Can’t Co-Parent With Your Hostile Ex? Try This Strategy Instead

In a good-enough divorce, exes work through feelings of anger, betrayal and loss and arrive at a place of acceptance. Frustrations over the other parent’s values and choices are contained and pushed aside, making space for the Holy Grail of post-divorce life: effective co-parenting.

Co-parenting is possible only when both exes support their children’s need to have a relationship with the other parent and respect that parent’s right to have a healthy relationship with the children.

But some people never get to acceptance. They become, essentially, addicted to anger. They convince themselves that the other parent is incompetent, mentally ill, or dangerous. They transmit this conviction directly or indirectly not only to the children, but also to school staff, mental health professionals and anyone who will listen.

High-conflict exes are on a mission to invalidate the other parent. No therapist, mediator, parenting class, or Gandhi-esque channeling will make an anger-addicted ex take off the gloves and agree to co-parent.

If this scenario feels familiar, and you’re wondering how you’re going to survive raising kids with your high-conflict ex without losing every last one of your marbles, I offer you this counterintuitive suggestion: Stop trying to co-parent!

Try Parallel Parenting instead.

What is Parallel Parenting?

Parallel Parenting is radical acceptance. It means letting go of fighting reality. Divorce is terrible enough, but to have a divorce that is so hellish as to make co-parenting impossible is another kind of terrible altogether.

It’s helpful to conceptualize Parallel Parenting as an approach many Alcoholics Anonymous folks use when dealing with the addict in their lives: they stop going to the hardware store looking for milk. Why are you trying to have a reasonable conversation with someone who isn’t reasonable, at least with you? Stop expecting reciprocity or enlightenment. Stop needing the other person to see you as right. You are not ever going to get these things from your anger-addicted ex, and you can make yourself sick trying.

How to Practice Parallel Parenting

You tried to co-parent so your kids would see their parents get along, and to make them feel safe. That didn’t work. Now you need to limit contact with your ex to reduce the conflict in order to make your kids feel safe — and to keep yourself from going nuts. So how do you do this?

1. Communicate as little as possible

Stop talking on the phone. When speaking with a hostile ex, you will likely be drawn into an argument and nothing will get resolved. Limit communication to texting and e-mail. This way you can choose what to respond to and you will be able to delete knee-jerk retorts that you would make if you were on the phone.

2. Make Rules for Communication

Hostile exes tend to ignore boundaries. So you will have to be very clear about the terms for communication. E-mail or texting should be used only for logistics: travel plans, a proposed weekend swap, doctor appointments. If your ex tends uses e-mails to harass you, tell him you will not respond, and if the abuse continues, you will stop e-mailing altogether.

3. Do Not Respond to Threats of Lawsuits

Hostile exes frequently threaten to modify child support or custody arrangements. Do not respond! Tell your ex that any discussion of litigation must go through your attorney. This will require money on your ex’s part: phone calls between attorneys, disclosing financial statements, etc. It is quite possible that your ex does not really intend to put her money where her mouth is, so don’t take the bait.

4. Avoid being together at child-related functions

It’s great for your kids to see the two of you together — but only if they see you getting along. So attend events separately as much as possible. Schedule separate parent-teacher conferences. Trade off hosting birthday parties. Do curbside drop-offs so your child doesn’t have to feel the tension between you and your ex.

5. Be proactive with school staff and mental health professionals

School staff and therapists may have heard things about you that aren’t true — for instance, that you are out of the picture or mentally ill. So be proactive. Fax your custody order to these individuals so they understand the custody arrangement. Even if you are a non-custodial parent, you are still entitled to information regarding your child’s academic performance or mental health treatment and the school and therapists want you to be involved. Talk to school staff and therapists as soon as possible. Don’t be defensive, but explain the situation. When they see you, they will realize that you’re a reasonable person who’s trying to do the right thing for your child.

6. Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff

Parallel Parenting requires letting go of what happens in the other parent’s home. Although it may drive you crazy that your ex lets 6-year-old Lucy stay up until midnight, there is really not much you can do about it. Nor can you control your ex’s selection of babysitters, children’s clothing or how much TV time is allowed.

Your child will learn to adapt to different rules and expectations at each house. If Sienna complains about something that goes on at Dad’s, instruct her to speak to him directly. Trying to solve a problem between your ex and your child will only inflame the conflict and teach her to pit the two of you against each other. You want to empower your child, not teach her that she needs to be rescued.

Parallel Parenting is a last resort, to be implemented when attempts at co-parenting have failed. But that doesn’t mean you have failed as a divorced parent. In fact, the opposite is true. By reducing conflict, Parallel Parenting will enhance the quality of your life and most importantly, take your child out of the middle.

And isn’t that what a good-enough divorce is all about?

Virginia Gilbert

Virginia Gilbert

I live in Los Angeles, where I specialize in helping people going through high-conflict divorce. On this blog, you'll find insights to help people who are considering divorce, are going through divorce, or have a high-conflict divorce that never seems to get any better.

74 Comments

  1. Patty on April 19, 2018 at 1:57 pm

    How does the new wife deal with her husband’s high conflict ex when she calls her names and blames her for things that are not even true! ? I don’t want anything to do with his kids because she is insane and I am insulating myself from problems she causes.

    • Virginia Gilbert on April 19, 2018 at 3:42 pm

      That sounds like a really challenging situation. I don’t know if the children are living in your house, but if they are, you can’t avoid interacting with them. I find a 12-step approach is almost crucial in these circumstances: you can’t control a crazy-making person, but you do have choices about how you choose to respond to them and manage your own reactivity.

