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Post-Divorce Joint Custody: How to be Co-Parents and Avoid Parental Alienation

After a divorce, it may be extremely difficult to get the family back to its normal routine. This can be especially difficult if the court has awarded joint custody, and positive co-parenting with your ex-spouse may seem almost impossible. It can be difficult to figure out how these new arrangements are going to work, what the relationship that each parent will have separately with their child will look like, and the positive attitude that each parent must project to their child about the other parent. Joint custody is generally determined by the court and pursuant to Illinois‘s Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act (750 ILCS 5/). The court determines the type of custody framework by reviewing relevant factors that assess the best interest of the child.

These factors may include:

  1. Wishes of the child as to who will maintain custody;
  2. Wishes of the child as to who will be the custodian;
  3. Changes to the child's home, school, and standard of living, depending on who receives custody;
  4. The health and well-being of each parent;
  5. The presence or past history of physical or mental abuse toward the child or against another person; and
  6. The willingness of each parent to support the child's relationship with the other parent.
To determine whether joint custody is in the best interest of the child, each parent must draft a joint parenting agreement, which outlines the parent's “powers, rights and responsibilities for the personal care of the child and for major decisions such as education, healthcare, and religious training.” Generally, the court may determine that joint custody is appropriate if it is found that it would be in the best interest of the child. The determination of joint custody focuses on the following:
  1. Whether the parents can cooperate effectively and consistently; and
  2. The quality of life each individual parent may provide for the child.
  3. The process may be arduous, as there are many factors to evaluate, but if joint custody has been awarded to both parents, co-parents need to find the appropriate way to effectively co-parent together.
What is Parental Alienation? Parental Alienation is a process by which one parent may attempt to force a child to pick a side against the other parent. Some things that a parent may do to alienate the other parent are to badmouth the other parent, limit the child's contact with the other parent, give off the impression that the other parent is dangerous, or in some way denigrate the other parent. An article by Psychology Today shows that a parent who attempts to alienate his child from the other parent sends off a three-part message, specifically: 1) I am the only parent that loves and supports you, 2) the other parent is not around and may be dangerous, and 3) a relationship with the other parent will ruin a relationship with me. This type of alienation, especially immediately after a divorce, may take effect quickly, especially before a child has been set into a routine. How to Co-Parent Effectively Parental alienation can be avoided if both parents decide that this is not the path down which they want to pull their children. The Huffington Post provides a list of ways that co-parents can avoid parental alienation and denigration:
  • Save your fights for when the children are not around. You do not have to like your spouse, but you should not subject your children to the anger and frustration you might feel for them. Always attempt to be civil and show your co-parent respect, especially in front of your kids.
  • Remember that your children need both of you.
  • You can only control your own household; do not attempt to control the parenting style of your ex.
  • Your child is not your therapist. Keep any decisions, questions about your ex, or your personal feelings to yourself or your actual therapist. Do not place your children in the middle of the problem.
Co-parenting and joint custody may be difficult adjustments to make, especially after a prolonged and protracted divorce. But, if the court decides that joint custody is in the best interest of the child, then make the best of the situation and make having joint custody solely about the child's welfare, and not about your personal problems with your ex. The process for fighting about custody rights is a difficult and emotional time for most parents suffering through a divorce. Our experienced Naperville divorce attorneys may be able to answer any questions you may have, and can guide and counsel you through this difficult time. Feel free to contact our office today.
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