How to Co Parent with an Uncooperative Ex Spouse

Four Parts:Setting Up Parallel ParentingKeeping the PeaceGetting Help With Your SpouseHelping Your Child Cope

Working with an uncooperative ex can be difficult. However, how you work with the ex will depend on how uncooperative the ex is being. For instance, if you can't make anything work, you may need to go to court (or back to court) to figure out a better custody arrangement. You may also want to consider parallel parenting. Some of the steps listed in the article are closer to parallel parenting; that is, they encourage the two of you to respect each other's parenting styles since you're having trouble parenting together, while at the same time, you step out of each other's lives. Whatever way you choose, you need to figure out the best way to work with your ex for the sake of your child.

Part 1
Setting Up Parallel Parenting

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    Discuss time arrangements. If the court has not mandated your time arrangements, you need to have a discussion about them. You can't just leave the arrangement vague and expect it to work well. If you don't think you can decide on one alone, consider talking with a counselor to help work it out.[1]
    • You need to discuss what nights the child will be spending with which parent, who's responsible for what activities, and who's responsible for which care-taking activities.
    • Don't forget to discuss holidays and school breaks, as you need to decide where the child will be during those times.
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    Allocate decision-making. If you don't plan on making decisions together going forward, you need to discuss who will make what decisions. For instance, who decides what activities the child gets to do? Who's responsible for the bulk of the child's healthcare? These are important decisions in the life of your child, and you need to make them together or decide who is responsible for the decision.[2]
    • While true co-parenting would be to make all of the decisions together, it may not be feasible if you can't work together. That's why it's important to decide who's going to make what decisions from the get-go.
    • You should also consider religious upbringing, as well. Which religion will the child follow?
    • Another consideration is schooling. Will your child go to a public school or a private school going forward? Who will be responsible for making that decision?
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    Separate your feelings from your child. When you've divorced from someone, it can, and usually does, get messy. You've broken up with someone you once vowed to love, and that hurts. It's hard to move on, and it's even tougher not to let those feelings interfere with how you are raising your child. However, if you can keep those feelings out, you can work towards a much healthier relationship, even if your ex remains uncooperative.[3]
    • Try thinking of your ex as a colleague rather than an ex. You probably don't like everyone you work with, but you still must get along with them in a professional manner. In many ways, this step is more parallel parenting, though you are still working together to make decisions.
    • Once you start thinking of the relationship this way, it can help to calm the waters. Would you pick a fight over something small with a colleague? Not if you're acting professionally.
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    Don't interfere with each other. That is, when your child is at your ex's house, try not to text or call your child too much. You should expect the same when your child is at your house. The point of this step is to avoid creating a situation where you're trying to mediate between the other parent and the child.[4]
    • That doesn't mean you can't talk to your child, just that you shouldn't spend hours a day on the phone with your child, nor should you get in the middle of arguments between your child and your ex.
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    Skip the fights. As often as possible, try not to engage with your ex. Often, you will be doing so in front of your kid, since that will be the only time you see your ex. Therefore, it's best not to get in verbal fights, as that only hurts your kid more. Plus, that keeps you entrenched in a negative relationship, which you don't need in your life.[5]
    • This step means you won't rise to the bait. You won't respond with sarcasm, even though you may feel like it.
    • It means that you have a responsibility to stay calm and not engage, even if your ex is trying to engage you. For instance, say your ex says, "I noticed you forgot to pack a shirt for him this weekend. Big surprise, you forgot something." While you may be tempted to snap back at your ex, instead say, in a sincere tone, "I'm sorry I forgot. I'll remember next time. Thanks for taking the time to tell me." Being sincere and straightforward can start to disarm some of the nastiness.

Part 2
Keeping the Peace

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    Resolve to be flexible with the time arrangement. If you're still angry with your ex, the last thing you'll want to do is give a little when it comes to the time arrangement, especially if your ex is being uncooperative. However, giving a little can open up space for a better relationship in the future because it shows you're willing to compromise a bit.[6]
    • Think of it this way. If you're mad at someone and they give you a cookie, you're less likely to be as mad at them because they've been generous to you. It's a silly analogy, but it shows how we think of relationships. When one person gives a little, the other person may be more willing to give a little, too.
    • In addition, your ex may be willing to be more flexible with the time arrangement in the future when you want to keep your kid for a special day.
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    Stop trying to change your ex. Of course, you can't control your ex's behavior. However, you can control what you do. One way you can help the situation is stop trying to fix your ex, especially if they keep trying to change you. By stepping back, you are signalling you are done with that type of relationship, and in turn, your ex may come to realize that they need to be done with that part of the relationship, too.[7]
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    Re-frame your statements. Making a statement to your ex about what he or she must do can be off-putting. Instead, try re-framing your statements into requests. That way, your ex will at least feel like you are trying to work with them, rather than dictate to them.[8]
    • For instance, you may be tempted to say, "You should stop taking our kid out for ice cream late at night."
    • Instead, try saying, "Can we talk about Charlie's bedtime? I feel like he does better when we're both on the same page."
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    Be direct. Even when you'd rather avoid speaking to your ex, it's important to be direct with your ex. Using your child as a mediator only puts stress on the kid. Plus, messages can get mixed up when you send them through a kid. Whatever conflict you have, face it directly.[9]
    • In addition, talking to your ex yourself shows your child how to deal with difficult situations with grace. You're modeling a behavior that your child can rely on later.
    • It also leaves the burden of parenting on you and your ex, not your kid.
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    Resolve conflicts with problem solving. Bring up the issue you need to discuss. Say why it's important, and what you want to happen. Once you've brought up the issue, give your ex a chance to react. Then discuss possible solutions until you come up with one you can both live with.[10]
    • Don't place blame. Rather, discuss what problem is happening. For instance, instead of saying, "You give our kid too much sugar," you could say, "I've noticed Charlie has behavioral problems after eating sugar."
    • Move on to why you think it's important. "At his age, I think too much sugar is detrimental. I'd like to reduce the sugar in his diet."
    • Ask your ex for a reaction. "What do you think?" Whether your ex agrees or disagrees, discuss solutions.
    • You could say, "I understand you disagree, but can we come up with a solution we both can live with? What if we limit his sugar intake to one sugary snack a day?"
    • Go back and forth until you can come up with a compromise. If you can't come up with a compromise, you may need decide to disagree. That is, as long as your ex isn't being abusive, he or she gets to make the decisions when your kid is with him or her.

