New Beginnings: The Transition from Divorce to Co-Parenting

With the start of a new year comes the inevitable set of New Year’s resolutions, and for many of us, the equally inevitable breaking of New Year’s resolutions. The idea behind a New Year’s resolution is based on sound principles, we want to change for the better, we see places in our lives where we can make those changes, and then we initiate a change in behavior.

The problem that many of us encounter, however, is that we don’t come into a resolution knowing why we’re making the change, and don’t have the attitude that allows that change to stick. We might decide to quit smoking or lose weight or watch less TV because we somehow feel that we should, but when it gets difficult not to stray back into old, familiar habits, a vague sense of obligation to what one should be doing typically isn’t enough.

Changes in attitude, on the other hand, are instrumental in creating positive and lasting change, and can make the difference between breaking and keeping a resolution. If your pride or your sense of well-being or your desire to get rid of a bad habit manifests in an attitude that says, I’m committed to this change, you’re more likely to stick with it long enough to adopt the changed behavior as your norm.

From my experience in coaching numerous couples through divorce, there’s a decided difference in attitude between couples who are locked into a court battle and couples who commit to co-parenting. It’s obviously challenging to cooperate with someone you regard as an adversary, especially over issues related to raising children. And when you’re in a court battle, the dynamics condition you to have an adversarial relationship with your soon-to-be-ex-spouse, it’s impossible to be anything else.

That’s why, when I work with divorcing couples who want to work together to raise their children, I advocate working together to come to a divorce settlement. An adversarial divorce, in which a judge determines parenting and other issues, is less likely to fit a couple’s needs than what they’re able to coordinate together.

Though divorced couples? relationships will evolve over time, and some of them might be able to be more flexible in dealing with custody issues than a divorce decree allows for, it’s much harder for divorcing couples to be effective co-parents when they’re starting from a place of disagreement. The difference in attitude between I want to win at all costs and I want both of us to work to get what we need is huge and, like with New Year’s resolutions, attitude’s often what separates success from failure.

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