      • Amanda on April 15, 2023 at 9:01 am

        My husband’s ex has subpoenaed me to go to her lawyers office for the sake of the child…. is this even legal? I’m 7 weeks pregnant and this woman lawyer likes to yell and stress out the person she is questioning. They want me to say something against my husband. Ex is wanting to get passport for child and is secretly married to a Dutch man. She tries to get her daughter to call this new man daddy. My bonus daughter doesn’t really like him. I don’t want to be subpoenaed everyday until the lawyer releases me…we think they want to harass me and stress me out.

        • Lorrie on January 15, 2024 at 10:54 pm

          Your husband’s ex wife might be a narcissist or have a personality disorder. Most narcissist think they are perfect and will never seek help or be diagnosed with it. They may also just have some personality disorder traits that are toxic.

      • Fan on April 24, 2024 at 11:21 am

        What is the 12 step approach?

        • Virginia Gilbert on April 30, 2024 at 12:37 am

          Essentially, treating your ex and your divorce like an “addiction” you have to manage so you don’t behave in unskillful ways.

    • Melanie on June 11, 2020 at 6:41 am

      So I’ve been in my step sons life since he was 2. He will be 11 this year. The birth mom has never been very involved in his life and throws him on my husbands mom on her weeks (we have joint custody). And only mothers him when its convenient for her. My husband doesn’t like communicating with her because it’s like talking to a wall. She thinks she’s always right. He wants us to communicate instead and she doesnt want to because I’ve made a comment about how I’m just as a mom to her son because I’m always picking up her slack. I’ve never threatened her. But she always wants to call our son on my phone and disrespect us by talking about things she doesnt need to know. Like what we do everyday her at our house. That isnt any of her business. So my question is does she legally have to talk to me? If he doesn’t want to coparent with her in the sense of texting or calling because all she does is start drama.

      • Virginia Gilbert on June 11, 2020 at 6:50 am

        Hi Melanie — I can’t advise on legal questions, so you’d have to consult with a lawyer. But if I had to guess, I’d say that unless you’re mentioned in the custody order, you have no legal obligation to talk to your husband’s ex. Have you considered getting your stepson a cell phone? That way you don’t have to talk to her, at least, not as much.

        • Frusterated on March 22, 2024 at 9:19 pm

          My abusive ex wants to be civil for the sake of the kids. I try my best but it is very hard, he said we cannot be civil until we talk about the past, he abused me physically, mentally, verbally and emotionally for years. It took me years but finally escaped , I blocked out alot of the past, I get very anxious and feel sick to my stomach talking about it. He tries to have hours and hours of talking about the past trying to get me to say I was the abuser and I earned this abuse and he is the victim.

          He is mentally exhausting to have a conversation with. He is trying to tell me he is the only one who can help me resolve all my hostility towards him because he was the one involved.

          Am I wrong to not want to talk about this with him? Its a never ending circle to the point where I have to agree with him just to end the conversation. I find this very unhealthy. He demands respect from me but how can I respect someone who broke me to pieces?

          • Lacey Provost on April 17, 2024 at 5:44 pm

            I’m experiencing this exactly 💯 your Not alone and evennafter u leave still abuse he claims I should respect him but doesn’t respect me, new gf involved it’s sad bc the kids get hurt yet even while we hurt it’s all fun and games to everyone else.

            Sorry to hear and listen to music heal.



    • Jaime on July 13, 2023 at 9:54 am

      Don’t let the new wife talk to the old one. They are not her children and there is no need for her to interfere! Your children and your ex should only talk.

      • LYNN on October 3, 2023 at 6:07 am

        Correct, but this will be worded differently and appropriately. Don’t subject your new wife to the nonsense and Drama that the old wife intentionally look to cause. The child is with their mom on her time and then the child is with Dad and step mom on Dad’s time. Unfortunately it is extremely common for the Ex wife to be completely jealous of the new wife. Jealous that he no longer wants anything to do with her and for that the Ex will try and cause as much havoc as possible to your relationship with your child and your family. It will start quietly as she promotes trouble through others but eventually the Ex will lose her shit and seek to destroy you and anything that makes you happy. It’s called a malicious mom, Vendictiveness at its best.
        Jealousy makes people crazy

      • Steph on March 22, 2024 at 1:05 pm

        I agree. I have this problem with my ex’s new wife. She is constantly trying to overstep and has a complete lack of disrespect for me. Telling my kids it’s okay to call her mom. I’ve had full custody of my children all their life except for the last two years. (That’s when he met her) ended up going 50/50 thinking it might be better for the kids to spend more time with dad. I’ve tried numerous times to coparent with him and finally decided to adapt the parallel parenting. Been better. But I still get threatened with court if something comes up (their father) doesn’t like.

        • Amy on April 16, 2024 at 6:27 am

          I’m going through a similar situation. I’ve been coparenting as professionally as I can with my hostile ex husband. His new wife has recently started interfering. She texts me through his phone, swearing and calling me down. When I defend myself she lashes out worse. She has started to call me to argue, I hang up. She has posted about me on social media, literally a whole paragraph. And she’s started showing up at exchanges and getting out of the car – for what, I don’t know. I haven’t said anything else. I’m really enforcing the parallel parenting now. They don’t have access to me through text or email anymore. I’m trying to minimize things.

          • Kabib77 on May 30, 2024 at 3:57 am

            A whole paragraph? Try days and days worth.,



    • L on January 15, 2024 at 10:51 pm

      She might be a narcissist that is intimidated by you because you are with her ex. She may think she is entitled to her ex husband in ways that cross your boundaries as his spouse.

