining them, when they let them go to bed, and what type of food they eat when not with you. Unless there is a dangerous or negligent situation, the courts don’t care if the eat McDonald’s every day when with your ex; they’re eating.
- Don’t assume physical custody is in any way related to child support; even deadbeat dads are given rights to see their kids.
Dealing with Co-parenting Conflicts
It doesn’t matter how clearly you define a parenting plan, when you have two parties who don’t agree on how to raise a child you will have conflicts. Some may be innocent disagreements simply because you have strong but differing opinions about simple things like bedtime or what movies your child is allowed to watch. Other conflicts could simply become a means of control for one party or the other.
At the end of the day, you need to communicate with your child that what the rules in your house are exactly that. You must be prepared for the “fun parent” to get kudos from the kids for lax rules, if any. Whatever you do, be present in your child’s life when they are with you and don’t let the conflicts seep into your time. That becomes toxic parenting and can damage your relationship with your child, the person you are fighting so hard for.
When you realize and accept that you can’t control the other party in co-parenting and accept that parallel parenting is your best option (parallel parenting means the rules at your house are yours and the rules at your ex’s are theirs) you will find freedom. It doesn’t mean there won’t be times of frustration but you will begin to live your best life and your child will like how that looks and feels.
Find a place you can vent your frustrations. The Single Mommy Tribe is a private Facebook Group where you can vent, cry, laugh, and everything in between. Feel free to find us and join a group of like-minded women.