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

Rachel Alexander Nov. 28, 2022

{7 minutes to read} In Part I of this article we examine the complex situation of shared custody with an ex-spouse you don’t trust. Here, in Part II, we propose methods of managing the situation.

What to do

 I. Parent-Up:

One thing a parent can do is “parent-up” — take on more and set the unfairness of doing so aside. Where children are concerned, safety and peace of mind trump fairness. Even if you are doing/spending/exerting more than your fair share during this period, for example, doing 80% of the driving, overspending on gas is remediable. Losing your child is not.

 II. Put parameters around parenting time:

Outline requirements that apply to BOTH parents when the child is in his/her custody.


  • Neither parent uses alcohol when the child is in their custody.

    • Neither parent exposes the child to strangers without first discussing the situation with the other parent.

Agree to a safety plan that suspends judgment or negative repercussions. Modeling the prevention of drunk driving contract parents make with teens, parents make it safe for their kids to call in case of an emergency by ensuring a suspension of criticism or punishment, and simply agreeing to provide protection — in the form of a ride home, from wherever, at whatever time, no questions asked. For parents, this might be:

  • If either parent has had something to drink, he/she notifies the other parent who can do the pick-up that evening or make other (Uber) arrangements.

    • No attacking or criticizing if one parent needs help. This agreement makes it possible for a parent in need to alert the other parent rather than try to hide things or allow the situation to escalate instead of asking for help.

    • If one spouse is struggling with addiction issues, perhaps instead of demanding that those issues be entirely resolved, the parents might arrange safer, better ways that the child can still have regular contact with that parent. Perhaps the child visits at a diner while the other parent waits or does pick-up/drop offs to and from the diner. Perhaps, until recovery is well established, overnights are replaced with afternoon or morning visits — times built around the greater likelihood of successful visitations. Keeping the parent-child relationship protected and alive while one parent is up against serious life [threatening] issues requires cooperation and even heroism on the part of the other parent.

Such arrangements are best worked through with a qualified professional who can help the parties find workability while dealing with the difficult feelings that may arise.
It will be important that feelings of anger and fear be given their own space so they can be attended to without undermining solutions. In this way, the parent who is struggling is supported rather than blamed and the parent who is taking on more than what is equitable is also acknowledged and supported with both compassion and a plan for how things will be equalized by other means or in the near future.
The parent garnering the distrust of the other might be fearful of losing contact with the child due to his/her current limitations. This will be an important concern to be addressed.

 III. Embrace broader support structures

If the vulnerable parent has other dependable adults around when the child is in their custody that may be sufficient support. Even if you would prefer that the child have one-on-one time with the parent, it’s more important that the child has responsible adults around. The vulnerable parent might be making these choices because that’s the best way she/he can manage parenting at the moment.

 IV. Limits, goals, and measurable metrics for more liberal parenting time

Set limits until the other parent is a safe and stable resource for the child. Clarify the conditions you require in order to expand visitation and custody. Clear, objective definitions help build agreement and trust; they help both parties feel a greater sense of efficacy – rather than one party being at the mercy of the other’s “sense” of things or subjective evaluation.

Until more balanced parenting can be established, support contact in such a way as is safe and controlled. “I will do everything in my power to have you see Max as often as possible. However, not in the car, not going out-of-state, until you are in a treatment program.”

 V. Restrict time

The last resort is to limit the child’s/children’s contact with the other parent. Do everything to make it possible that the other parent can have structured and safe contact with the child.

“I’m going to bring Max to the diner and I’m going to sit and do some work, and you two can have dinner or lunch or whatever and then I’ll take him home.”

“I’ll bring him over to you for a few hours, and will return in x hours to pick him up and bring him back home with me.”

Perhaps being in the home of one spouse isn’t the best choice, but meeting in the library, park or museum for a shorter visit can be an option until things stabilize.

 VI. No

If at any time, you feel your child is in danger, take whatever precautions necessary to protect them. If your spouse arrives to pick up the child and reeks of alcohol, is behaving bizarrely, etc. trust your gut and protect your child. Professionals can assist with the fall-out, but your child requires your protection. This is not an excuse for manipulating the situation or using the child to make a point or express your own aggravation. That is simply another kind of child exploitation and abuse that we want to avoid.

Rachel Alexander

Rachel Alexander
Alexander Mediation Group

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