Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt, the impossibly gorgeous and talented movie stars who are the parents of a half dozen children, have been waging high-conflict divorce war for almost six years: Angelina filed in September 2016. But it’s not money that’s prolonging the battle; rather, the ex-couple appear to be embroiled in custody disputes with — so far — no resolution.
So what needs to happen for any high-conflict co-parents to reach an equitable agreement that supports their children’s well-being?
Top Tips For A Workable Custody Agreement
While most divorces won’t involve the copious amounts of property and children that “Brangelina” has, all warring parents would benefit from heeding the following advice to finalize custody issues.
Manage Emotional Reactivity. When divorce stress hijacks your nervous system, causing you to overreact or numb out, you are not interpreting reality accurately. For instance, your ex may be a jerk in your eyes, but they are probably not a sociopath who doesn’t deserve a relationship with the kids. Emotional outbursts and/or refusal to respond to your co-parent’s offers will fuel animosity, hike up attorney’s fees, and keep the battle raging. Seeing a therapist and cultivating a mindfulness practice — along with proper sleep and nutrition — can help you regulate your emotions and avoid unskillful behavior.
Process divorce grief. Unprocessed grief drives custody battles. It’s easier to blame and villainize your former spouse than to sit with the profound sadness that comes from losing the life you had, or the future you imagined for your children. Staying entrenched in bitterness will prevent you from cycling through the stages of grief so that you can finally say goodbye to what you had and focus on your parenting plan.
Practice radical acceptance. Refusing to accept your spouse the way they are will prolong a custody dispute. This doesn’t mean that you ignore legitimate issues such as untreated addiction or mental illness that will create an unsafe environment for children. But it’s essential that you accept the fact that you cannot change your co-parent’s personality, dictate how they run their household, or control other choices that you don’t agree with. Fighting over things you really have no power over — and shouldn’t, frankly — can keep you in family court for years.
Keep kids out of the middle. Be honest: does your child want to spend more time with you because your ex is a genuinely bad parent? Or because you have done and said things to make them feel pressured to take your side? There is a big difference between protecting kids from a truly unsafe environment and keeping them away from a parent whose views and choices are simply different from yours. Your number #1 job as a co-parent is to support your child’s relationship with their other parent.
Don’t expect experts to automatically take your side. Consulting experts such as therapists, child development professionals, and parenting plan coordinators can help you resolve your custody disputes by providing neutral evidence of your child’s best interests. However, bringing in multiple experts should never be a ploy to “stack the deck” against your ex.
Remember, the best advice for diffusing a custody battle is often this: accept reality; there’s nothing you can do to change the fact that your spouse is your child’s other parent. Take a deep breath and negotiate an arrangement that is your child’s best interests. They’ll thank you for it.
Has a custody stalemate derailed your divorce? Our highly skilled and experienced family law attorneys have the compassion and mastery you need to bring about positive results that will safeguard your children and protect your relationships with them.
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