Kathleen J. Smith, Attorney at Law

Tips to make co-parenting teens easier

You and your ex created a child custody agreement when you divorced, and it worked out great when your children were younger. Things are different now that you have teenagers. Co-parenting teens is an entirely different ballgame than younger kids, and it is understandable if you feel frustrated.

If what worked when your kids were in elementary or middle school is not working anymore, it is time to make some changes. Here are a few ways you and your ex-spouse can make co-parenting your teenager easier.

Maintain open communication

As co-parents, you and your ex probably communicated a lot when your kids were younger. From passing on information about school functions to giving updates on extracurricular activities, communication was not optional. But now that your child is a teen, you may feel like you can slack off when it comes to speaking with your ex. After all, your teen is responsible enough to tell you everything that is going on, right?

This is a misguided assumption that can lead to a number of problems. Not only do many teenagers struggle to share personal information with their parents, but most do not feel comfortable playing the messenger between divorced parents. This often results in misinterpreted or even undelivered messages. It also gives a teenager the power to open and close communication as he or she chooses.

Flexibility is important

Your kids thrived on structure when they were younger, but things change with age. Your teen has more responsibilities than ever and is probably dealing with a lot in his or her personal life, including things like:

  • School
  • Extracurricular activities
  • Friends
  • Part-time jobs

Strictly adhering to a custody schedule can interrupt your teen's ability to engage in regular adolescent activities. It may also restrict his or her ability to learn personal responsibility regarding time management and fulfilling commitments. Although it can be hard to let go, maintaining those open lines of communication with your child's other parent can make this process easier for everyone involved.

Your teen still needs you

Teenagers are notoriously stand-offish toward their parents. You might interpret this as him or her indicating that your guidance and presence is no longer necessary, but this is not true. It is important that you and your ex continue providing consistent expectations and guidance. Again, much of that relies on keeping those lines of communication open.

Co-parenting teens can be tough, but you can take steps to improve the situation. It is usually a good idea to modify your child custody agreement if there have been significant changes since it was created, such as a change in school schedules. To do this, you will have to go to court. Since the prospect of heading back to court can be overwhelming, some California parents choose to speak with an experienced attorney about all of their options.

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