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Co-Parenting in Illinois

When co-parenting with a narcissistic, toxic, or difficult ex, it is often best to have structured communication. Narcissists are often selfish and do not care how other people feel. This makes it difficult to share parenting responsibilities with them. In Illinois, the best ways to deal with a narcissistic co-parent are to be prepared and stay strong.

The Challenges of Co-Parenting with a Narcissist

Co-parenting is hard on its own, and co-parenting with a narcissist makes it that much harder. Some common challenges you may face include:

  • Not agreeing on custody/placement.
  • Talking behind your back.
  • Being unwilling to compromise or work together.
  • Ignoring ground rules and breaking set boundaries.

Even with all these challenges, the custody and placement order is in place, so you have to find a path forward.


For Immediate help with your family law case or answering any questions please call (312) 757-8082 now!

How to Co-Parent with a Narcissist

Whether it’s after a divorce or a paternity action, coming into contact with your ex while co-parenting is unavoidable. The following are tips that will set you up for a more successful co-parenting relationship no matter who the other parent is.

Prioritize the Children Above the Co-Parent

By doing what is best for your children, you are putting their needs above yours. A narcissistic person will put their needs first. While you cannot change your ex or make them aware of their problem, there are things you can do to create boundaries, protect yourself, and protect your children.

Set Ground Rules for Communication

By setting specific communication boundaries, you are able to stick to the facts when dealing with your ex. It is best to set these boundaries early, so the sooner it is done the better. Leave emotions out as much as possible because narcissists often enjoy having the ability to get a reaction from you. And they may try to use those reactions against you to falsely portray you as irrational or as a bad parent.

Communicating through email or text rather than over the phone can mitigate this issue as it gives you more time to think about and review what you're going to say.

Create a Detailed Parenting Plan

Coming up with a parenting plan can be as simple as a child custody agreement, or it can go deeper into the rules and values of how you want your child to be raised. The best time to set up a parenting plan is during your divorce or custody case where you have family law professionals helping you address some of the issues that go into a plan.

Attorneys here at Sterling Lawyers, LLC know the value of a clean and thorough parenting plan. However, if you already have an insufficient parenting plan, you are still able to use a parenting coordinator to help develop a new, successful plan.

Set Firm Co-Parenting Boundaries

After divorce, you are left to enforce the structure that you and your ex agreed on. The easiest way to do this is positive reinforcement. Narcissists often seek validation, so when you can reward the good behavior, you might be able to get them to continue to do that behavior.

When positive reinforcement fails, the next option could be resorting to legal intervention. You can threaten to take them to court if they continue a certain behavior. It is important that you do file a custody enforcement action if the issue persists. This way, they are faced with the consequences of their actions. A judge is unlikely to completely stop a child from seeing the other parent, but they can hold the other parent accountable by doing things like lessening their parenting time.

Parent with Empathy

Each parent will have parenting time with the child. That time with the narcissistic parent can be a stressor in the child’s life and can cause them to act out. When there are problems like this that are out of the child’s control, it becomes even more important to be patient and calm with your child.

Avoid Speaking Poorly of the Other Parent in Front of the Kids

Speaking negatively about your ex to your child can make the child feel guilty for wanting to spend time with the other parent. This can cause a strain on the relationship between the other parent and the child or between you and the other parent. Even though that other parent may not be the best, they still are the child’s parent.

Children learn how to act from their parents, so setting a good example for how to act in any relationship will positively impact them. If they see you negatively interacting with or speaking to the other parent, that may influence what they think is okay in their own relationships.

Protect the Children

Being a part of a separated family will influence any kids involved, so it is important to protect them. However, this doesn't mean you should completely shelter them and avoid telling them what's going on. They are likely already confused by or frustrated with the current situation.

Kids need a sense of security, and they often lose it during a divorce or separation. To help them cope, it is your duty to create a safe environment where they can share their emotions and know they will be listened to and heard. Make sure they know you are there for them and always will support them.[1]

Remove Your Child from the Middle

Your child does not need to know every detail of the breakup because there are some things that would only hurt them to know. Even teenagers, who might be more aware of what happened, do not need to know exactly what caused the divorce or how it played out.

They don't need to be entirely in the dark, but there needs to be a balance where they aren't a pawn in the aftermath. Putting your child in the middle of problems with their other parent brings them stress and guilt. The best thing to do is be honest with them while also recognizing that they are a child.

