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Parenting after divorce: How will you interact with your ex?

If you and your ex have minor children, you will need to begin a new type of parenting relationship after separating. You will have to learn to interact with each other only as parents, rather than as parents who are also romantic partners.

This is a profound and possibly heartbreaking change. But the wellbeing of your child or children will benefit greatly if you can forge an effective way to interact as parents after your breakup.

A prominent psychologist who studies parenting after divorce has identified several distinct types of parenting relationships that characterize former couples. What are these types and which one applies most clearly to you and your ex?

Research on divorced parenting types

For over twenty years, psychologists have been trying to understand how ex-spouses relate to each other in post-divorce parenting. A family therapist and researcher named Constance Ahrons has used clever alliteration to describe several different types.

On one side of the spectrum, there are "parallel parents," who don't want much or any contact with the other parent. If there is still a lot of unresolved conflict between the parents, they may be "fiery foes" or "angry associates."

Other couples, however, are able to carve out more amicable arrangements. This may not always come right away, but only after time heals some of the wounds. The terms Ahrons uses for these types of post-divorce parenting relationships are "cooperative colleagues" or "perfect pals."

Overall, the research suggests kids will have greater wellbeing if parents can be flexible with each other and find common cause for the kids. Getting to that point may not always be possible, especially if there are intractable issues such as domestic violence. But in many cases, it is worth the effort to try.

Parenting plans in Illinois

One reason that understanding divorced parenting styles is so important is that the trend toward more co-parenting. This is true both in Illinois and across the country.

In the older model, moms often got primary custody and dads played a secondary role, often settling for one or two nights a week and every other weekend. Today, however, many states have adopted or are considering laws that presume a 50-50 split in parenting time between the two parents.

To be sure, specific factors could still lead a judge to conclude it would be in the best interest of the child to have a different arrangement. As we discussed last month, in a post on proposed Illinois child custody law changes, the trend is toward more equal custody arrangements with parents evenly (or nearly evenly) dividing parenting time.

Is your glass half-full or half-empty?

Even if you and your ex are in alignment on parenting priorities, it can still be hard for all concerned after divorce. It can seem like the family's cup is split in two and that each part is only half full.

If necessary, you can work through some of the emotional issues in family therapy. But make sure, as you consider divorce, that you get skilled legal guidance on crafting your parenting plan. No matter what your divorced parenting style is, you will need a plan that helps you build a new future as a divorced parent.

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