Getting a divorce is complicated on its own, but divorce with kids comes with a lifetime of challenges you’ll have to address in tandem, for better or for worse. But what if your relationship with your ex could be not just cordial and good enough, but downright supportive and amiable? We talked to three women who have navigated coparenting arrangements with former spouses they now consider friends and allies.
How to Amicably Co-Parent With Your Ex, According to Women Who Have Done It
1. Start by Letting Go of the Idea of ‘Equal Time’
Kristjana had been married four years—and had a 2-year-old daughter—when she and her husband decided to part ways. “In the beginning, we split our time 50/50, following a 3/2/2 schedule and alternating weekends,” she says. They even divided holidays like Easter or Christmas in half, meaning that they each spent half the day with their daughter. But that got old quick. “It was very sad for the first two years and there were a lot of emotions around sharing time,” she explains. When Kristjana remarried and her new spouse got stationed at an Air Force base five hours away, the pressure was on to amend their arrangement. “We realized how imperative it was that we work together and create a schedule that not only works for both us and for our daughter, but one that feels good for the family.” For Kristjana, that meant her daughter, who was now six, lived full-time with her ex so she could continue to attend her already-established school and be surrounded by family and friends. “The 3/2/2 schedule was just a lot of change and so quickly,” she adds. “Now, the bulk of my time spent with her is in the summer, but she can come for weeks at a time when it’s easier to settle in, spend quality time together and get into a rhythm or routine.” (For the record, she adds, it’s not easy: “I think about her every day she’s not with me.”)
2. Respect the Wishes and Needs of Your Kids
After getting a divorce from her partner of 13 years, Andrea—whose kids were 5 and 8 at the time—landed on a schedule with her ex where her kids spent 10 days with mom and four days with dad. But one of the biggest realizations post-divorce came from recognizing that sometimes the schedule wasn’t up to them. “When the girls needed to stay put in one place longer, it meant one of us had to sacrifice the time with them in order to achieve that,” she says. “It takes a big and loving parental heart to consider a parenting plan that honors both the children and the adults in the family.”
3. Good Communication and Well-Respected Boundaries Help
Kristjana is the first to admit: It takes time to reach a point of calm. “To go from being partners and lovers to being alone and trying to navigate emotions, dating, raising a small child together while apart was complicated and a lot of hurtful things were said,” she explains. And when new partners entered the picture, navigating what was ‘off-limits’ was all about trial and error. “Once we both were firmly in new relationships, we no longer would call each other and talk for an hour or two about ‘personal’ things,” Kristjana explains. “That was hard at first—but it’s an important shift to recognize. We went from being partners who shared a life to being partners in taking care of a child, but we no longer shared the same bed, dreams or goals. It was messy at first, but with time, we found a routine and got comfortable in our new roles.”
4. Makes Sure New Partners Are Included Too
In Kristjana’s case, she remarried. Eventually, so did her ex. Bottom line: Communication is about the four of them now. “I actually communicate more regularly about day-to-day issues with my daughter’s stepmom that I do with her dad,” she explains. “For bigger things like doctor visits, school, vacation, play therapy and more, we all communicate through email.” All four of them also rely on an app called Cozi to streamline conversations. “We have our schedule in there for what weekends, holidays and vacations are scheduled, which minimizes the need for constant communication as far as pick-ups and drop-offs go.”
5. Instead of Prioritizing Friendship, Prioritize Gratitude
Andrea acknowledges that being friends with her ex wasn’t the secret to a successful co-parenting arrangement. Instead, it’s about gratitude. “We only focus on what works for each other,” she says. “This is no longer about trying to fix or change the other person. We operate from our strengths.” For Andrea’s family that means that she generally takes the lead on organizing kid logistics while her ex focuses on the financial aspects. “We don’t insist on fairness in the division of responsibilities and that helps,” she adds.
6. Share Holidays and Special Occasions
Rachel Lauren, who was married for six years and has three kids, ages 6, 5 and 4, admits, “Every co-parenting situation is different and, for some, friendship may not be healthy.” However, for her and her ex, sharing responsibilities means sharing celebrations, too. “We have an agreement to rotate holidays and when applicable even share the holiday. My ex-husband will always be the father of my kids, which means he will always be family. Family can come to dinner, family can celebrate birthdays, family can step in when times get hard.”
7. If Keeping the Peace Is Important to You, Tell Your Lawyer That
Rachel is clear on the fact that the legal process of getting a divorce can take a toll on the prospects of friendship (or a healthy co-parenting relationship) long-term. “The legal process—and lawyers who see your divorce as a way to profit—can make the situation harder than it needs to be,” she says. “I talked to three lawyers and chose to go with the third because she respected the peace my partner and I wanted to keep and the love we still have for each other. The other lawyers I spoke with were trying to encourage me to rock a boat that did not need rocking.” Her advice? “Follow your gut and remember the lawyer isn’t who you will have to face for the rest of your life as a parent.”