      • Julie on June 8, 2024 at 5:10 am

        My ex diagnosed with a malignant narccisstic personality disorder married the woman he was having an affair with before and during our divorce.She appears to be the same as he is and the two of them DR ve me into bankruptcy,destroyed treatment for my older son ,abandoned them financially and spent all money on her children with the exception of minimal child support.my ex has top security clearance and his wife was in welfare when he met her but has since become a clinical social worker…she has banned my two sons from her home,prevented any type of financial support for school etc.has made horrible comments about me…l really want to write to his family to let them know what an asshole he and his wife are being towards my kids…he also hid money during and prior to the divorce…we got divorced in Maine which is a misogynistic state ,not woman and children friendly

    • Porshia Brown on May 26, 2024 at 4:29 pm

      What about if your ex is trying to spin a physical child abuse case against you. Keeps sending the child back to you and school with marks or bruises with no explanation and calls you crazy when you ask about it.

  2. Yvonne on August 11, 2018 at 5:07 am

    I found proof that my high-conflict ex allows his spouse to manage & participate in communications with me. So, I don’t know who I’m emailing with. I’ve addressed this in the past & we were told by a co-parenting counselor that this is inappropriate — but he’s still doing it. What do I do?

    • Virginia Gilbert on August 11, 2018 at 5:48 am

      Hi,Yvonne.

      Did your counselor say why she thought this was inappropriate? I’m not sure there’s anything you can do about it. To my knowledge, it’s not illegal, although you’d need to ask your attorney. I actually advise some people to get help drafting emails to their ex if this enables them to write in a less hostile fashion.

  3. Bhavini Patel on August 29, 2018 at 11:25 am

    My ex husband and I got along ok until last year he got married and the new wife does not want us to talk to each other. since then communication has gone down dramatically and we fight more often about things, which are brought about by lack of communication and trust. Now I realise that his new wife and him are making decisions about my daughter and schooling without including me at all. I am trying to talk to him about it, but he just swats me away and makes me feel like a nuisance. I fear that communicating even less will complete push me out of my daughters life (we are supposedly 50/50 coparents).

    • Virginia Gilbert on August 29, 2018 at 12:09 pm

      Hi Bhavani: If you share legal custody, he should not be making school decisions without you. Have you consulted your attorney?

  4. Givehimabreak on December 19, 2018 at 2:04 pm

    Hi Virginia
    Can you confirm that if I post a question here my personal details are private and secure or is there another way I can post a quick question to you? Many thanks

    • Virginia Gilbert on December 19, 2018 at 3:59 pm

      Hi there — I don’t give out anyone’s personal info but if you’d be more comfortable emailing me a question, you can contact me at [email protected].

      • Mimi harris on July 19, 2024 at 5:50 am

        My ex and I have a small child in elementary school . We were never married but together 5 years . Things were bad with fighting so we didn’t live together a lot of the time and he would kicked myself and our infant out when we fought so I had my own apartment. Finally one day I found out he was sleeping with his employee at the business he owns and ultimately ended up with her , she also left her husband for him . And they have recently married now . For quite some time him and I co parented and didn’t have conflict . Polite to eachother and I just steer clear of them together . Custody is around 70/30 with me having most days . I do all the actual parenting stuff meaning he hangs with his dad every other weekend and every other Monday but I do 100 💯 of the education stuff , doctor visits , dentist visits ; keeping track , sick days , homework , tutoring , studying , school events , parent teacher interaction ect ect . I am very flexible and always say yes to requests from his dad . Only time I wasn’t sure to say yes was when he requested to take him to Mexico for his wedding as I had questions first about safety . He ended up not going because my kid is afraid to fly and didn’t want to fly . Yesterday , he requested in advance to remove him from the school for an entire week next year for a vacation . I said I could not say yes until I checked with school and he got mad . He had already told our child yes , and said that I need to Just say yes or he will withdrawal anything he does to help me ( like move schedule around or watch our child if I need while I work ) and when I got upset and said he owes me an apology for that he then threatened to take me to court and lower child support . He used to do this a lot , but stopped since we were getting along for awhile . I got upset and said fine do it then. He says he pays me too much and he’s so generous , and that he could easily get it lowered . Last text said he was going to file for it . He owns a business , and makes way more then I . So far my year is looking like 50k in income . And although I don’t know exactly what he makes it’s hundreds of thousands a year . But since he owns company , “ pays himself so he can pay himself whatever is convenient. However he owns two rv’s, just bought a golf cart for fun . Bought a 1.4m dollar home . Then renovated entire home . Paid for a destination wedding . Pays a ton into his business . Just bought a brand new suv for his wife in the driveway . Has money to go on this vacation he’s planning and buy 6 plane tickets .. doesn’t seem to be downsizing or struggling financially . Also now saves money since he married one of his employees and has her income .. he was paying child support to his other ex who he has two kids with but now both those kids live with him full time so prob pays less or not at all there . And , from what I heard plans to have another baby with his new wife . Yet he’s saying he is 300k in loan debt and “ isn’t rich “ and can get his child support down if I make him mad . Or don’t cooperate . The stress is incredible it puts on me with the threats because I live in a small affordable housing unit . I sleep in living room to give me child their own space ( bedroom ) I have two jobs but they are commission based and things are slow . I would most likely lose my apartment / or have to choose to give up health insurance or something major without the child support . I live in ca with high price everything . I don’t know what to do . If he will actually do it . Or what . And if he can get away with doing it as well . Don’t really trust court system and also don’t have extra thousands for attorneys

  5. Bill on January 23, 2019 at 7:56 am

    Funny reading this because this is what I started doing when frustrations was getting the best of me……then she wanna try reaching out to me but I always tell her long as she has my son as a ward off the state I have nothing to say…….ward off the state meaning letting a judge decide how much time he can spend with me…..79 overnights

  6. Fiona on January 24, 2019 at 11:17 am

    Thank you for writing this. It’s the first time I’ve seen it written by a professional that it’s reasonable to avoid your co-parent. Numbers 1, 4 and 6 are exactly the way I’ve been managing. I went through what would be considered (by my therapist) an abusive divorce and was diagnosed with PTSD as a result of that and another major trauma. Needless to say, being in my ex husbands company is highly unpleasant for me. All around me I see divorced parents celebrating holidays, chatting at sports events, helping each other out and generally being friendly and while it feels like an additional failure on top of a failed marriage, it’s necessary for my peace of mind to dramatically minimize contact. I have had clear boundaries since we were in court 3 years ago and am functioning reasonably well with these boundaries in place. It’s not perfect but it reduces my stress and my son doesn’t seem any worse for wear.

