Divorce is not something that happens once in a courtroom. It is a lifetime change for you and your family.
The family looks different now. Old patterns have to be changed. New patterns have to be tried out and then kept or thrown away. In some areas, there is a mandatory waiting period before a couple can divorce. This can be good or bad.
When divorce takes longer to finalize and parents are able to work together, the family has time to gradually figure out how the new family will look and act. Parents can try out different plans and see what works and what doesn’t work. Children have time to get used to the idea that their family is going to look different. But, if parents are not working together, the children stay caught in the middle of the conflict for a much longer time and are at greater risk for never adjusting well after the divorce.
Separation can happen literally overnight. Dad (or mom) moves out and doesn’t come back. Many states and provinces with no-fault divorce can process the legal divorce in very little time. Children and parents suddenly need to make changes in almost every area of life. It seems as if every minute there is one more detail to sort out. The stress level for everyone stays high because there is no rest period in comfortable routines.
Sudden change in families is not unique to divorce, however. It is a normal process that happens in other circumstances as well: with a move to another town due to a job change, a new baby born into the family, or the death of a family member. Routines are shaken up and for a while it feels as if things will never be easy again. But, gradually, new routines take shape.
You find new ways to cope, as individuals and as a family. You help one another to figure out what the family will look like now. The family has been redefined —just as a word is redefined when it is suddenly used in new and different ways. is new family moves ahead with different ways to cope with its current reality.
You have a new role now: “coParent.” As a coParent, you are responsible for working with the other parent to care for your children. Together, you get parenting tasks done. You set up dentist appointments, arrange for dance lessons, and plan for sports. You give your children a sense of common purpose. Your ex is now essentially your business partner and your business mission is this: “Working together for our children.”
Research shows that parenting plans work. If you and your coParent agree on (1) what is best for your children, and (2) have a clear plan for parenting roles and responsibilities, and (3) keep to the plan, conflict can be managed and children spared from its negative effects.
Using research as a foundation for parenting will keep you focused on what works. This is the practical approach used in a parenting plan. Although “flying by the seat of your pants” can work, it’s stressful and has a high rate of crash and burn. A parenting plan that uses proven techniques is less likely to fail— and it’s less stressful. Follow the plan and you should arrive at the destination on time and in one piece.
From COPARENTING AFTER DIVORCE: A GPS FOR HEALTHY KIDS by Debra K. Carter, PhD; Unhooked Books.