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Co-parenting with a Difficult Ex?

Updated on January 23, 2017

Divorce isn't the end of it

The divorce is final and you might think that's the end of it. If you have kids, it isn't. It's the beginning.

Kids want two parents who love them. Some say they have a right to have two parents who love them. It is up to you and your ex to make that happen. Wait a minute! That would mean you would have to continue to co-parent with your ex, wouldn't it?

Yes, it would indeed. If your motivation for divorcing was to avoid contact with your ex, you just managed to make co-parenting even harder. The court appearances, the trial and negotiations didn't exactly make things better, did they? Back then, maintaining a working relationship didn't seem so important. It was mostly about you and what you wanted.

With the divorce out of the way, you can see more clearly. Suddenly, the needs of the kids come back into focus and you realize you'll have to co-parent with an ex who may be even more difficult to deal with than ever.

Here, we are going to take a look at a few things you can do to ensure that the kids' needs are taken care of despite the toxic relationship you may have with your ex spouse.

phone call
phone call

Communicating with your Ex

Every Parenting Plan Involves Contact with the Ex

When your parenting plan involves shared custody you will have frequent communication with your ex for a very long time. Drop-off, pick-up, holiday schedules, school issues, illnesses and a host of other issues will need to be worked out. No plan, regardless of how detailed and meticulously it has been crafted, can possibly account for all contingencies. You're going to communicate one way or another.

When making those important scheduling calls to your ex is a problem for you, chances are you will hesitate to make them in the first place or get them over with without fully communicating what is necessary. That could be a source of escalating animosity and resentment. Who will pay the price for that? Chances are the kids will be the biggest losers.

Here are some tips to help you deal with it better:

Essential Skills Dealing with a Difficult Ex

  1. Know in advance the topics where you are willing to compromise and where you want to stand firm.
  2. Know what behaviors you are willing to accept and what is not acceptable. Have an exit strategy when your boundaries have been crossed.
  3. Be aware of your emotional state so you can check your reaction to surprises.
  4. Make a list of how you plan to respond to behaviors that frequently upset you.

God in the Middle of Divorce and Single Parenthood

When everything looks the darkest, remember this: Everything is possible with God.

When Happily Ever After Shatters: Seeing God in the Midst of Divorce & Single Parenting
When Happily Ever After Shatters: Seeing God in the Midst of Divorce & Single Parenting

The author's own story from learning about the divorce, trying to save the marriage, over acceptance to putting the pieces back together again. Powerful.


It's not about you or your ex.

It's about the kids.

Resources - Dealing with a Difficult Ex

Dealing with a difficult ex is hard. Fortunately, there are resources you can use on your own or in conjunction with professional help.

Custody Chaos, Personal Peace: Sharing Custody with an Ex Who Drives You Crazy
Custody Chaos, Personal Peace: Sharing Custody with an Ex Who Drives You Crazy

You can't change your spouse, only yourself. Or can you?


Get Professional Help - You don't have to go it alone

Life Coach

A good life coach can teach you to prepare appropriate responses to the most common things that upset you when you talk to your ex. You can learn how to check your own emotional state in advance so you don't over-react when surprises occur. If you can get your ex to do the same, so much the better. If not, then, it's on you alone. Remember, you cannot change your spouse, but you can change your own behaviour. A life coach helps you bring order to chaos.


A mediator can help you when both parents agree that two parents are better than one. They just have completely different views how that should happen. Unlike you and your ex, a mediator will focus on the problem and its solution, not each other. In the short-term, the mediator can help you getting past the arrangements to satisfy the immediate needs of the kids. In the longer term, the mediator can help you work out some ground rules for how future interactions should happen. For this to work, both parties will have to agree to it, though.


Mediators and coaches are forward looking. They are squarely focused on problem solving. They deal only with the future. The past is the past and is better left that way. Therapists look back to uncover reasons why you have the problems you have. They help you heal and only then do they start dealing with the future. Whether you need this kind of help can sometimes be really difficult to realize. Listen to signals from other people.

You can't change your ex.

You can only change yourself.

Professional Help to Avoid


Lawyers do have their place in divorce. Sometimes they can be useful in its aftermath, but it should be the last resort. Going to court or the threat of going to court may solve your problem in the short term, but your longterm goals may be in jeopardy. Parenting your children is a longterm process. Keep the goal in mind: Turn them into mature adults not despite the relationship you have with your ex, but because of it.

Lawyers are very good at evaluating alternatives. They have a vast collection of possible outcomes to share. Just keep in mind that they make more money representing you than educating you.

Dealing with Specific Situations

No one can cover all the possible scenarios you will encounter with a difficult ex. I'll add some in this space as I hear about them.

Just remember always: It's about the kids, not you nor your ex.

Verbal Abuse

The number one thing you need to do if that occurs is to set boundaries. Decide for yourself what you are willing to overlook and what you plan to do when that line is crossed.

For example, you may be able to turn a deaf ear to abusive language when it happens in front of you alone, but not in front of the kids. You may decide to simply hang up the phone when specific levels are reached.