    • Virginia Gilbert on February 4, 2019 at 8:16 am

      Hi Fiona — so sorry to hear about what you’ve been through, but it sounds like you’re doing a really good job of managing the crazy. All my best!

  7. Stacy on July 22, 2020 at 12:52 pm

    Thank you for this information. It has helped me set guidelines in communicating with my ex. My ex is harassing me by text. He knows that it is difficult to prove the validity of text messages in court. I told him I only want to communicate by email as we have before . He says I cannot dictate how we communicate. Is that correct?

    • Virginia Gilbert on July 22, 2020 at 1:05 pm

      Hi Stacy: That is actually a question for your lawyer. Often people have their mode of communication written into their divorce agreement. If you don’t have that, it seems to me that he can’t require you to communicate outside of email, if that’s your preference. But again, I would consult with an attorney on this one. Wishing you the best.

    • David on September 9, 2023 at 9:49 am

      Dealt with this. Screen shot the text then email the screen shot along with your response back then they loose their power of text not having time stamp and all the stuff they claim so it is not viable evidence in court. Not a lawyer but just from experience of my own.

      • ExperiencedParallelParent on January 23, 2024 at 4:28 am

        Screenshots can be altered to look like something it is not. Won’t hold in court unless the judge is incompetent.

        • Mary on March 29, 2024 at 2:07 am

          I’d like opinions. Please! If the ex wife/mom says anything to the new wife/stepmom about her interference with communication between the 2 parents regarding their child does that not make ex wife appear jealous? For example if step mom is control freak and doing all the communication to the mom about child instead of dad doing it and mom says to stepmom I have no legal obligation to talk to you stop interfering and allow the child’s patents to talk and make decisions…does mom not just look like she’s insecure. Or wanting to start argument with stepmom and for what reason- jealousy? ? Would it be better to just try and communicate with dad as much as possible and ignore step mom rather than telling stepmom I don’t wanna talk to you just dad about my child. Although I may be wrong, it Just seemed to me as I rehearsed telling step mom this I might be coming off as jealous, immature or insecure. Why else could I not just communicate with stepmom and not dad. I don’t want to talk to either one really but since Childs not an adult yet I have no choice but to about matters pertaining to child.

  8. Jennifer Orrill on September 16, 2020 at 3:22 pm

    My spouse and her ex share custody of her two children. He has a roommate who is always getting involved about issues with the children, calling and yelling or being extremely rude, often both of them saying things like, we see what you’re turning her into, because we let her get a pair of play high heels. They keep nice clothes that we buy. We have tried to be civil, but one of them always gets an attitude or tries to argue. He tries to get my spouse to sign things without an attorney. It’s ok for him to be at work, and can’t get to his phone that instant, but complains when she can’t and is working. Says things like what are you hiding by not answering. The roommate has even tried to hit my spouse. That happened when she went to pick up the children and a headlight was dim on her car. They said the car wasn’t safe and refused to let the kids leave the house, wanted her to sign a paper saying she would fix the headlight. The roommate got in her face and drew her hand back. The kids were scared and crying. We then tried texting only and meeting at a police station, to which he said meeting at a police station was embarrassing to the kids and they needed to talk in person instead of texting because his phone didn’t always get messages and things got misconstrued. But everytime we try in person, he ends up yelling and manipulating the conversation. But if we text or call he most times won’t respond. Not sure what to do.

  9. Andrea on March 23, 2021 at 1:55 pm

    Should we tell our high conflict ex that we would like to parallel parent and not co parent?

    • Virginia Gilbert on March 23, 2021 at 3:01 pm

      No — if you do they will probably think you are being difficult. You can practice the strategy without naming it out loud.

      • Andrea on March 24, 2021 at 9:51 am

        Thank you for your quick response and article. It can be very isolating “coparenting” with a toxic ex. I had hoped that after our divorce and child custody agreement the harassing text and phone calls would stop. But it has been a constant and gets worse the more I stick to my boundaries. The manipulating text messages about everything I do is wrong and why can’t we coparent makes my head spin. Looking forward to parallel parenting.

        • J on January 21, 2023 at 6:15 am

          Thank you for this article. I didn’t know about parallel parenting until today. Hoping this helps me with radical acceptance and providing a healthy environment for my son since he is with his difficult father half the time. Father has been stonewalling me since before the divorce so co-parenting has been a major headache for me and he disparages me in front of him per my son’s self reports. Although not ideal, I will look into parallel parenting strategies to assist.

