Preparing to Coparent with Your Child’s Father

Posted on Jun 19, 2024 by Katie Carter


There are all sorts of issues to work through when you’re navigating a new coparenting relationship – and not all of them are your issues specifically.  If you have tiny humans depending on you, you’re going to have to help them navigate their new normal, all while it’s completely foreign to you, too.  Not to mention, you’ll likely have to do this, or at least start doing this, when tensions are high with your soon-to-be ex-husband (or your child’s father, depending on your relationship status) and compromise seems like an almost impossible ask.

So, how do you do it?

A lot is going to depend on the character and characteristics of your former partner, because coparenting paths can diverge starkly from family to family.  Some families are able to re-establish a coparenting relationship that is cooperative and collaborative while others struggle to communicate with respect to even the most basic parenting issues.

If your soon-to-be ex is struggling with mental illness or addiction or is just otherwise a difficult (we often say ‘high conflict’) person, you might find that you are on a different path than you would like to be.  I don’t think we do enough talking about the heartbreak associated with this reality, of – essentially – everything feeling like it’s a ‘worst-case scenario’.  Not only are you breaking up, but you can’t even given them the coparenting family dynamic situation that you might prefer, all while you see social and mass media content where beautifully blended families coexist happily and respectfully.

  1. Address your feelings around divorce, separation, breakup, coparenting, and/or your difficult ex with the right professionals.

Whatever your feelings about your new family dynamic, you’d do well to address them with a professional – whether a divorce coach, a therapist, or even your doctor.  Whether it’s developing strategies for boundary setting, recovering from abuse and/or trauma, or finding the right antidepressant (for short or long-term use), there are a lot of other people – aside from divorce attorneys (who, it must be said, have their limitations) who can help you structure life and figure out how to move forward productively.

  1. Take care of your health and wellness in other areas of your life; your divorce or breakup does not reflect every part of your life.

You’ll also want to make sure that, as far as other wellness metrics are concerned, you’re doing your best to give yourself the best shot at feeling as good as possible.  Try to get enough sleep, drink enough water, move your body, connect with other people (like friends and family) unconnected with your divorce, go outside, and do other things that you enjoy.  It sounds trite, but these small things add up dramatically in terms of your feeling of wellness – especially as compared to how you feel if you don’t sleep, eat poorly, binge watch TV all night, don’t see anyone socially, and don’t deal with the emotions that you’re experiencing.  You’re not crazy, but it is a crazy amount of change for any one person to deal with all alone.

  1. Work with an attorney to come up with an appropriate parenting plan.

Done correctly, a good custody agreement (or parenting plan) can be a foundation for your future relationship with your child’s father.

Yes, this is true even if he’s a narcissist, abusive, and/or high conflict.  In fact, it’s maybe especially true in these situations, because not only can you address some of the underlying issues ahead of time, giving yourself clarity that the court could not afford you, but you can also stay out of court and, ideally, prevent things from becoming more contentious over time.

Yes, a narcissist or high conflict parent will look for ways to undermine you or to find loopholes in your agreement – but you already know this.  Use your knowledge of him and his basic patterns and then work with your attorney to create an agreement that addresses your biggest concerns about his behavior or to avoid trigger points that would make coparenting even more difficult.  In general, deadlines and details are going to make or break your experience – again, things that the court will likely not provide.

There are a lot of options, from setting up expectations with respect to extracurricular activities, travel and vacations, first rights of refusal, school enrollment, childcare, medical care, religious upbringing, and more because, between the information your attorney can provide about things that have come up in her experience and the insider knowledge you have about your child’s father, you can add in other relevant details or helpful guidelines to prevent things from becoming unnecessarily contentious.

  1. Make a plan for his parenting time.

Many of my clients tell me that they’re worried about how they’ll spend their time without their kids when their child’s father has parenting time, especially if they are working on a shared custody schedule.

There’s no question it’s a lot to get used to, especially as the default parent.  So, make a plan.  Tackle a home improvement project.  Start a new hobby.  Save a new TV show to binge.  Go out with friends.  Go for a hike.  Go out for coffee or to a movie.  It really doesn’t matter what you do, but find something that you’ll look forward to or that will give you a sense of accomplishment to achieve, and then hold yourself accountable.  Do that thing.

Little by little, it will get easier, especially if you have a good parenting plan or custody agreement that will help you build on a basic foundation.  For many families, what starts out difficult gradually becomes easier over time.  If he’s a narcissist or high conflict, it might not get easier to deal with him, but it should get easier for you to set boundaries, manage communication, and parent in your own way on your own time.

It’s hard, but it’s not impossible.  You can navigate this, especially if you are prepared for some of the bumps in the road ahead of time.  For more information or to download a copy of our free divorce or custody book for Virginia women, give our office a call at 757-425-5200.