Go back to Blogs
Kristen Holstrom, Managing Attorney of Custody Queens, spoke during our virtual event, Co-Parenting & Coffee, that took place in July 2020. She shared her top tips and recommendations for those working to build a custody agreement. As a custody lawyer and family law specialist, Kristen has years of experience helping families create solutions and parenting plans to help them co-parent.
Joint Custody and Co-Parenting
As Kristen puts it, co-parenting is tough. Even if you are married or have a good relationship with the other parent, raising kids is hard work that requires a lot of negotiation. For parents who are recently separated or creating a custody agreement, making decisions and creating parenting plans may not be easy. Navigating custody requires work and time, and parents need to educate themselves as they go through the process.
Kristen recommends creating a simple agreement and making some decisions about the kids as soon as possible, as it can take many months to get to court. She reminds parents that no one knows their kids better than they do. Even once parents get in front of a judge, agreeing is not always easy. Judges don’t know your child’s favorite color or their bedtime routine.
Kristen, and other family law attorneys, are huge proponents of communication, communication, communication.
She recommends a co-parenting communication service such as TalkingParents because it allows parents to have non-passive-aggressive communication. You can educate the other parent about upcoming events or have a quick conversation over the phone. As an attorney, she loves to write things down and plan for a conversation so that she can be fully prepared. She advises her clients to do the same when they are preparing for a discussion with their co-parent. Write and revise the message before sending it and ask yourself if you are coming off as aggressive or accusatory. For example, your child may come home with a new scratch or a bruise. These things do happen. And as Kristen knows, since she is a mother of three, asking the other parent how something happened without seeming like you are placing blame will create a better start for a discussion.
Take Care of Your Side First
As many other of our Co-Parenting & Coffee speakers shared, you are only in control of yourself. As Kristen puts it, ‘Always take care of your side of the street first.’ When you are communicating, start with yourself and the things that you can control. Co-parenting has a much higher success rate when following a parenting agreement. Starting by being cooperative and following the agreement on your side of the street first—this means you are already halfway there.
While not common for co-parents, there are options for therapy. Therapy can be an excellent resource for kids and yourself as well. The team at Custody Queens is a huge proponent of this kind of treatment. It helps the family heal and move forward.
Of course, there are times when it is impossible to co-parent. Kristen encourages parents to contact an attorney and get advice in cases of child safety concerns or domestic violence. Additionally, the Custody Queens have a webinar on domestic violence
with more information and resources.
Settling Custody Cases
With legal advice, coaching, and settlement, most co-parenting cases can be resolved. When Kristen begins working with parents, she asks herself whether she can settle the case and whether the two parents are reasonable and willing to come to the table to work together for their kids. The best settlements are when neither person gets what they want. Attorneys can work together with the parents collaboratively by getting a wish list from each client and coming together to create something reasonable for both sides. When you avoid court, you can save thousands of dollars in fees and avoid a lot of time and stress.
As Kristen puts it, families succeed when parents are flexible.
When there is an issue of one parent who is not following the custody agreement, Kristen encourages her client to maintain a Journal (such as the one in TalkingParents). The journal isn’t just for the parents; it helps the attorneys get a full picture of the situation. It might seem as though your co-parent is always late to a pickup, but when you and your attorney re-visit the Journal Record, you might find that they actually were only a few minutes late once, and they had called ahead. This reference point allows you to get the full, unbiased perspective and to hold both parents accountable.
Kristen also took the time to answer some frequently asked questions. The following answers are provided from Kristen’s perspective.
Q: How can you prove your co-parent is lying?
A: Use TalkingParents or another co-parenting communication service and to document it. I often hear, “They never told me” or “They never did that.” By documenting times when you are running a bit behind or telling your co-parent about a parent-teacher conference through TalkingParents, everything goes on the Record. This also means that no one can change what you wrote, and your co-parent will have the same information as you. I prefer a platform that documents everything to eliminate any miscommunications.
Q: What if my co-parent refuses to follow a court order?
A: You can only take care of your side of the street and can only follow the order yourself. You can’t make someone else a good parent or a cooperative co-parent. If you are supposed to follow the court order, follow it. Not following your court order is one of the biggest mistakes you can make. If you are experiencing issues with your co-parent, call an attorney and find out what kind of options you may have. You can file an order to modify it, especially if you have the facts and documentation to back up your claim.
Q: What if you were never married?
A: The same orders over the children apply as if you were married, as parents file the necessary paperwork for a paternity action. My advice is the same to parents in a paternity action case; be flexible, create and agree on a proposal, and keep everything documented. Even if it is modifying a time, put it in a text to document it, and communicate as needed.
A parenting agreement gives you a base, but co-parents can modify and make it work for them. Of course, what works for you now might not work for you in a year as situations and relationships change. This is a baseline for when you can’t come to an agreement.
Q: How can we have a smooth pick-up and drop-off?
A: If parents are emotional, do a curbside drop-off with no interaction in front of the children. Keep the drop-off or pick-up appropriate for the age group, meaning sometimes a kid can’t walk themselves between houses or vehicles. There are some cases where drop-offs at police stations are necessary, but it can impact the kids. My advice is not to take third parties along if there are issues.
Try to show your children you can have a communicative and easy drop off with the other parent. The Custody Queens webinar Divorce 101
has an additional conversation around this topic.
Take Care of Yourself
Kristen’s final advice is to look out for both you and your children. The healthier that you are as a parent, the more successful you will be as a co-parent. She loves seeing kids thrive and being loved by both of their parents. It isn’t always easy, but by putting one foot in front of the other and taking care of your side of the street, you are on the right path.
To learn more about Kristen Holstrom and the Custody Queens, check out their website
or visit them on Instagram
TalkingParents blogs are for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice. Always consult with a qualified attorney regarding legal matters.