Tips for Dealing With an Uncooperative Co-Parent

Patricia TichenorLegal

uncooperative co-parents arguing over their child

For many parents who are seeking a divorce, determining custody and visitation can be difficult and emotional. You and your soon-to-be ex may not see eye-to-eye on important decisions, like who gets the children for holidays and where they’ll spend their school breaks. Your spouse may even refuse to cooperate when it comes time to document your arrangements in a Marital Settlement Agreement.

If you’re in this situation, you know it’s not easy to deal with an uncooperative co-parent. Here’s how to handle your spouse’s behavior and work toward an agreement that’s best for both of you and, most importantly, your minor children.

1. Set emotional boundaries with your spouse.

One of the first and most important things any divorcing parent can do is set emotional and physical boundaries with their soon-to-be ex. When your children’s other parent is creating conflict, don’t engage back. Try to be respectful, get in touch with your feelings, be direct with your communications, and set your limits.

Another way to set an emotional boundary is to keep your private life private. You and your spouse will still need to communicate about your children during and after your divorce, but there’s no reason to share additional information about your life. Protecting your privacy by not discussing your fears or any personal issues outside of your children will be key in separating emotional ties and avoid giving your spouse any “leverage” over you in custody discussions.

2. Don’t put your children in the middle of any arguments.

When you are likely feeling frustrated and hurt, it can be easy to get caught up in an argument with your spouse around your children. Arguing around your children can result in them shutting down, feeling responsible for the divorce, trying to be a peacemaker, and overall, just make the situation harder for them.

If the other parent starts an argument in front of your children, don’t engage them. Instead, try to communicate calmly and ask to discuss the matter privately when your children are not around.

3. Avoid retaliatory behavior.

When negative emotions cloud judgment, you may find yourself wanting to retaliate against your spouse for their lack of cooperation. Retaliation can only make the divorce process harder and make it more difficult to reach a mutual agreement about custody and visitation.

Some common retaliatory behaviors between divorcing parents that should be avoided at all costs include:

  • Removing shared assets from your family home.
  • Canceling shared credit cards without consulting the joint cardholder.
  • Making false legal reports about poor parenting or child abuse.
  • Changing the locks on the house doors before the other parent has moved out.
  • Telling the uncooperative co-parent they can’t see their children.
  • Badmouthing the other parent to family, friends, and/or the children.
  • Invading their privacy with surveillance tools on their phone or computer.

4. Don’t try to control the uncooperative co-parent’s behavior.

There will likely be times when you don’t agree with your spouse and their uncooperative behavior. Remember that they are an adult and you can’t control them. However, what you can control is how you react to their actions.

Don’t overanalyze their behaviors or try to rationalize them to yourself or to your children. If you don’t agree with their decisions or actions, allow yourself to be frustrated, but ultimately, accept that you can’t control or change what they do. Acceptance can take time and involve a bit of soul-searching, but it’s important to focus on what matters most: your children and their well-being.

5. Get help from a legal professional.

No matter what your situation, it’s always a good idea to consult a legal professional about your divorce case, even if you’re representing yourself.

If you’re navigating a DIY divorce in the Commonwealth of Virginia, My Legal Case Coach can help. We offer easy-to-use legal case form packets and ongoing 1:1 virtual legal coaching with a licensed Virginia attorney.

Schedule a free 15-minute consultation today to discuss your case.