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Does Co-Parenting Have to be this Difficult? Tips and Tricks to Minimize Conflict

HELPING FAMILIES ACROSS COLORADO FOR MORE THAN 30 YEARS
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Divorce is emotionally draining and stressful on your health. When children are involved, it becomes even more important to recognize the negative impacts of divorce and minimize them. Too often, children are caught in the middle between warring parents ineffectively co-parenting, causing them extreme emotional distress. Here, you will learn how to minimize adverse effects on you and your children by taking proactive steps to effective co-parenting and how to protect your and your children's health.

Why Minimizing Conflict is Important

While 2020 was on the low end of divorce filings in Colorado at 22,592, experts have predicted a substantial increase post-pandemic. The pandemic force couples to stay home with children in remote learning and led to a spike in layoffs, causing financial struggles. This inevitably caused stress, hostility, and conflict in the home. Entering divorce proceedings with conflict will create more tension, cost more money, and take more time. Perhaps most importantly, conflict in divorce can cause long-term damage to children.

Children caught in the middle of a divorce with conflict can be dramatically affected by it. Divorce is stressful for everyone involved, but children tend to be more emotionally sensitive and become easily overwhelmed. Often children struggling to adapt to a contentious divorce express anger, anxiety, and irritability. They may also have feelings of guilt if they do not understand why their parents are getting divorced. These feelings can spill into more aspects of your child's life, like school, manifesting as destructive behavior, lower academic performance, and a decrease in socialization. It is thus crucial to minimize conflict in your divorce to the best extent possible.

Tips and Tricks to Promote an Amicable Divorce

Tip #1: Assemble a Team

The process of divorce often feels lonely. Enlisting a confidante, someone you feel comfortable speaking with can be a great way to feel less alone during this difficult process. Confidantes may be a family member, a close friend, or even a co-worker you trust. Regardless of who you choose, this individual should be someone you can rely on, someone who will listen, and someone who will support you throughout this process.

Another team member to consider is a therapist, both for yourself and your children. A therapist can provide a neutral environment and help you learn steps to get back to your life after divorce. When children are involved, therapy may also be beneficial for them in coping with anxiety and emotional stressors.

Lastly, a lawyer is usually a crucial team member as they are your biggest advocate. Lawyers who specialize in family law know the process, provide a gap between you and your spouse, and take the stressful load off your shoulders.

Tip #2: Prepare Yourself

The first step in preparation is to educate yourself on Colorado family law. Colorado, like many states, is a "no-fault" divorce state. A no-fault divorce means that any "bad behavior" you or your spouse may allege the other did during the marriage or that led to divorce will be taken into account. Limited exceptions for alleged "bad behavior" directly tied to parenting may be considered in child custody disputes, like child abuse or inappropriate behavior in front of the children.

When children are involved, it is vital to understand the basics of child custody and child support. Child custody and support are often massive points of contention between separating spouses, negatively impacting your children.

Child custody in a divorce will entail an agreement between you and your spouse on virtually all aspects of childrearing and the responsibilities you each have. This includes living arrangements, time spent with each parent, education, medical decisions, etc. Ideally, the parents will determine each of these together to have the best picture of the child's life. If the parents cannot agree to these terms without the court, the court will base custody on the child's best interest. In Colorado, it is presumed to be in the child's best interest to have consistent contact with both parents. The court will consider factors like the child's relationship with each parent, how old the child is, where they currently attend school and extra-curricular, and each parents' overall ability to care for them. The ultimate goal of a parenting agreement should be to maintain a stable environment for your child to the best extent possible.

Each state, including Colorado, has specific requirements on how child support is calculated, most closely looking at each parent's income and how much time both get with the children in the parenting agreement. You will need to gather records on your child's education, medical history, extra-curricular activities, and anything else relevant to their expenses. Support is then calculated based on two categories: basic and extraordinary expenses. The child's basic expenses, such as food and clothing, are pre-determined by Colorado's specific formula. The child's extraordinary costs, like extra-curricular, must be agreed to by both parents and explained in the parenting agreement.

Tips #3: Know your Options for Resolution

Not all divorce proceedings have to rely on the court system. Other options, like mediation or a settlement conference, are viable options for those who can work together to reach a negotiation. These tend to be the best routes for a more satisfactory resolution. When this is not possible, however, the court will be the final decision maker at trial.

Lawyers who specialize in family law will try to resolve through mediation or settlement outside of court. Mediation allows the parties and their lawyers to communicate with a third party that keeps the conversation productive. The goal of mediation is to resolve through open discussion rather than through the court. Like mediation, settlement conferences have a neutral third party but are more structured to reach a final settlement agreement before a pending trial. Both can be helpful in a conflicted divorce because they decrease the tension by instead having lawyers present each side.

If mediation or a settlement conference is not a vital option or one that worked, the last option is trial. Trial requires a tremendous amount of time, work, and energy, which also means increased fees and costs. Lawyers have to gather and prepare evidence to present to the court, prep any witnesses you may require, and spend a significant amount of time on paperwork. Often, this leads to you losing more money than you would have in mediation or settlement because of all the legal costs required. Perhaps, most importantly, because the courts have a strict set of guidelines to follow during divorce proceedings, the resolution reached may not be what you wanted. The court only gets snippets of the whole picture at trial, so their decisions are not as informed as other means of resolution.

Additional Tricks to Keep you and your Children Healthy

The first trick to stay healthy during your divorce is to keep your emotions in check. Divorce may well be one of the most stressful experiences you have, leading to emotional imbalance. A lack of control over your emotions can also negatively impact negotiation with your spouse, causing even more tension. This can affect all aspects of your life and cause emotional stress on your children, so it is crucial to take steps to control your emotions.

Recognizing that your emotional ups and downs are completely normal is the first step to keep them in check. Once you normalize your emotions, you can allow yourself to feel and accept that you will have good and bad days. Allowing yourself to feel both the positive and negative emotions that come with divorce will ultimately help you to move forward with your life. Channel your energy on forming a daily routine with things you can control, like socializing and healthy habits, to begin the process of moving forward.

It is equally important to be aware of your emotions when directly dealing with your spouse. Your spouse knows how to push your buttons, often turning communication between spouses spiteful and angry. When communicating with your spouse, do your best to take time to formulate a calm, non-reactive response. Think of negotiations like a business meeting and make decisions accordingly, leaving emotions out of it. A business meeting mindset without emotional responses can save you time and money in the long run.

Finally, be conscious of how your children will be affected in the long run by how you react to the divorce. Children of divorce are more at risk for depression, lower self-esteem, and behavioral outbursts. Ensure your children know their emotional ups and downs are normal and have your unconditional support. Communication, healthy co-parenting, and maintaining a routine can help your children adjust to their new life. If your children have difficulty expressing their feelings to you or your spouse, think about obtaining a child therapist.

Lastly, remember your long-term goals: to survive, get your finances and kids protected, and complete the process thoroughly and properly. Survive by focusing on your health, particularly your sleep, diet, and exercise. Keep in mind how decisions in your divorce will affect your long-term financial situation and plan accordingly.

While it can be easy to get distracted by the immediate issues, divorce court is a terrible place to focus on payback or retribution. The court is not there to achieve your goals or pick a "winner" and a "loser." The court is charged with dividing up property and debts equitably and entering orders in children's best interest. It is in your best interest to focus on long-term goals to best provide for yourself and your children during and after the divorce.

For further assistance or a consultation, contact the experts at The Harris Law Firm.

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