How to Solve Your Worst Co-Parenting Conflicts

Tired of Arguing? Try These 10 Tips

It's nearly impossible to co-parent without arguing with your ex now and then. But it's important to focus on the long-term picture and do what's best for your children—not your pride, what feels "right" in the moment, or what might help you 'win.' Here are some of the most common types of conflict co-parents face, and what you can do the next time these issues come up in your co-parenting relationship.


We Argue About Parenting Time

Parental argument

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Try to keep in mind that it's reasonable to plan for each parent to spend approximately as much time with the kids post-divorce as they did before your initial separation. In addition, remember that the time your  kids are in school and activities isn't really 'parenting time.' To prevent arguments, create a formal parenting plan and update it at least once a year.


We Argue About Child Support

Many families start out thinking that child support is a once-and-done process. But in reality, there are always going to be additional expenses, changes in how much money it costs to raise your kids at different stages in their lives, and adjustments to your respective incomes—any of which can impact the child support amount.

If you find that you're arguing with your ex more and more often about child support, remember that either parent can request a review of the court-issued child support order due to a change in circumstances and/or needs.

However, many states do limit how frequently they will review child support orders, so you'll want to check the child support guidelines for your state to learn more about how to request a child support modification in your area.


My Ex Puts Our Kids in the Middle

This is a tough one to deal with because you're probably hearing about the issue second-hand from your children. What I recommend is that you speak with your ex directly about your concerns and cite specific examples, if possible. It may also be helpful to meet with your ex at a coffee shop or another neutral location for this conversation, so you can both talk freely without the risk that your kids will overhear your conversation. 


We Disagree About Discipline

This type of co-parenting conflict can go both ways, with some parents accusing their exes of being too lenient, and others claiming their ex is too hard on the children. And in the end, it's important to remember that parenting styles are different. Even if you and your ex had remained a couple and were living together as you raised your kids, you'd still come up against this issue. And while it's unreasonable to expect your ex to do everything "your way," anything that feels to you like a potential danger is cause for real concern. So it's important to first examine what's bothering you to determine whether you're dealing with a real safety issue or a parenting preference. 

If your ex's discipline techniques feel unsafe to you, speak with him or her about it or, for immediate concerns about your children's safety, call 9-1-1. For safety concerns that don't quite reach that level of alarm, yet still need to be addressed, speak with your lawyer. 

For lighter issues of discipline style, talk with your ex directly about your concerns and cite specific examples. Language like "I've noticed" can be helpful for making your point without blaming or accusing—both when you're pointing out what's bothering you, and when you're making an observation about what works with your kids. Because in the end, that's what it's about.

It's not about making your ex do it your way. It's about sharing strategies that you both know work with your children.


We Disagree About Homework

This is another common conflict for co-parents. And in most cases, it's really a style issue, versus a 'right' way and a 'wrong' way to parent. You may prefer that the kids buckle down and do homework as soon as they walk in the door, while your ex may allow them to wait until after dinner. While consistent co-parenting is an important part of helping your kids know what to expect, you don't have to do everything exactly the same way. Your kids are smart enough and flexible enough to handle some variations. So as long as the homework is getting done, consider letting go of the 'where' and 'when.'

On the other hand, if your ex so devalues education that your kids almost never come back from his or her place with their homework done, then you'll need to have a conversation about how you can both support their education and help them be successful in class. Attending a parent-teacher conference together can also help reinforce the message that homework is an important part of your kids' educational experiences.


My Ex Tries to Micromanage Me

I see this a lot, and it's actually a problem for both parents—the one being micromanaged and the one trying to control everything the other parent does. If you tend to be the "micromanager," think back to how you learned everything you know about your kids and being a parent. You didn't read it all in a book, nor did you learn it all from your parents or watching other families. Much of what you know about what your kids need was learned through the first-hand experience. And when you micromanage your ex, you rob him or her (and your kids) of that learning opportunity. To boot, your ex isn't really going to "get" what you want him or her to learn by micromanaging. It just breaks down the co-parenting relationship and makes it harder to work together.


My Ex Is a Bully

We're used to talking about bullying as a schoolyard problem, right? But it happens all the time between adults, too. Threats and violence are never acceptable ways to communicate with your ex. And if you actually feel threatened, you should speak with your lawyer about getting a restraining order. On the other hand, if you and your children are not in physical danger, but your ex is so used to getting his or her own way that it's also assumed you'll go along with any request, then I recommend re-setting your boundaries. This doesn't mean being uncooperative or refusing to speak with your ex.

Give yourself enough space to think through your response before you say "yes" or "no" to a request. 


My Ex Doesn't Respect My Family

Here's another common co-parenting conflict. And it's sad because your kids deserve to have relationships with all of your extended family members—yours and your ex's. In some cases, it may be helpful to think about how this type of conflict most often appears for you. Is it usually presented as a scheduling conflict? Are there certain members of your family that your ex has a problem with? Identifying the pattern will help you nail down what to do about it. And in most cases, reaching a solution will include bringing your concerns to your ex and redefining expectations for what it means to support the kids' relationships with both families. 


My Ex Spoils the Kids

You used to hear about "Disneyland parents." You know, the ones who would take their kids to Disneyland during longer spans of parenting time, often "showing up" the other parent who may not have the means for such an extravagant vacation. Today, this happens through hundreds of different scenarios: buying designer clothes, cell phones, laptops … You name it. And it's not just that you may not be able to afford the same luxuries. There's also the very real issue of setting the kids up for a lifestyle they may not be able to afford, either. As with so many of the co-parenting conflicts presented here, talking with your ex about your concerns is essential. It's not that you'll be able to stop this behavior altogether, but you may be able to encourage your ex to be more intentional and thoughtful in how he or she spends money on the kids in the future. 


My Kids Feel Neglected By My Ex

Another common issue involves how your ex goes about spending time with the kids. If the routine involves leaving them in the care of someone else, such as a boyfriend or girlfriend, or ignoring them, then it's easy to see why the kids would feel hurt and upset. In cases where parenting time or visitation have been ordered by the court, you should speak with a lawyer before refusing to have the kids participate. Why?

Even if your ex isn't taking advantage of the opportunity to spend quality time with the kids, visitation refusal can lead to your own legal troubles for violating a court order.

If you have a reasonably good relationship with your ex, start with a conversation about what the kids have shared with you and anything they've expressed about how that makes them feel. If it's a timing issue, consider whether changing your parenting time routine might help your ex spend more time with the children instead of leaving them in the care of others. 

Closing Thoughts

All of these solutions involve talking with your ex. And that may not be comfortable for you, especially if things haven't gone well in the past. Try to approach the conversation fresh, though, and not bring past grudges or conflicts into play. Even though it's hard, you may find that talking through your concerns helps you rebuild trust with your ex and move forward as collaborative co-parents.

By Jennifer Wolf
Jennifer Wolf is a PCI Certified Parent Coach and a strong advocate for single moms and dads.