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Co-parenting in divorce study may offer hope to Michigan couples

Recent collegiate research suggests that parents who are hostile and combative following a divorce can eventually work together to improve their co-parenting skills and better serve their children's best interests.

The study examined interview responses from 20 mothers who share physical child custody with their former partners, half of which reported having "contentious relationships" with the other parents. Most of the remaining mothers said their relationships following divorce or separation had begun with disagreement or bitterness, but later became more amicable.

While Michigan family courts prefer to grant shared custody to divorced couples, contention between couples can cause ostensibly fair and equitable child custody arrangements to spark into fighting between the parents. While this study suggests that such disagreement can eventually fade, the study's authors warn that shared custody does not necessarily result in cooperative parenting relationships. Some situations may call for custody modification or other legal action, especially when violence or other forms of abuse become factors.

"Most people falsely believe that, when people get divorced, they'll continue to fight, to be hostile," said one of the study's co-authors. She added that most improvement in parent relationships appeared to occur when a divorced couple started emphasizing their children rather than their own feelings toward each other. "The parents saw how upset their arguments made their kids, so they decided to put their differences aside and focus on what was best for the children," she explained.

Most of the women who reported being in amicable relationships after divorce said money was not an issue of contention in their relationships and that their former partners were generally responsible parents. These respondents said they resolved parenting differences through frequent and open communication. Most successful co-parents said they did not attempt to limit the amount of time their former partners spend with their children.

The strain of a breaking relationship can make it hard to face crucial child custody and visitation questions with the best interest of the children first and foremost. Enlisting the help of an experienced advocate in dealing with the legal issues can help to bridge the times of tension to achieve better outcomes.

Source: ScienceBlog, "Divorced Couples' Co-Parenting Relationships Can Improve," Aug. 20, 2012

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