‘An opportunity to bond with my child’: How to successfully co-parent with a hostile ex

Co-parenting can be incredibly stressful when the parents don’t get along or struggle to agree on how to raise their kids. But, they may not realise that help is at hand. 

This father wrote to us, asking for help on how to best co-parent with his estranged ex, so that he has the opportunity to be a father to his child. 

Parent24 approached the experts at LAW FOR ALL for advice. Read the parent’s letter here:  

I grew up without a father 

“I am a first time father to a lovely 5 month old boy, Thato, but I am really having issues with his mother.

Me and my ex-partner are situated in Cape Town, but we both do not stay with the baby. We had an agreement that he will stay with the grandmother up until December and return with us in January.

None of my family members have been able to see the child due to a fragile relationship with Thato’s mother. I have noted that things are not working for me and her, so we have decided to part our ways.

But the issue lies with where the child is still situated. If I want to see my child I have to drive 1200km from Cape Town to a small town in the Eastern Cape, which is absolutely bizarre considering the cost of living.

Every month is just a struggle to send food for my child as I have to hire a vehicle to make delivery in the rural area. I would like my child back in Cape Town, either staying with me or the mother, just to eliminate the logistic issues.

I can save a lot with the child being here, a lot could go to his extra needs. I would have an opportunity to bond with my child. 

I grew up without a father. I know what impact this will have on my child, and I work with teenagers in an academic environment and I can see the impact it has on them.

I feel like in this situation it’s only fair that I also get my opportunity to be a father to my child, even if it is limited, I’ll take anything at this stage. 

Please advise on potential solutions.” 

A lifelong commitment

Linda Matshoza, a legal professional at LAW FOR ALL, says that anyone can father a child, but being a dad is a lifelong commitment.

“There’s no denying that fathers play an essential role in their child’s life that can’t be filled by others. This role has a significant impact on a child and helps shape them into the person they grow up to become,” she says. 

But, maintaining a strong bond is challenging in long-distance situations, she acknowledges. 

Matshoza explains that the separation can become difficult to cope with when the child becomes a toddler. “Sadly, not all relationships withstand the test of time. And while it’s easy to walk away and move one when you are single, it isn’t that simple when a child is involved,” she says.

“Yes, infants don’t understand what is going on, but they can sense the emotional turmoil. Parents have to put their differences aside and know that they need to be a team when it comes to raising kids,” she says. 

The child’s best interest is the first and most important priority. The parents will need to think about what is best for their child, talk about their rights and responsibilities, and agree on a constructive way to handle disagreements.

Matshoza suggests that a co-parenting plan can be a useful tool to set out the “new relationship” details. They must also agree on the child’s living arrangements.

“It may make more sense for them to co-parent in the same province, where they both can better care for and spend time with their child,” she advises.

Legally speaking, it is vital to keep in mind is that even though the parents are not married, the law protects a biological farther.

“He has the same parental rights and responsibilities as the mother,” she stresses. Specifically where they were living together in a permanent life partnership, or he agrees to be identified as the dad and take on financial commitment.

“So, essentially the reader has the right to care for the child, act as a guardian, maintain contact and financially contribute to their upbringing. He can decide where his child may stay and who provides care,” she clarifies.

Unfortunately, it isn’t always easy for a split couple to find common ground, despite their best intentions, Matshoza acknowledges.

She says that if the parents can’t agree on the way forward, they can approach the Family Advocate’s office to mediate the matter. The Family Advocate stays neutral while mediating disputes regarding parental rights and responsibilities.

It is a free service, and if the parents successfully reach an agreement, it would have the same legal power as a court order.

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