What Can I do if My Co-Parent Refuses to Listen or Remains Disrespectful, Even When We’re Trying to Make Decisions or Resolve Conflicts?
- It is important not to immediately resort to a courtroom to resolve conflicts and disagreements between co-parents. Neither side will get what they want at the end of the day, and a stranger will be dictating the details of your life and your child’s life. This isn’t a “win” for anyone.
- If you find yourself at an impasse with a co-parent, it is very helpful to walk away and give the situation some time to diffuse. You may want to wait until a different date or time to resume the discussion, or switch to another medium (i.e., calling, texting, email, co-parenting apps, or co-parenting notebooks).
- If your co-parent is consistently disrespectful or does not listen to you, then you may want to get help from a parenting facilitator, mediator, and/or a family therapist or counselor. An Amicus Attorney can also help with these negotiations. Court can be useful here to compel both sides to attend facilitation in earnest, but should not be used in most cases beyond that.
This can be a very difficult situation to deal with. However, it is not insurmountable. Often, the most important thing is to take a step back and give certain situations a moment to calm down.
Many times we feel pressure to make decisions or resolve conflicts immediately, which raises the stakes and makes it more likely for parents who are prone to conflict and defensiveness to get, well, confrontational and defensive. Sometimes in response, even the less confrontational and defensive parent becomes frustrated and tries to push the issue right that moment.
Instead, I think it’s essential to see the good that can come from realizing that sometimes a decision or resolution doesn’t get made exactly when you want it to.
If things are getting heated, the best thing to do is often to take a step back and allow the heat of the moment to dissipate. Then, you can re-approach, either on a different day or a different time. Sometimes, you can even shift communication mediums to great effect: in certain cases, just creating the separation or barrier of not being face-to-face (i.e., communicating on the phone, by text, by email, or in writing, perhaps by using one of the apps that we’ve talked about or by writing something in the co-parenting notebook) can be very helpful.
If your co-parent continues to be blatantly disrespectful, or refuses to listen to what you’re saying, then at some point you may need to reach out for help. This is the point at which a co-parenting counselor, coordinator, therapist, or facilitator can be enlisted to work with your co-parent. Ideally, they will help your co-parent understand why the level of disrespect, distrust, and basic lack of manners in their communication is impeding their child’s ability to thrive between the two homes, and why it is so important to prevent that.
So, there does become a point when sometimes it’s necessary to involve a professional. However, I think what we have to watch out for is the kneejerk reaction of going to the Court first. Therapists, coordinators, and facilitators, for example, are far better suited than the Court to explain why communication needs to be respectful for the benefit of the child. That’s what the parenting coordinators and parenting facilitators and parenting-oriented therapists are trained to do.
If you are struggling with a persistently incommunicative or disrespectful coparent, I would strongly urge you to consider bringing one of those types of professionals in to help build a strong co-parenting foundation before going to the Court.
Why is it Best to Stay Out of the Courtroom if Possible?
Staying out of the courtroom is and should be one of the primary goals of co-parents. Every family court judge in the country would probably tell you that when you come into the courtroom in these cases, nobody wins. Everybody loses some aspect of what they came in looking for that day.
In addition, you almost always wind up with a stranger making essential, life-changing decisions for both you and your child. Nobody knows your child and your child’s needs like you and your co-parent do. You and your co-parent are the two most equipped people to make decisions for your child, and to understand their needs and what’s important for them to be able to thrive in their two homes.
If you can’t work with your co-parent because they are disrespectful or they are unwilling to communicate or won’t accept some of your limits or vice versa, then that’s when it’s time to involve a professional—and we highly recommend first attempting to work with a parenting facilitator or counselor.
Parenting facilitation is particularly useful in these cases, as parent facilitators are specifically trained in working with each co-parent individually so that they understand that the first and primary focus of a co-parenting relationship is making sure the child’s needs are being put first. Parenting facilitators are also adept at making sure that both co-parents understand that the ultimate goal here is to help the child thrive, not just survive, in the environment that the co-parents are creating together.
