Divorce and Blended Families: Legal Rights and Co-Parenting Challenges

Co-parenting is the next natural step during and after divorce. While it can be an uphill climb for parents—especially when the marriage ends due to infidelity, abuse, or anything other than simply growing apart—it can truly make a positive difference in their child’s life.

Except in extreme cases, children generally fare better when both parents play an active role in their upbringing. As you learn to navigate co-parenting, either as a single parent or as part of a newly blended family, there are sure to be issues that arise. With a little cooperation and communication, you’ll be able to work through them.

Unsure of your legal rights or your legal options when conflicts come up? It’s important to have a strong legal advocate on your side. Call Olmstead & Olmstead at 703-361-1555 to set up a consultation with our Manassas family law attorneys.

Legal Rights of Parents

A big part of co-parenting is setting boundaries. To set effective boundaries, you must know your rights as a parent. These rights should have been clearly laid out for you during your divorce. Unless you gave up or lost legal custody—a fairly uncommon outcome—you have a right to be an active participant in your child’s medical care, education, and religious upbringing. This means knowing when your child goes to the doctor and what the outcome of each appointment is, being included in all contact with the school, and having the chance to offer your input.

Your divorce agreement should also lay out your rights when it comes to custody. If you feel that your co-parent is attempting to steamroll you by threatening to go back to court, claiming that the divorce agreement says something different than what you believe it to say, or otherwise intimidating you into giving up your time, it’s time to assert your rights by talking to an attorney.

Depending on the agreement you negotiated during your divorce, you do have the right to communicate with your co-parent regarding your child. If communication between the two of you has been a challenge, your divorce agreement may specify when and how you may contact each other.

Co-Parenting Challenges in Divorce and Blended Families

In some cases, the biggest challenges in a blended family come from disputes between co-parents. In other cases, they arise from misunderstandings between a child’s parent and stepparent. In both of these cases, clear and direct communication goes a long way in navigating these issues and laying the groundwork for better communication going forward.

Co-parents may have a hard time figuring out differences in parenting styles, values, schedules, and routines. When they were married, they were likely more willing to compromise for the benefit of the marriage. When there’s no longer a marriage to protect, it’s common for both parties to dig their heels in. It’s important to remember that in most cases, each parent has the right to parent as they choose at their home.

Obvious exceptions include abuse, educational neglect, failure to maintain hygiene, and medical neglect. Be ready to choose your battles; your co-parent may not make the same specific parenting choices you make, but the odds are good that they still have the right to make those choices.

Struggles may arise if a stepparent oversteps their boundaries. They may want to be seen as equal to the child’s parents, which can cause friction if both of the child’s parents are involved. This may morph into a stepparent demanding an equal say in parenting decisions or attempting to take the lead in communication with their spouse’s co-parent, both of which can cause unnecessary conflict.

In most cases, these issues can be worked out through clear communication, strong boundaries, and regular reminders that everyone involved simply wants what’s best for the child.

Choose Olmstead & Olmstead for Your Family Law Case

Figuring out how to co-parent can be difficult, but it’s also very rewarding when you see how it benefits your child. If you feel that your parenting rights are being ignored, let’s talk about your next steps. Call Olmstead & Olmstead at 703-361-1555 or send us a message online to set up a time to talk to an attorney.

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