          • ExperiencedParallelParent on January 23, 2024 at 4:36 am

            Hang in there! I get stonewalled to this day & we’ve had our court agreement for several years. Unfortunately, the behavior negatively impacts my child and as he gets older, I find myself struggling through behavioral issues alone. It all has negatively affected behaviors in school too! Despite it all, I tell him anything important via text—no longer anticipating a reply or confirmation that he received it. I presume he has and I keep it moving. Time has taught me that I cannot control how another person views their role in ensuring a positive upbringing for our common child. As long as you do your part the best you can, that’s all you can ask of yourself and the situation. It’s not easy as it seems as the article makes it seem because at the end of the day, we are all human. But in order to cope with it all, it’s best to focus on the things you can control and the rest is not your burden. Just save up cash for the “future adult’s” therapy sessions.



  10. Greta on August 29, 2021 at 2:01 pm

    Question, my fiancé and I are expecting our first. He has a 6yo daughter, and we have a wonderful relationship. His ex wife resents this, and the end of their marriage and has been hateful towards me ever since. He has implemented parallel parenting and they’re back in court to modify their decree/custody rules. My question is how do we approach the new baby news in this situation. Given her very hostile past she clearly will not be excited ans I don’t want her involved at all in our situation. We plan to tell his daughter after my first trimester. Do we have to tell his ex? When I told her we were getting married (before we told his daughter) she demanded it be the two of them that told their daughter about our engagement and I not be involved. I assume she will do the same here and even try to tel her daughter what our home should look like with a new baby. Communication is very limited due to her hostility (we’ve taken legal action against slander spread) and drop offs are now at the police station- if that’s any indication of the situation. Help! How do we make his daughter feel safe and secure with this news but keep his ex from ruining it?!! Thank you!!

    • Virginia Gilbert on August 30, 2021 at 6:55 am

      Hi, Greta. Congratulations on your pregnancy! Regarding your dilemma, I think it’s time for radical acceptance: you are not going to be able to control your fiance’s ex’s reactions. She’s probably going to have a negative reaction no matter what you do because she resents the fact that your fiance is moving on with his life. However, since you have a choice to make, I would tell his ex about the pregnancy after the first trimester. This is huge news that will impact her child. If you don’t tell her, she’s going to try to get info out of your stepdaughter, which puts your stepdaughter in the position of being a messenger. So what if she tells your stepdaughter what you should do with the baby in your own home? Your fiance’s ex doesn’t get a say in that, and you can explain that respectfully to your stepdaughter. Try to stop ruminating about what the ex is going to do (because you can’t control her) and focus on what you CAN control, which is the choices you make in your own home.

  11. Eve on March 13, 2022 at 10:07 pm

    My daughter will be 18 in 3 months. Her father asked her where she was going to college. She gave an answer he did not like, now every time that is his weekend with her, he’s mentally and emotionally abusing her, scaring her and threatening her. That if she leaves she will not help her in any way shape or form. He bad mouths me and my family. My daughter is so stressed out at this point, she is cared for her self and for me. Now he sent her with a message for me that he wants to talk to me. As he is a narsasistic person and mentally and emotionally abusive, I am a little scared to receive a phone call that he wants to sit down and talk. What should I do?

    • Virginia Gilbert on March 14, 2022 at 10:38 am

      Hi Eve — The good news is that your daughter will be a legal adult in 3 months and she can decide if/when she wants to see her father and be more in a position to dictate the terms of their relationship. My best advice for her is to be as financially independent from him as she can be so he does not have leverage over her. As for you, if you don’t have a reason to talk to him, I don’t see a point — especially if you feel that he’s going to be nasty. Don’t let your fear convince you not to set boundaries with him.

      • Beth on January 18, 2023 at 4:05 am

        What to do in this case if the daughter is 16 yr. old. Due to my ex’s controlling nature, she is losing her self esteem. She wants to do certain things in her life, make certain decisions in her life but he always threatens her that she cannot do this and that. It is simple things like doing a school activity, hobbies, taking her dog to his house (he loves dogs and has allowed him sometimes), swapping weekends etc.

        • ExperiencedParallelParent on January 23, 2024 at 4:40 am

          Go back to the courts. If you can prove it, then you can reasonably adjust the parenting schedule.

  12. Joey W. on March 31, 2022 at 4:59 pm

    Would it be inappropriate to contact my ex’s wife about the possibility of her husband going to jail for failure to pay child support? My ex is a narcissist and hasn’t seen his kids in 1.5 years. Owes 35k in arrears and missed the last court date. The biggest part of me wants to just let him get in trouble and go to jail. A small part of me wants to warn ex’s wife, since she seems fairly level-headed. I’ve only texted with her once in 7 years, asking her to tell my ex to stop harassing me with lies. She responded that she tries to stay out of things. She will be plenty affected if her husband and father of her 2 kids goes to jail…

    • Virginia Gilbert on April 26, 2022 at 6:21 pm

      I understand the urge to do this, but you would be triangulating her and that will likely cause more conflict. This seems like an issue for your attorney to advise you on.

    • Beth on January 18, 2023 at 5:02 am

      What to do in this case if the daughter is 16 yr. old. Due to my ex’s controlling nature, she is losing her self esteem. She wants to do certain things in her life, make certain decisions in her life but he always threatens her that she cannot do this and that. It is simple things like doing a school activity, hobbies, taking her dog to his house (he loves dogs and has allowed him sometimes), swapping weekends etc.

  13. MommaLion on April 26, 2022 at 2:58 pm

    This method does work great…but what do you do when the kids are grown and it’s time for graduation and weddings and the ex is so bitter and hostile that he will ruin the child’s day? We can attend separately but who does our other child sit with? Who does the child go to afterwards to celebrate with? And take pictures? It’s just a mess. Why can’t he just get over it and be mature. Problem is my ex IS a 15yr recovering alcoholic and this has been the way all along… like dealing with an adolescent who has no coping skills. I’m thankful he doesn’t drink anymore but he still can’t handle life. Now the kids get to pay for it just because I want to be happy and divorced him. The guilt is overwhelming.