In situations when urgency does not require an immediate response, e-mail and text messaging can be a great way to put some distance between you and him/her. You're also likely to reflect more on what you say and how you say it.

Parent Alienation

I'll just assume you're not the one doing the alienation and that you might be on the receiving end.

Before you get too upset, consider the possibility that the other parent is doing it in an, abeit misguided, attempt to protect the kids the best they know how. He/she may not be aware that it actually hurts the kids.

If alienation happens to you, and it will whether intentional or not, perceived or real, there are two very important thing to do, or, rather, not do:

1. Do not retaliate in kind. As difficult as this may be, you need to be extra supportive of your child's relationship with his/her other parent. You need to show through your actions you're not a monster or bad parent. If it is too hard, hire a coach for a while.

2. Do not interrogate your child about the other parent. Be loving and supporting and only make notes of things that come up in casual conversation.

Be sure to keep all appointments and schedules even if it makes you sick.

The other parent avoids contact with the kids

As painful as this may be, it actually happens quite often that one parent or, worse yet, both parents, shirk out of parenting responsibilities. Most of the focus is on missing child support payments, but it is not the only problem. Some parents simply aren't interested in being parents.

Initially, for some, this might be the answer to their prayers. On second thought, however, kids want two parents who love them. Your role then, if you love them, becomes to encourage that it happens. You may not be able to get your ex to live up to your ideal parenting role, but you can at least get out of the way and make the option available as often as you can.

The Social Divorce

Friends and Family

Divorce is not just between you and your spouse. Your kids are still going to be your kids. Your in-laws are still going to be their grandparents. Uncles and aunts are still going to be uncles and aunts.

It may be painful for your former spouse if you still have contact with your in-law relatives. In-law relatives may have to sort out their own loyalties.

You may have had a cirle of friends with whom you met for social events like the annual backyard BBQ or picnic. Will they have to choose sides? Can you maintain those relationships? Should you?

None of these issues are addressed in traditional adversarial divorces. Using negotiation and mediation, they can be. If these things are important to you, it may pay to take the time and go through the pain it takes to work it out.

If you have this problem, chances are that someone else has had a similar experience. Somebody probably came up with a solution, so post away.

If you came up with something that worked for you, share it.

Chime in - Share your solutions - get help

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    • blairtracy profile image

      blairtracy 2 years ago from Canada

      Thanks for the advice. Co-parenting can be very difficult. I understand that first hand. I have an ex who won't even consent to medical appointments for my child!

    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

      Great lens, I left my ex he taking me through court even though he is the one with comunication problems. I admit about a year after this started I couldn't face him because of all his lies but Oh, I am so ready to face him now!

      I realise I will always have to have contact with him, saddly he wont let me go and he says he has moved on with new partner but he will never move on emotionally because he cannot believe his charm and powers didn't work anymore. I got older and wiser!

      But no thankyou so much, your a gift from God! I needed this I really did!

    • cwilson360 profile image

      cwilson360 4 years ago

      Thanks for the info....a good friend of mine is dealing with this, I will have her read this lens.

    • Gypzeerose profile image

      Rose Jones 4 years ago

      Thanks so much for this valuable lens. I am afraid we did not do very well with this, and it is only as the kids are adults that we having a working relationship. I admire your work as a mediator. Pinned to my divorce board, and also "squidoo lenses worth blessing."

    • TolovajWordsmith profile image

      Tolovaj Publishing House 4 years ago from Ljubljana

      This is very important subject. Thanks for valuable tips!

    • francescajohnston profile image

      francescajohnston 4 years ago

      This is such a difficult thing for people to go through. Thank you for this great Lens to help people out!

    • profile image

      lionmom100 4 years ago

      This is such a difficult issue as it effects everyone involved.

    • WriterJanis2 profile image

      WriterJanis2 4 years ago

      Back to pin this.

    • about-pomeranian profile image

      about-pomeranian 4 years ago

      The decision of taking divorce can spoil the whole future of a child because he/ she need both affection of mother and support of a father.

    • profile image

      liamsquidoo 4 years ago

      Great lens, enjoyed reading it. Keep up squidooing :)

    • DeborahDian profile image

      Deborah Carr 4 years ago from Orange County, California

      It's good to remind people that divorce is not the end of it. My husband was married as a teenager and had two children who lived with us for several years while they were growing up. Now, 42 years later, we just spent Christmas with one of my step-daughters, and her mother was there, too. We all get along fine. Ex-spouses are part of your life forever!

    • kabbalah lm profile image

      kabbalah lm 4 years ago

      There is nothing easy about divorce involving children

    • profile image

      webmavern 4 years ago

      Thanks for some great advice and information.

    • WriterJanis2 profile image

      WriterJanis2 4 years ago

      This is a wonderful resource.

    • darciefrench lm profile image

      darciefrench lm 5 years ago

      Thank-you for sharing on this difficult topic. My husband's ex-wife committed parental alienation against him and we're still at the mercy of the ramifications. It's really tough when parents only think of their own feelings.