To The Grave: Navigating Co-Parenting After Your Child Ages Out

Clients with a difficult co-parent often mark time in relation to how far away they are from their child’s 18th birthday. They phrase it like they’re serving a prison sentence. “Thank God I only have 6 more years of this crap!” they will say if they have a 12-year-old.

The sad truth is: you have forever of this crap.

Your child will always have two sets of holidays; they will always have to decide which parent to call first with happy or sad news. This doesn’t end when a child turns 18.

You say, “It’s only until my child is 18. Then I’ll be free of my ex.”

You’re right about one thing:

It is only until your child is 18. After that, you have no recourse versus a combative, uncooperative, or manipulative co-parent. Once a child is legally emancipated, the court loses jurisdiction over their placement and support. It also loses the ability to make the child’s parents cooperate or communicate.

Professionals will say the goal of successful co-parenting is that the parents can dance together at the child’s wedding. However, this can only happen if both parents get invited. And the way the parents behave toward the child — and each other — during the child’s minority can heavily influence that decision.

The co-parenting patterns you set now will follow your children into their adult lives. What follows are some parental behaviors that, if not dealt with and addressed early in the co-parenting relationship, can evolve and fester into behaviors that will persist not just through your child’s minority but well beyond age 18 — and that will continue to affect you as well.

Weaponizing the child’s behavior with the other parent:

Parents may believe they are merely being responsible by asking the child what they did with the other parent during visitation. But this belief is often justification for policing Parent B, trying to “catch” them doing things Parent A does not approve of. Going to Grandma’s, being left alone for a few hours, or going to a slumber party can all be cited as reasons the other parent is “neglectful”, “not using their time”, or “not honoring the right of first refusal”.

Soon the child learns to simply lie to the policing parent. Once this behavior becomes embedded, it will last far beyond the child’s 18th birthday.

Hiding behind their child:

Parents will attribute their own ill will towards their co-parent to their child while subtly acknowledging the “child’s” position is unreasonable.

This kind of parent will insist the child “doesn’t want to go” to the other parent’s house. They will stand powerless in solidarity with the child. They say, “She doesn’t want to, so I can’t force her”. (These parents will invariably be able to “force” the child to go to school, or to church, or to the doctor, of course).

Parents who delegate their own parental authority to their children because they lack the fortitude to assert themselves — either to the child or the other parent — are setting themselves up. When their children are adults and look back on this behavior, they will realize their parent wasn’t supporting them; they were using them.

Invading the other parent’s time:

Some parents can’t let go. They either distrust the other parent so much, or rely on their children as emotional caretakers to such an extent, that they can’t function without constant reassurance their children are “okay”. These parents call, text, and FaceTime while the children are with the other parent. If the other parent tries to limit or restrict the disruptive contact in any way, the needy parent may go so far as to request a court order establishing his or her right to guaranteed contact when the child is with the other parent.

These kinds of parents also often insist on approving certain behaviors of the other parent, or conditions at the other parent’s home. They want to see the child’s bedroom. They want to meet the parent’s new significant other. Oh, and a court order saying when and on what terms the child can meet this significant other.

But the fact that the children “have never done that before” or “aren’t used to that” is a hollow argument when parents have created an unprecedented situation for the children by separating households.

When the child becomes an adult, they will see not only that Parent A had no confidence in Parent B — but that Parent A also had no confidence in their child’s own resiliency and ability to adapt.

Do any of these examples sound like your co-parent? Are you looking for ideas to help establish a long-lasting, effective co-parenting relationship that will serve your kids well into adulthood? Now is the time to start — while the court can still be of help! Call one of our experienced family lawyers today for a consultation.