Control What You Can Control

Control what you can through your actions and try to keep emotions out of the mix. You will not be able to control your ex, so start the change within yourself. Narcissists feed off frustration and other emotions, so don't give them what they want. Find a healthy outlet for your frustration such as therapy, physical activity, or venting to friends.

Use Counseling to Your Advantage

Having a good therapist and strong support system that you can lean on will ease the stress the other parent puts on your life. Narcissists can make you feel like you're crazy, they even try to make you feel that way, so you need something to keep you grounded.

Counseling or therapy is a great option for this situation or for anyone who wants to better their coping skills. Furthermore, speaking with a trained professional can help you better understand your situation.[2]

Legal Considerations

It is important to understand your position legally. A detailed custody agreement can be a lot to understand, so it may be worth it to have an attorney walk you through exactly where you stand. These custody agreements can be modified if you meet the requirements, but any revisions are likely to be contested, especially when you're working with a narcissist. If you do go to court, it will likely be in your favor to have guardian ad litem appointed because they will advocate for what is best for your child.

Plan for the Worst

Take some time before interactions and think about how it will go. You know this person, you know the things they say and do that bother you the most, so be prepared to deal with them.

Preparing responses ahead of time allows you to better control yourself in the moment. A narcissist will often use manipulation and deception to get what they want, so preparing in advance, keeping calm, and not ​​arguing will help avoid giving them the reaction they are looking for.

There is also the option to have drop-offs and pick-ups in safe locations such as police stations. This may be something to think about implementing.

Get Everything in Writing and Keep Records

Work with a lawyer to have as many details written in a court order as possible. Make sure to get everything in writing. The other person might agree verbally to do something, but if it isn't in the order, they can change their mind at any time.

Also, if the other parent ever sends you nasty messages over text or social media, be sure to screenshot or save them in case you need them as evidence to be used in a future court hearing.

When to Pursue Full Custody

If you have a custody agreement in place, your ex is legally obliged to follow it. If they ignore it and keep you away from your child, it is within your power to take them to court for breaking the order.

If your child is afraid of your co-parent or you think they might get violent, it may be a good idea to pursue sole custody. If you have reason to believe that the child is in psychological or physical danger, then it is up to you as a parent to protect them.

Are you ready to move forward? Call (312) 757-8082 to schedule a strategy session with one of our attorneys.


Consider Parallel Parenting

Parallel parenting is not a legal concept, but a parenting style. Parallel Parenting is a strategy in which co-parents limit direct contact with each other in order to protect themselves and their children from parental conflict.

In parallel parenting, each parent raises their kids independently of each other. The parents have their own set of rules when the kids are with them. This is a means to stay out of each other’s business. Parallel parenting plans must be very specific and are usually set up in the court custody agreement.

Consider Counter Parenting (Where Appropriate)

Counter parenting is when you attempt to undo the damage done to your child by the narcissistic parent. Counter parenting can be as simple as being attentive to your child's individual needs or having them go to therapy. It can be an effective method in combating low self-esteem and high anxiety within your child.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can you successfully co-parent with a narcissist?

It is possible to successfully co-parent with a narcissist. The best way to find success is to prepare ahead of time. Make sure you have a well thought out parenting plan that is detailed. Set communication boundaries to ensure that you do not compromise your values. When they break the parenting plan, you can take them to court for it.

How do you survive co-parenting with a narcissist in Illinois?

Think in the long-term, not the short term. It’s not going to be a pleasant co-parenting relationship, but you can power through until your child turns 18. The key is getting support from your family and friends. Then, when they go too far, you take them back to court.

What is it like co-parenting with a narcissist?

Co-parenting with a narcissist is like working with a spoiled child. They don’t think about what is best for others and only think about what they want to do. They may consider the child almost a part of themselves and be selfish for the child as well.

Should I share custody with a narcissist?

Most likely, the choice of whether to share parenting responsibilities will not be up to you. That is a decision the Illinois courts have to make. You are able to advocate for what you think the best situation would be. If you think the other parent having parenting time would not be beneficial for the child, you can request for them to have less time than you.

References: Video by | 1. 10 Tips for Co-Parenting with a Narcissist. Sarkis, Stephanie. (2016, Jan 11). Psychology Today. | 2. 14 Rules for Co-Parenting with a Narcissist. Kay, A.J. (2019, Feb 4). The Good Men Project.

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