In Illinois, it’s rare that anyone gains sole custody and parenting time. Unless one of the parents has been abusive, Illinois courts enter custody disputes with the belief that children do best when they have significant time with both parents.

This means that as a parent looking to get divorced, you’ll most likely need to stay in contact with your ex until your children reach the age of 18. Your divorce isn’t just the end of your marriage; it’s also the beginning of your future. The choices you make can add more hurt and strain to your relationship with your ex, or they can help pave the way toward more effective co-parenting.

The key to helping children bounce back

As hard as divorce can be on adults, it’s just as hard on children. They don’t understand what’s happening and often blame themselves. Children want to love both their parents and often feel caught in the middle. But as much as the conflict and stress of divorce is tough on children, most bounce back after one or two years.

The good news is that you and your ex can help your children rebound by co-parenting in a way that focuses on your child’s needs. In broad terms, this means:

  • Ensuring your child has quality time with both parents
  • Both parents are healthy and stable
  • The parents take steps to reduce conflict

This last point is particularly important. Study after study has shown that children do better after divorce if the parents reduce their conflict.

Working from the same page

An older article from Psychology Today offered some evergreen tips for parents looking to work together after divorce. They include:

  • Always speak respectfully about your ex. Remember, your children want to love both parents. If you speak ill of your ex, you tear at their loyalties, forcing them to make choices they shouldn’t have to make.
  • Maintain consistent rules and routines in both homes. If you and your ex can agree to certain rules and routines, it makes life easier for your children. Also, they’ll find less room to play you and your ex against each other.
  • Work together to set boundaries. You’ll breathe easier when you know that your ex is on the same page about what behaviors are okay, and which are not. You’ll also send a clear, consistent message to your children.
  • Keep your communication with your ex clear and business-like. You may need to stay in touch for years, so you want to avoid adding stress and arguments to your communications. Focus on the work that needs to be done. Treat your ex with at least as much respect as you’d give your coworkers.

Of course, it’s harder to do these things if all you feel toward your ex is rage, hurt and bitterness. Reducing conflict during the divorce can help lower the conflict level afterward. For this reason, mediation often leads to better co-parenting outcomes than courtroom battles.

How mediation lays the groundwork for better co-parenting

When parents go to court to argue for parental responsibilities and parenting time, they commonly add insult to the injury they already feel. In court, parents might badmouth and blame each other, trying to convince the judge to see things their way. It’s confrontational and uncertain. Someone wins, someone loses, and the bad feelings don’t stay in court.

By contrast, mediation offers several advantages for parents who will need to continue working together. These include:

  • Parents can offer suggestions, make compromises and reach their own agreement. This sets precedent for future conflict resolution.
  • Mediation removes the uncertainty from the issues of custody and parenting time.
  • Mediation is more creative. For example, parents can discuss and add guidelines for their children’s behaviors and routines into the language of their parenting plan.

As a parent, you want to approach your divorce with an eye toward your future—and those of your children. Few things will help your kids as much as the steps you take to keep parental conflicts out of their lives.