    • Virginia Gilbert on April 26, 2022 at 6:26 pm

      Well, you don’t “do” anything about him, because you can’t change him. He’s your kids’ dad, and they’re going to have to navigate their own relationship with him. My suggestion would be that the kids “go with” whichever parent they’re supposed to be with on that day per the custody order. I think if you don’t seem upset about it (even if you are), your kids will feel less anxious and at least know they don’t have to take care of your feelings, even if they feel like they have to take care of their dad’s. Channel the guilt you feel into being a good role model and showing them how to do hard things with dignity and grace. That is really one of the best gifts any parent can give to a child, married or not.

  14. Victor on May 25, 2022 at 1:46 pm

    How do I ask my extremely hostile estranged wife, who absconded with my daughter and severed all contact, that I want to see my daughter and she benefits from a meaningful relationship with her father?
    My only way of somehow contacting my estranged wife is via a third party. What message should I send to politely make it clear that it’s in the child’s best interest for her to foster/facilitate a continuous and meaningful connection between my daughter and me?

    • Virginia Gilbert on May 25, 2022 at 2:26 pm

      This is more than I can respond to here but the approach you take should keep the focus on what your daughter. Don’t say anything that comes across as blaming your ex. Something like, “I don’t want our daughter to interpret my absence as evidence that I don’t love her or am abandoning her and believe that it is in her best interest that she be able to continue a relationship with her father.” You might also want to consult an attorney on this matter. Good luck!

  15. Mom of teen on September 22, 2022 at 1:58 pm

    I am more or less using this technique. My question is about a cell phone for my teenager. The other parent bought a phone for our teenager without consulting with me. I cannot control or monitor what goes on with the phone. The phone is also old and battery dies quickly. I would like to purchase a new phone and add my teen to my phone plan instead, but am afraid of approaching the other parent. I don’t know how far they would go to retaliate. I understand my teen would be under their rules at their house.
    Do you have any advice on how I should approach this?

  16. Jessica on September 30, 2022 at 2:43 pm

    Thank you so much!! I had no idea that there was a name for a concept that I’m already practicing. (Parallel Parenting.) This completely gave me the confidence I needed, as I was thinking that not being able to co-parent in a healthy way with my ex, was failing our children. (Even though I tried for 6 drama filled, hellish years.) The life of my children, as well as mine, have been so much more peaceful since I started parallel parenting a year and a half ago and my children completely prefer it at this point. Thanks for posting this!

  17. Tiffany Skadron on October 7, 2022 at 11:01 am

    I left dad over 10 years ago. I always had our son dad visits when it’s convenient for him, pays minimal child support is always late or short on payments and none at all for several years. dad quit his job moved out of state and remarried with out notice in 2020 and filed in family courts for custody and visitation. I have full physical custody and we currently share 50% legal dad owes over $20,000 in child support and has not exercised visitation since March 2022. A support order was in place since 2016 initiated by child support services and is not based on presumed income. He just submitted a stop/cancel of support order April 2021. But is requesting all my financial documents in all avenues , employment, social security, and loans or financing info I’ve applied for , property , cars and any other services or items I have financed or purchased dating back to 2016. His wife tried to sue me in a separate lawsuit for over $200,000 for harassment which did not happen (it was dismissed but I had to hire a lawyer) they have continuously tried to blackmail and extort me for money over the course of this lawsuit. I have spent two years tax returns all my unemployment from the pandemic all my pandemic payments, and any savings on an attorney that I can no longer pay and has been released. Do I need to submit these documents for them to further harass me and try to extort me?

  18. Mr Varela on March 7, 2023 at 4:25 pm

    Hello. Why is it 10 years after the divorce and I can be happily remarried that when my ex sends rude emails and demands things instead of asking politely it still angers me. I love the the parallel parenting it has helped immensely so I highly suggest it. One year to go before 18 but I don’t feel divorced with the rude nasty comments. Help signed why still mad?

  19. Dana on August 5, 2023 at 7:42 pm

    My husband’s ex-wife is constantly using their almost 14-year-old as a pawn to manipulate and control him and his family. She talks badly and lies about us to their child. I do not deal with her because I know there’s no point but I don’t know what else to do. We are at the point of only seeing his kid once a week because of all the drama and her even trying to file false abuse claims. I am tired of having our names dragged through mud for her own entertainment. What if anything can we do? We’ve tried parallel parenting and that was before the false claims. It’s only been worse over time.

  20. Danny Muse on August 24, 2023 at 1:01 pm

    I have three boys two belonging to my ex of 13 years and one who has no idea he isn’t his blood Father! Our relationship was ruined easily by his dad aging parents who wanted him to help them and be there caregivers unbeknownst to him .I however have no attachment to them so I see the plot, hey we’re successful and there 40 year old son is home with his parents. And me and my kids are on our own. I get so angry because I can never finish a sentence without him interrupting or simply speaking over me as if he is in my home with our kids and I’m the one living with my parents . Remind you I have a 16 year old who is totally a different kid then I remember lol(teenager) changes only a male can understand, he doesn’t spend anytime with our children and argues me. Down when I express concern !

    I am not anger addicted. But I often not threaten but say to him I may get a increase and modify child support. Just to make him understand his minimal is not
    A cellphone bill and when I ask for dinner for them or money for markets he ask me to get government assistance!!! He told our youngest son. The reason we split is because I CHEATED on him !!!!! My son is 10! I just wished we could remain friends , best friends like how could something so long end so easily, why is respect so hard to get from someone for 13 years I called friend ?

