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How Can I Co-Parent when I Don’t Trust My Ex-Spouse? Part I

Rachel Alexander Oct. 17, 2022

{4 minutes to read} Co-parenting without mutual trust is tough, but not uncommon. Distrust of the other parent for our purposes is when one parent questions the other parent’s capacity to put the child’s best interest ahead of his/her own, to the extent that the safety of the child may be compromised. This often arises when one parent is:

  • struggling with issues of substance abuse;

  • in personal crisis, making questionable choices that seem to undermine even their own self-interests;

  • taking unnecessary risks;

  • spending time with inappropriate people and/or introducing the child to various people prematurely;

  • living in an unsafe environment (for example, keeping improperly secured guns);

  • confiding in the child as a peer, relying on the child for emotional support, manipulating the child with a sense that the parent can’t care for himself, is lonely, etc.

Dubious behavior encompasses a wide range.

While I favor a diplomatic approach in almost all things, if you have true concerns that your child is in danger from the other spouse, take whatever action is needed to keep the child safe. Inform the professionals you are working with about your concerns immediately.

That said, taking action need not mean taking bellicose action! Wherever possible, we first want to take the minimally intrusive action that will be maximally effective. Think dismantling a bomb rather than waging war.
Often the situation is more nuanced than one parent driving drunk with the child in tow. One parent may be exposing the child to his/her own emotional crisis or social explorations, parental behaviors that do not endanger the child physically, but can nevertheless complicate and inhibit the child’s optimal development and sense of security.

The latter is the purpose of this article — how to address the more subtle, the concerns that raise red flags but may not rise to the level of necessitating — or accessing — judicial intervention.

The Law – helpful/not helpful

The law forever aims to balance opposing objectives of competing importance. In this instance, the fundamental rights of people — adults and children alike — must be considered.

  • Parents have the recognized, fundamental rights to enjoy their children, to raise them as they see fit, and to expect the privacy to do so free from unnecessary interference and intrusion from the state.

  • Children have the right to be safe. Defined by law as a vulnerable class, children are due special protections.

The quintessential rights of both children and parents must be balanced.

Parens patriae, literally “parent of the country,” in Latin, is a legal term meaning the court has the power and responsibility to act as a protector of those who are unable to protect themselves. However, the legal standard of good parenting is closer to sufficient than enlightened.

  • Unless a parent is behaving abusively or harmfully, the parent will usually not be precluded from having parenting time.

  • There is a lot of terrain between misgivings about your co-parent’s judgment and meeting the criteria for legal intervention.

Given the above, what are some pragmatic actions a worried parent can take immediately? Our next article provides 6 actionable suggestions.

Rachel Alexander

Rachel Alexander
Alexander Mediation Group

Schedule a free initial consultation.