Article written by Nardine Collier
Family Lawyer Cairns & Alice Springs

As a separated mother of 2 teenagers, I know first-hand that co-parenting while you are both together can be difficult. Co-parenting after separation can sometimes seem almost impossible.

In the last article I talked about two very important things separated parents can do, to make the minefield of parenting a bit easier. The first and most important thing is to protect your kids from conflict. Children can’t watch the two people they love most in the world yell and scream at each other without feeling miserable, scared, worried, at fault. Kids don’t need to hear one parent talk badly of the other.

So the aim is, to put your feelings aside for the benefit of your children and develop a “business-like relationship” with the other parent.
How can you do this?

Improve your communication

This is really the key to any successful relationship – good communication. Being able to get your point across without it all falling apart into a horrible argument. Feeling as if you are being heard. Feeling as if the other parent is listening to you, even if they might not agree with what you have to say.

Mediation is the ideal environment to discuss strategies for effective co-parenting. Mediation is structured so that each person gets their turn to speak without interruption. A mediator can assist you to try and see the other’s point of view. A mediation can put together a list of things to be decided, moving forward – how will we communicate? What about? How often? What can we agree on, so our parenting is consistent?

For example, you might agree to only communicate by text or email, unless it is an emergency. Of course, we all know someone who regularly talks to their ex on the phone (some even go out together regularly!) and while that is fantastic, it isn’t for everyone. Or not yet, anyway!

You will hopefully put some boundaries in place – i.e. that all discussions are respectful and only about the children. You might agree to use a “communication book” – this is a book which passes between the parents in the child’s bag, for example, in which you record only matters of importance to do with the children’s welfare such as illnesses, activities and so on. Just be mindful that if children can read, I guarantee you they will read this book – it’s all about them after all! – so it is vitally important that what is written in there is respectful and without conflict.

Consistent Parenting

 In the digital world parents are using communication apps like “Talking Parents”. Also, in this digital age, schools have apps, allowing both parents access to information direct from the school. Consistent parenting Imagine if you had two jobs and one boss was very laid back and you could do what you liked but the other boss was a stickler for the rules. You’d get confused, right? Children do best when they have similar rules in each household – as to TV time, social media, what is expected in relation to jobs, what time is bedtime, and so on. You and the other parent can hopefully agree on these sorts of things. As for the things you can’t agree on, try and work out why you disagree. For example; you might think a particular TV show is not age appropriate but the other parent doesn’t see anything wrong with it. Mediation is an opportunity to work through these issues to see if you can reach some compromise.

All parents – loving each other or not – are going to disagree at times about how to raise their children. If you can work out what those disagreements are and how you might manage them, co-parenting will be a lot easier!

Nardine Collier is a Nationally Accredited mediator and has been mediating family law disputes for 20 years. She is a Family Dispute Resolution Practitioner, a Family Law Arbitrator, a panel mediator for various Australia wide organisations and for courts and tribunals, and regularly mediates at legal aid conferences in family law, in Cairns and the Northern Territory. She is also the Cairns representative of the Queensland Chapter of the Resolution Institute of Australia.