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How to Handle Custody Issues with a Problematic Ex-Spouse

Parents swear, and children suffer

Divorce and custody issues are never easy, but when you have a problematic ex-spouse, things get even more complicated. Whether it’s an ex who just likes to be difficult, or one who has an addiction problem, you have to find a way to handle custody and parenting issues with them for the sake of your children. How do you do that?

Don’t Let Your Child Become the Messenger

When you and your ex have trouble communicating civilly, it can be tempting to send messages back and forth through the children. Don’t let that happen. Your children deserve to have healthy, positive, happy relationships with both their parents and that can’t happen if they’re forced to carry messages back and forth.

If you need the help of a third party to communicate with your ex, have a friend or adult family member or even a lawyer be your intermediary, not your children.

Don’t Try to Force Your Ex to Communicate with You

Sometimes, your ex won’t use your kids as a messenger, but will simply refuse to communicate with you at all. Obviously, you need some form of communication, but if talking or texting aren’t working, you need to look at other options.

There are tools available online that allow both parents to input information into shared calendars, expense tracking, and more. Or you can ask a friend or relative to help. Your lawyers can also act as go-betweens.

Eliminate Any Payoff for Your Ex

Sometimes an ex is difficult because of the payoff they get: seeing you agitated or upset. Getting you to react can present a thrill they enjoy, or allows them to convince themselves you still love them or that they otherwise have some hold over you still. Get rid of that payoff. Just like kids, if he or she gets no reaction, eventually the behavior stops.

Make Safety a Priority

If you know your ex has an addiction problem, bring it up to the judge. Ask for regular drug testing to ensure that your children are safe. If alcohol is a concern, products for alcohol monitoring in family law allow your ex to monitor his or her sobriety while your children are with him or her can help ease your mind while not interfering with the relationship between your children and your ex.

Don’t Demonize Your Ex

It’s easy, when your marriage has failed and your ex is still being difficult and giving you trouble, to demonize him or her. You want to blame them for everything and make them out to be an evil, horrible person.

But it’s important to remember that even if they are intolerably difficult, there is still something good about them. Maybe it’s only that they love your children, but find something good. Remember that their addiction, or other difficulties, probably hide some insecurities or anxiety. Try to see things from their perspective and remember they’re only human.

Listen to Your Children

While your children deserve a solid relationship with both parents, sometimes that’s not in their best interests. If your child is complaining about spending time with your ex, hear them out. Do not put words in their mouths, but allow them to speak freely of their concerns. Teach them to speak up to your ex about minor issues, and document if there are major issues that might need to be addressed by the court.

Custody issues are complicated enough without throwing a difficult parent into the mix. You have to deal with the situation you have, and the best way to do that is to try to make the best of it. It won’t be easy, but for the sake of your children, it will be worth it.

Tim Esterdahl

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