If a parenting facilitator can help work with both co-parents to establish that foundation, then the co-parents can start to work together with the parenting facilitator to come up with parenting plans that both parties can accept. Ultimately, the goal is to create an environment that both parties can agree to support and maintain to help the child thrive.
If you already have a divorce or custody attorney—someone who is helping you dissolve a marriage or create the initial draft of a co-parenting plan or a custody agreement—you will want to reach back out to that attorney and ask them how to get a parenting facilitator involved, as well as how can we compel the other co-parent to attend parenting facilitation.
Importantly, this is the sort of thing that won’t work unless both parents are ready, willing, and able to fully participate. If one parent is resisting, then at that point it might be necessary to go to the court, simply to ask for an order that both parents attend some sort of parenting facilitation or some co-parenting education.
In my experience, successful agreements come from these facilitation sessions and from earnest engagement with parenting education, not from arbitrations of the court.
In this sort of scenario, the court may actually appoint an Amicus Attorney for the child. An Amicus Attorney looks at all of the details of the case and takes extensive interviews in order to write a report to the court about what they think is best for the child. Amicus Attorneys are helpful because they can serve as a neutral third party who is able to determine what is best for the child, without getting bogged down in disagreement between the parties.
In addition, it also may be necessary for everyone involved to participate in some sort of therapy or counseling. There are many family therapists out there who can work with parents and children together, even though they’re not living in the same type of family unit anymore. A therapist can help safely voice, explore, and work through the processing of feelings associated with the separation of the family unit, such as heartbreak or a sense of betrayal, or anything else people may be feeling. This process helps people move forward, and to make great strides toward building a successful co-parenting foundation. Once this foundation is established, it provides the basis for a long-term, healthy, and successful co-parenting relationship.
What is Your Best Advice to Co-Parents Who Are Struggling in Their Current Arrangements? What is Your Best Advice for Co-Parents Who Are Just Starting the Process of Developing a Co-Parent Relationship, and Are Worried About What Could Happen?
I think the first step that anyone should take when approaching these things is to do some self-reflection. You should ask yourself what is most important to you in a co-parenting relationship—or rather, what will best enable you to create an environment for your child in which they can thrive. What does that look like in your household? What do you need from your co-parent to facilitate that reality?
Once you have that somewhat established, you have a foundation from which you can approach your co-parent. You will be able to match up your values and anticipate which things will be easier to agree upon and which things will be harder.
If you reach an impasse, or even several impasses, on issues that are disagreements between co-parents, it may become necessary to involve a third-party mediator, such as a parenting facilitator or a co-parenting counselor, to help you resolve these issues.
Usually, the resolution a professional of this sort will help you come to is that either there will not be an agreement on this issue and it’s not as important as you initially thought it was, or that there has to be an agreement on this issue, and you are going to find a way toward an agreement together.
In the end, again, all of this does not work unless the focus is on making sure the child is doing the best he possibly can in this environment.
So, to re-iterate: start with some self-reflection, and then make sure that you can whittle down your wants and needs to the bare-minimum as a foundation to approach your co-parent. Then, compare and contrast your respective bare minimums. If there are things that you can’t reach an agreement on that are very important to you and very important to the success of the co-parenting relationship (and therefore the best interests of the child), you can use the help of a professional to either re-focus your priorities and drop it, or come to some sort of mutually agreeable resolution with your co-parent.
In conclusion, work towards building a successful co-parenting relationship by stopping the fighting and start communicating. Recognize the obstacles that exist in your family preventing your child from thriving between both homes and be flexible on how to resolve those obstacles. It is important to remember that this often means employing an alternative to the courtroom battle. Identify your child’s needs and create a co-parenting plan that meets those needs without sacrificing a child’s relationship with his caregivers. Your child will thank you!
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