  21. Desiree on September 1, 2023 at 3:33 pm

    I am really struggling with setting and keeping boundaries. He bullies me any time we text or talk, said he’ll just tell the kids what the schedule will be for visits. Very long story, but I still get physically sick whenever I have to be around him or talk to him about anything. I don’t know how to stop doing that. Why can’t I just set my boundaries calmly and not listen to the rest?

  22. Pinky on September 17, 2023 at 1:12 pm

    Hi,
    My sons father just told my son to call the police if he feels unsafe in my house. My son was “uncomfortable” that my fiancé, soon to be stepdad and his little sister’s father, yelled from the living room to get in the shower. Apparently my son and his dad have a code emoji for when he feels uncomfortable with my fiancé. My finance has done nothing to my son, and my son has never brought up any concerns to his dad. His dad will prove and ask questions and it seems like he is mentally and emotionally abusing my son. It feels like he wants my son to “find” and issue with my fiancé. He repeats that “that man” is not his father which is obvious. My fiancé doesn’t make my son call him dad or anything. We all are trying to live peacefully in my home and my sons father is creating issues.
    We don’t have a custody agreement but we broke up 3 years ago. We weren’t married but together for 9 years and he was a mean spirited and angry person. That’s why I left. I feel bad my son is witnessing his dads angry personality and behavior towards our family over here. He is a single man BTW.

    • Dkp on April 10, 2024 at 6:14 pm

      You tell him to get in shower not your soon to be husband and certainly not yelling. I could see why your son feels that way and he probably tells his dad how he feels about him. Your husband is not his dad parent or anything to him and he needs to respect that. You’re his mom and parent and should be setting that boundary with your husband.

  23. steve on October 28, 2023 at 2:23 pm

    Thanks for your description here, but this is not at all reality in the state of virginia, particularly Loudoun County. I am not able to attend any school functions for my kids. The Prinicpal and staff all treat my ex wife as if she is on school staff. They all have acted in a way to ensure that I am not invited or that meetings occur at times that I am unable to attend any in class or in school events. My ex wife has bad mouthed me to all parents in the community. It is so bad that I cannot attend an event without dads coming up to me and saying they are sleeping with her or trying to do so. The situation was so bad that she utilized the school to have an affair and weaponized parents and the PTO to have me ostrasized and prohibited from participating in school events. Every lawyer I speak to says I have to suck it up and that the best solution is to move away and not go to any of these events. I do not understand why every lawyer tells me that I cannot walk away, but everyone tells me to walk away. Furthermore, I have to pay 2500 in monthly child support despite not working. I am told by lawyers in said jurisdiction that I can walk into court without a job and be told that I must pay her more. How am I supposed to navigate such a crooked situation? I had a lawyer tell me I am the better parent, I was wronged, but there is nothing that can be done. What does someone do in such a situatoin?

  24. Darren Brown on November 22, 2023 at 1:11 pm

    Thanks for the article. My anger-addicted ex wife frequently lies about me, disparaging me in front of our children, and ultimately poisoning my children’s perception of me such that they now parrot her lies and demonstrate the same attitudes towards me. Our decree specifies that parents are not to disparage the other parent in the presence of the children. Is there any recourse? It kills me that my kids are being poisoned against me.

  25. Bewildered on November 23, 2023 at 7:20 pm

    I have sole physical custody of our son and his mother has regularly scheduled visitation. She frequently picks him up when it’s not her day and even ruined our Thanksgiving by insisting she pick him up several hours early (he could’ve easily attended both dinners). She has no respect for the judge, the court documents, the GAL, and plays the victim. At her insistence, we have another custody/visitation trial soon, but I don’t expect her to respect the outcome.

  26. Stephanie on January 18, 2024 at 7:31 pm

    My ex husband’s new girlfriend who he lives with assaulted me during my autistic son’s custody exchange how do I keep her away from my son if the father lives with her

  27. Lou on January 29, 2024 at 8:31 pm

    My ex has intervened to the extent it has ruined my new relationship. He manipulates the children, 13 and 11, to find things out about me and use the information to turn the kids against me. It’s become so untenable I don’t want me kids to live with me anymore because of the interference and the lies that are told by my ex. I am now in a position with no relationship and no relationship with my children.

  28. Eleanor on February 7, 2024 at 9:54 pm

    What do I say when my 8 yo says. Why do you have the house mummy? Daddy is so sad he isn’t in the house anymore. Isn’t it his house too? It has been x months since he was there. Truth is daddy has 3 other houses and all I own is half of the one I’m living in. I keep telling him kids don’t solve grown ups problems. Grown ups help kids not the other way around. I’m not sure what to say to protect my son and honour gyhe truth.

  29. Chyna Rodriguez on February 29, 2024 at 2:16 am

    My fiancee and I been together 4 years he has a son and I have 2 son’s from previously relationships. His ex wife is a total narcissist. She says and does the most pettiest extremely low down things anyone can ever imagine any human would say. They been divorced 6 years she put my fiancee in jail lied on him used him cheated on him did him so dirty and tried to damage him beyond repair. We met he explained to me everything and I decided I love him enough to get threw this terrible ordeal so he can see his son. She got married to a ex and throws him in the mix and me nor him have anything to do with this. We got him a phone to limit contact with her she takes his phone blocks us both lies to their son and says my fiancee wants nothing to do with him. Then she texts and acts like their son and disrespects me on texts when their son loves me and would never she has no idea the relationship we have she’s just pressing him to disrespect and dislike me when he clearly sees his mom is not right at all. Then when my fiancee ignores her conflicting unnecessary texts when their son who’s 10 is capable of using a cell phone. She lied and says their son has his phone everytime we call she answers it and runs the phone to their son and he has no clue it’s is because he didn’t text or know we even called him. it’s pathetic. She plays games and uses their son as a pawn. She made me the reason he can’t come visit anymore she was adamant on knowing my past ECT which isn’t her business and when she got firm boundaries she smeared my name online saying I had AIDS ECT and a bunch of things she don’t know about me. She is mad my fiancee isn’t her supply so she’s just jealous childish melious and very sad all we want is for his son to be able to visit again and his well being and happiness. She is so jealous of my fiancee and their son Relationship she dictates when they get to see each other which is never until she gets what she wants. Those days are over.Only choice see have left is court now.