Part 3
Getting Help With Your Spouse

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    Consider child custody mediation. This type of mediation is done by a professional. The professional acts as a go-between for you and your ex when you can't work things out. In fact, the mediator can even work without having you both in the same room at the same time, so you won't have to bicker with your ex. The agreements you come to are not binding by the law, so you can change them later in court if you need to do so, though some judges may take the agreements you made into consideration.[11]
    • Mediation can happen before or after you go to court to try to prevent you from going to court a first or second time.
    • Generally, you will hire one person you can both agree on as a mediator. Most of the time, that person will be a lawyer, though some people do work as professional mediators.
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    Call the police. In severe situations, you may need to call the police. For instance, if your spouse isn't letting you have your kids when they are supposed to, that is an appropriate time to call the police. The police can then come out and make a documentation of it, called a "visitation interference."[12]
    • That way, if you do need to go to court, you have documentation to back you up. However, the police will not remove the child from the home. You'll need to go back to court.
    • In addition, this step may only help you if you already have a court-ordered custody arrangement in place.
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    Consider going to court. If you haven't been to court or even if you have, you may need to go back to court if you can't work out your arrangements. In that case, you'll both need to hire lawyers to represent your side.[13]
    • Court can get messy, so make it a last resort if possible.
    • If you feel like your ex spouse is an unfit parent, you may want to fight for full custody. In that case, you'll need to be able to provide examples of how and why the other parent is unfit. Your lawyer can help you come up with ways to prove your point. If you already have a court order for your custody arrangement, you generally must prove that something substantial has changed to get a different arrangement.
    • This option is also important to consider if your ex spouse is delinquent on child support.[14]

Part 4
Helping Your Child Cope

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    Don't say bad things about your ex. At least, don't do so where your child can hear it. If your child hears you saying bad things, they will start questioning their relationship with your ex. Also, it can cause your child stress to hear bad things about someone they love. Therefore, try to save those conversations for your friends, not your kids.[15]
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    Encourage your child to learn and grow. In an environment where they are shuffled back and forth, the child can feel a little lost, especially if your spouse isn't as encouraging of your child and their independence. Therefore, it's important that you take the time to nurture your child, and encourage them to explore their strengths and skills.[16]
    • One way to encourage independence is to let your children tackle projects by themselves, or at least, mostly by themselves. Giving them a chance to try new things without hovering helps them learn how to solve problems and grow.
    • Another thing you can do is praise the child's accomplishments. When your child has worked hard on something, let them know that you noticed their hard work, even if the result wasn't quite what they wanted. For instance, say your child got a B on a spelling test, but they worked very hard through the whole week to get that B. You could say, "I know you wanted a higher grade, but I'm proud of you for working so hard. Sometimes, we don't get the result we want, but if you do your best and work hard, you can still be proud of yourself."
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    Help your child learn emotional intelligence. Emotional intelligence is the ability to identify emotions in yourself and others. It also involves being able to deal with those emotions positively. Helping your child to develop emotional intelligence will help them deal with the other parent if your ex isn't being as emotionally nurturing. In addition, it will teach your child coping skills they need later in life.[17]
    • Start by helping your child identifying what they're feeling. For instance, when your child throws a toy, don't just react. Instead, sit the child down and say, "I think you're feeling frustrated because you couldn't figure out the toy. Frustration is when you are annoyed because you can't get something to go how you want."
    • Show empathy. When your child is upset, show you understand how it feels. For instance, you could say, "I know how upsetting frustration can feel. I feel frustrated sometimes, too."
    • Help the child see how to deal with the emotion better. "I understand that you were frustrated, but throwing the toy isn't an appropriate way to deal with that emotion. If you're frustrated, you can ask for help or choose to play with something else."


  • Don't be afraid to script out a conversation ahead of time. In other words, take a moment to think about what you need to say in the conversation before calling or meeting up with your ex. You can even write it out if that helps.


  • Don't make your child pick a side. Your child deserves a relationship with both parents.

Sources and Citations

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Categories: Children and Divorce