Handling Co-Parenting Retaliatory Behaviors

Chantal Tanner

Handling Co-Parenting Retaliatory Behaviors

Family Law
| 5 min

Parenting can be challenging at the best of times. But add in a divorce and a parent who’s indulging in retaliatory behavior, and you have an even tougher situation on your hands. Often in a divorce, one party perceives themselves as the person who has lost the most and therefore decides to do all they can to get back at the other side. 

Retaliatory behavior can take many forms; verbal abuse, belittling, or criticizing you in front of your children; being awkward and vindictive over childcare arrangements; withholding child support payments; denying access to your children; telling lies about you and talking behind your back; nasty texts and emails. If you’re experiencing anything like that, read on for practical advice, helpful guidance, and professional support on dealing with retaliatory behaviors in co-parenting.


Put The Children’s Needs First

If divorcing couples cannot agree on child custody, then the only remaining option is to contest the case in court. Judges in California take into account a number of different factors before reaching their decision, but they’re legally obliged to work on the basis of what’s in the best interest of the child

Divorced parents are also supposed to follow this mantra and put their children’s needs first. However, it’s often clear to any neutral observer that one parent is just being selfish and trying to undermine the other. That’s not a great place to be, but there are some actions you can take to help resolve the situation.


Bring The Unwanted Behavior To The Attention Of Your Family Lawyer

If your co-parent is behaving unreasonably, certain guidelines and procedures can help. In the following sections, we’ll outline some of the practical techniques you can use to deal with the situation. However, suppose the unwanted behavior is prolonged, extreme, and breaks the terms of your child custody agreement. In that case, you should keep a written record of everything that happens and bring it to your family lawyer’s attention.

Your lawyer can clarify the legal position around your ex-partner’s behavior. If they’re clearly in breach of your child custody agreement - say that they deny you your visitation rights - then you may need to go back to court. While that may be the correct legal approach, it can exacerbate bad feelings and make an already difficult situation even worse.

That’s where an experienced family attorney can help. They can often suggest practical solutions that take the heat out of the situation and avoid the time, expense, and hassle of returning to court.

Establish Clear Communication Guidelines

One of the oldest rules in the book is this: prevention is better than cure. If you can establish clear communication guidelines right from the start, you can avoid many of the thornier co-parenting issues. Of course, if one parent decides that they’re going to do everything in their power to make things difficult, that makes it hard for everyone. But that shouldn’t stop you from trying to do what’s best for your children. One solution that many couples have successfully used for communication is a mutually-trusted family member or friend who can act as a go-between.

Try To Communicate Without Getting Emotional

Emotions run high during a divorce, and they also run high around anything that concerns children and how to raise them. So, it’s hardly surprising that divorced parents often say things they might later regret. That’s why it’s so important to learn how to communicate without getting emotional.

It’s an easy thing to say and a hard thing to do, but it’s possible, achievable, and certainly worthwhile. A professional counselor or mediator can give you advice, or you could try one of the latest apps that are specifically designed to help with co-parenting communication.

Avoid Retaliating Against Unwanted Behavior

Sometimes, in the face of prolonged and extreme provocation, it’s almost impossible not to retaliate. But ask yourself what your words and actions will achieve. Will it benefit your children? No. Will it give satisfaction to the other side that you lost your cool and made yourself look bad? Quite possibly. Will it make you feel any better? Almost certainly not. And will you subsequently regret losing your cool? In all probability, yes.

So, if you can, step back from the situation. Try to see yourself as an independent observer on the outside looking in. If you can do that, you’ll see the damage that retaliating against unwanted behavior can do. Nobody wins, everybody loses, and the biggest losers are always the innocent children caught in the crossfire.

Attempt To Disengage From The Conflict

Most divorced parents can come to some sort of compromise concerning childcare. There are always a few bumps along the road - perhaps you’ve had a bad day, or the children are playing up - but by and large, parents can see the bigger picture and do what’s best for their children.

That said, there are scenarios when the very occasional piece of bad behavior or one-off hurtful remark develops into something more severe and prolonged. It might feel like the other party is constantly and deliberately trying to provoke a reaction from you. If you find yourself in that situation, it’s vital that you consciously disengage from the conflict and don’t do anything to inflame the situation.

Half the battle when dealing with retaliatory behavior recognizes it for what it is. Once you’ve done that and can see that the person is trying to provide a reaction, it’s much easier to rise above it. By empowering yourself, you can reduce the hold that the other party has over you.

How A Family Lawyer Can Help Navigate Co-Parenting Retaliation

A family lawyer can be of great help to people who are facing co-parenting retaliation or other issues based around divorce. With their extensive legal knowledge and long experience of helping families in similar situations, a family attorney is familiar with what you’re going through and can provide ways to help you navigate the situation. With their professional advice, support, and guidance, you can implement strategies that not only resolve retaliatory issues but also help to prevent them again in the future.

The result? Peace of mind for you, the avoidance of conflict for you and your ex-partner, and best of all, a happier, more secure, and beneficial environment for your children.


Retaliation in co-parenting is damaging to everyone involved; it hurts the parent on the receiving end and the children caught in the middle. It also harms the person responsible for the vindictive behavior because it can ultimately undermine their relationship with their children. So, it’s in everyone’s best interests to stop such behavior quickly, efficiently, and effectively - and in many cases, the best way to do that is to use the help of an expert family lawyer.

Oct 29, 2019
Chantal Tanner