  30. Aisha on March 15, 2024 at 9:34 pm

    My daughter is 7 years old and my fiancé has been in her life since she was 2 1/2 – 3 years old. She calls him “papa” and has developed a tight bond with him.
    My daughter likes to play “princess” and be carried to dinner. My fiancé treats her like the princess of the household and carries her to the breakfast table.
    My ex said that behavior is crossing boundaries and my fiancé needs to stop playing princess with a 7 year old.
    He keeps saying, I’m her father , I have the right to say how my daughter is raised when he tries to control how we do things in my household.

    How can I stop this bad behavior and the over abuse of the “I’m the father” card when he tries to control how we do things ?

  31. Kelly Kulman on March 27, 2024 at 9:08 am

    Hello,
    So my situation is very complicated, stressful, and has led me to going to therapy & on medication now but none of it helps me because I am in a war weekly with my ex.
    He is a narcist, manipulative, threatening, toxic person. Every day he comes at me. This is going on 2 years now.
    2 years ago, I broke up with him and left our toxic relationship. When I left him, our son was 6 months. Now my son is over 2 years old. My requests to talk or facetime our child every day, so I do it to avoid conflict. I do anything and everything to avoid conflict with him. However, he doesn’t do the same for me and he’ll say “wow won’t let your own son talk to his father, you’re a sick woman and horrible mother..” etc etc if I say no to a phone call during my parenting time. That’s just one small example of how he manipulates me. I always try to get along. If he needs to swap a day and I can do it, I do it. If we’re available to facetime, I do it. If he’s in the area and wants to stop by to see his son for a few minutes, I do it. But this man just doesn’t care or respect me at all.
    I am not engaged to an amazing man, total opposite of my ex. My ex “hates” him even though they’ve only met maybe twice years ago and he doesn’t know him at all. He only hates him because he’s with me. He refers to him as “pedo” (pedophile) and tells me all the time how he hopes he dies and more. Kevin (my fiance) has asked to sit down and talk to him because that would be in the best interest of our son.
    He refuses everything. He threatens to take me to court so that way my husband could never be around my son ( I know that would never work).
    I try ignoring this man, it doesn’t work, only makes him madder when I don’t answer my phone.
    I never have my fiancé at home when me and my ex do exchanges because it makes him go crazy and I don’t want my child around his father when he is like that.

    Every day, I am in fear. What will my son grow up to be like? Will his fathers brainwashing to hate me and my fiancé work? Will I have to go in and out of court because I don’t answer my phone to him when it’s my parenting time? Will he try to hold my child from me? If I go on vacation and I leave my child with him, will he try to say I abandoned my child? I worry every day. If my fiancé and I want to have a child after we’re married, will my ex stress me out again and give me another stress baby like my son was? Will he make fun of my new child and wish death upon them every day?? I can’t live hearing someone wish I was dead, or my family dies, or my own kids die every single day. I CAN’T live like this anymore.
    Every single day I am afraid of what he’ll put our child thru next.
    Being silent doesn’t work. Being the best co-parent ever doesn’t work. Being mature and cordial doesn’t work. And standing my ground and sticking up for me and my family doesn’t work. I’ve tried to suggest that I have my mom, sister, or fiance do pick-up & drop offs for me, but he said he won’t give our child to anyone but me. Even though, I have stated that it doesn’t matter, once his parenting time stops and mine starts, it’s my decision who babysits, etc for me. But he thinks since he is the dad that he is above our custody order and the laws.
    I am so frustrated… I’m dealing with the worst type of human imaginable and I need HELP before I lose it and die.
    I wonder if i could get a legit restraining order?

    • Lacey Provost on April 17, 2024 at 6:04 pm

      Wow I’m so sorry I am experiencing this exactly with an ex and my sons 13 it’s so hard I cry and barley eat I know the suffering your feeling ;(

  32. John QM on May 7, 2024 at 6:40 am

    After a highly contentious divorce with a cluster-b woman, I got shared custody of my 12 year old son. Four days out of the week, plus special events and activities no matter when then occur. After much thought, I decided to avoid dating or seeking any new romantic partners, at least until my son is 18 and on his own. It would be a needless complication, and it would not be fair either to a new girlfriend, or to my son.
    I must say, after a year I feel like I made the right decision. After so many years of drama, chaos, false accusations, and crazy-making behavior directed at me, we now have a home that is calm, loving, safe, and predictable. My son and I are closer than ever, we share a lot of common interests and activities. Of course I sometimes miss female companionship, but not as much as I thought I would. Life is about trade-offs, and I think this is a good trade-off. Its brought me me peace and quiet, time and space, and a sanity.

    • Kbib77 on May 30, 2024 at 5:09 am

      I can relate entirely with this scenario. I left when my daughter was six though. It seems too she has caught on to all the antics. I was blessed with a smart well behaved child. I don’t think he realizes how even a child can see through the craziness.

  33. Carla on May 29, 2024 at 1:27 pm

    My husband give me money monthly, but he’s not involved in my kids activities or needs ,the last time he spend time with them was 4 months ago and , he tells the kids that we are getting back , back as soonest he leaves he ignores everything,

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