Joint custody is a court order whereby a child’s custody is given to both parents. In the U.S., there are two types of joint custody: joint physical custody, also known as shared parenting or custody, and joint legal custody. This article explores some signs that you are dealing with an uncooperative ex in your joint custody arrangement, as well as what you can do if you’ve been given joint custody with a difficult or stubborn ex.

What is Joint Custody and Co-Parenting?

In joint physical custody, the child’s housing and care are shared according to a court-ordered parenting schedule with equivalent or nearly equivalent parenting time. In joint legal custody, both parents can make decisions about the child concerning education, medical treatment, and religion. In fact, both can access their children’s school and health records.

In a sense, joint custody could lead to a co-parenting arrangement. Co-parenting is defined as a parenting relationship in which both parents of a child are platonically involved, but still take joint responsibility for their child’s upbringing. Sometimes, social scientists also utilize the word to depict any two individuals who are jointly rearing a child, despite whether they are both biological parents or have ever been passionately involved. For example, a single mother raising a child with her mother’s help would be considered “co-parents.” 

However, more frequently than not, co-parenting happens after a separation, divorce, or the end of a romantic partnership in which children are involved. This is a good arrangement, but if one parent is dealing with a difficult ex, it can be a problematic arrangement.

Warning Signs Your Former Spouse is Making Co-Parenting Difficult

Co-parenting isn’t meant to be an impossible process. If you think your co-parenting arrangement is unusually difficult or disagreeable, read on to see if you can identify some signs that your ex is making things harder than they need to be. 

Ignoring Your Rules

Rules and routines are imperative in rearing children in any domestic situation, divorced or otherwise. However, when someone thinks about the strain and emotional instability that divorce can generate in a child, the necessity for structure is especially crucial. Benjamin Valencia II, a partner and skilled family-law expert at Meyer, Olson, Lowy, and Meyers, states that if one parent is negligent in imposing those rules, it will not simply produce confusion for the children and disagreement between the parents. It will also produce a situation where the children will utilize the parents against each other to obtain their way, which is not what is in their best interest.

Continually Running the You Down

Despite what errors might have been made, a co-parenting relationship must depend on trust and constructive communication. If one parent cannot cease criticizing the other, then it is time to separate. Valencia states that this is extremely harmful not just because it derides the other parent in the child’s eyes, but it also makes the child believe something is amiss with him or her, as the other parent is a part of the child. He declares that speaking disappointingly about the other parent will harmfully influence not just the co-parenting relationship, but also the confidence of the child.

Continually Sending Sexually Charged Text Messages

Dana and Todd Mitchem, two relationship coaches, describe meeting numerous individuals who state that their former spouses still send sexually charged text and unsuitable messages as a means of enticing them back. According to them, while these texts might be upsetting to both you and your new partner, they are nothing more than a device to force you to doubt your choice about leaving your former partner for your new and amazing relationship. The Mitchems also state that you will have to construct limits and tell your former partner to only talk about the children and emergencies over text.

Never, Ever Reaching a Compromise

Even though rules and creating stability is imperative, there must be room for compromise. Agendas change, unforeseen circumstances happen, and parents must be willing to adapt. If your former partner is declining to be adaptable, he or she is doing more harm than good. Valencia states that children are the ones to suffer. They should be able to have experiences without worrying when they’ll see a parent next. 

Rubbing Alimony and Child Support in Your Face

The Mitchems mention that most people they have worked with have gotten scornful texts or emails from their former partners concerning how they are spending the child support they have obtained. As annoying as these types of notes are, Dana and Todd recommend letting them go and thinking about the source. They state that this immature behavior has nothing to do with them and everything to do with the former partner and their diffidence, unsettled anger, lack of accountability in his or her own life, and just being a certified victim. They recommend being the bigger person rather than snubbing your ex. 

Continually Being Disrespectful in Public

When former spouses publicly meet, it is important to be civil – particularly when the children are present. If that cannot occur, you must be courteous at the very least. If your spouse constantly gives you a dose of disrespect in public, they are producing tension and bringing about anxiety in the children. They are also setting a bad example for the children. Your ex should be willing to work with you and cooperate, especially during a period of change and indecision. 

How to Co-Parent with a Problematic Former Spouse

  • Put Hurt and Anger on the Back Burner. Effective co-parenting indicates that your own emotions – any rage, bitterness, or pain – must take a back seat to your children’s needs. Indeed, dismissing such potent emotions might be the most difficult part of learning to work together with your former spouse. However, it is also possibly the most essential. Co-parenting is not about your feelings or those of your former spouse, but instead about your child’s contentment, stability, and imminent health.
  • Better Communication with Your Co-Parent. Calm, harmonious, and persistent communication with your former spouse is important to the achievement of co-parenting – although it might appear totally impossible. It all starts with your attitude. Consider communication with your former spouse as having the maximum objective: the health of your child. Prior to having contact with your former spouse, ask yourself how your deeds will influence your child and decide to behave yourself with poise. Make your child the focus of each conversation you have with your former partner.
  • Co-Parenting is a Team Effort. Parenting is awash with decisions you will have to make with your former spouse, whether you like each other or not. Collaborating and conversing without fighting or squabbling simplifies decision-making for everyone. If you aim for constancy, cordiality, and cooperation with your co-parent, parenting decisions are inclined to work out.
  • Simplify Transitions and Visitation. The definite move between households, whether it occurs every few days or only certain weekends, can be an extremely difficult time for children. Reunions with one parent are also separations with the other, with every “hello” being a “goodbye.” While transitions are inevitable, there are many things you can do to aid in making them easier on your children.

Parallel Parenting is an Alternative

Parenting expert Edward Kruk, Ph.D. suggests that parallel parenting is the solution for separated parents who wish to do what is in their children’s best interest. He defines it as an agreement in which separated parents can co-parent by separating from each other, and having restricted immediate interaction in circumstances where they have shown that they cannot converse with each other in a polite manner. 

That is, parallel parenting permits parents to stay separated from one another while they stay close to their children. For example, they stay dedicated to making sensible choices, such as medical, education, and so on, but settle on the logistics of everyday parenting independently. Dr. Kruk speculates that the greater the conflict between the parents, the more organized the parenting plan ought to be.

The solution to effective parallel parenting following divorce is to maintain the concentration on your children – and to retain a cordial relationship with your former spouse. Most notably, you want your children to observe that their parents are cooperating for their wellbeing. Never utilize them as messengers, because when you request them to tell their other parent something for you, it can make them feel caught in the middle. It is best to converse openly with your former spouse and diminish the possibilities your children will be subjected to loyalty conflicts.


If you are co-parenting with a problematic former spouse or partner, it can make joint custody very difficult. You must try to find some sort of compromise that is in your child’s best interest. If such a thing is impossible, then you must find another solution, namely parallel parenting. In hindsight, this may be the only way for you and your ex to get along for your child’s sake. When you try to work out some type of custody arrangement with your ex, always keep this question a priority: Is this in my child’s best interest?