Transitioning From Spouse To Co-Parent In a Collaborative Way

by: Lana M. Stern, Ph.D.
Lana M. Stern, Ph.D., Miami, Florida,,

While a marriage ends an intimate relationship between the spouses, the family relationship continues. The divorced couple’s shared affection for their children forms the basis for a new relationship. New patterns will be created as the family undergoes a “reorganization.” The couple’s relationship becomes one that focuses on parenting the children. The couple moves from an emotional, personal, and informal relationship to a structured, contractual, and more formal relationship.

During the transition of the spouses’ relationship, children require reassurance that they are loved, will be provided for, and are not at fault for the changing relationship. Planning the discussions with your children is paramount to their emotional stability during these changes. Be sensitive to children’s hurt, fear, and pain. Communicate with them openly about their daily lives and how they will change – where they will live, go to school, when, and how much they will see each parent.

The most important indicator of how children cope with a divorce is the relationships that their parents have after the divorce. The spouses in the Collaborative Process model communication skills as co-parents. These parents limit their communications with the children to child-related issues and avoid discourteous remarks regarding the other parent in front of the children (even if a co-parent does not feel the other person deserves it). The mental health facilitator establishes a culture of trust and respect, which enables understanding of the other co-parent’s point of view. A co-parent becomes a guest in the other parent’s home, and arguments, blame, or conflicts are not addressed in front of or in ear-shot of the children. Children should not be placed in the position of “messenger,” “confidant/advisor,” “spy,” “judge,” or the “decider of custody.” Collaborative Team meetings are used to resolve relationship conflicts, with the mental health facilitator and other team members brainstorming or redirecting this behavior into tangible solutions that benefit the parents and children’s relationships.

The introduction or existence of a new relationship with one of the co-parents during the Collaborative Process can add tension in settling marital disputes. A spouse should not involve the children in dating. Children should not become a “confidant” or “advisor,” and any introductions to a serious partner should occur slowly. The Facilitator of the Collaborative Team will work with the other professionals and the co-parents to work through the emotions and tensions caused by the new relationship and minimize the impact of completing the Collaborative Process. The successful Collaborative Process results in strengthened co-parenting that enable the resolution of future parenting issues and creatives a more nurturing environment for their children to succeed beyond the relationship transition of their parents.