Are You Coparenting with an Asshole Ex?

FULL TRANSCRIPT DIVORCE etc…podcast Season 3, Episode 34

Interview with Sabrina Shaheen Cronin

Jessica: Is co-parenting one of your biggest pet peeves? Maybe you’re still sad and angry and having a hard time handling it all? Or you’re willing to try and make it work smoothly, but your other co-parent doesn’t treat you with any respect and is making it all more difficult? Those are exactly the kinds of things we’re talking about in today’s episode of the Divorce etc… podcast. We’re the exEXPERTS, Jessica and T.H. We focus on helping you navigate your divorce and successfully moving on with your life. Please follow us on all social media at exEXPERTS, and check out for tons of free divorce related resources. Let’s bring in today’s guest.

T.H.: Hey, everybody. We are thrilled to have Sabrina Shaheen Cronin with us all the way from Michigan. She is a family law attorney. First of all, I connected with her on many levels about our own personal divorce stories and all the shit that we deal with on a regular basis. But she went into family law because of her divorce and circumstances, and now has expanded beyond that to really focus on co-parenting and helping families with co-parenting, especially with a difficult ex. Welcome to our show.

Sabrina: Thank you so much. It’s so great to be here.

T.H.: So—go ahead, Jess.  

Jessica: No, I mean, the co-parenting thing, it’s always one of the biggest conversations. Because we always talk about how from people that we hear from in our exEXPERTS community, it’s the money and the kids are the two biggest things. I know that people don’t often realize how challenging co-parenting can be. I’m curious, what do you think people are coming to you for? What are their biggest challenges? Do you find that they’re usually surprised at how difficult it is?

Sabrina: Well, first of all, as an attorney handling a lot of family and very high conflict custody cases, I think people think it will be easier once the divorce is done, or even through the divorce. I think people don’t realize that you take yourself with you everywhere you go. Unless you learn how to deal with your own internal issues and also learn how to handle conflict or chaos, or even how to manage someone else who may not be as respectful as you, or mindful as you, or as cooperative as you, it’s not going to be any easier. You really have to get a hold of all of that stuff and manage your expectations. You’ll need help along the way. I mean, we’re not in this alone, and you shouldn’t have to bear all this alone, although a lot of people unfortunately are. But I get a lot of people coming to me sometimes very defeated and thinking, “Why did I get divorced anyway? My life isn’t any better. This is not helping. This is not going well. I mean, this is really shitty. Why didn’t I just stay, and I’d have my kids 100% of the time instead of 50% of the time.” So there’s a lot of frustration for sure.

Jessica: You mentioned if you’re co-parenting with someone who’s not as respectful as you as you, how do you co-parent respectfully when there’s no respect?

Sabrina: That’s a really good question, Jessica, and that’s something that I deal with as well. People get divorced because they can’t get along for one reason or another, whether it’s infidelity, whether it’s an addiction, whether they’re growing apart, or a whole host of reasons—money issues, you name it. You have to really again, dig deep within yourself and say, “Okay, at one point, I loved this person enough to have children with them.” If your child or children weren’t planned, regardless, you still had a union that created a child. Because of that child, for that reason alone, you need to show some respect. You don’t have to be respectful—respect the other person for who they are, but you should be respectful of either the process, or your child, or even yourself, and give yourself some grace to say, “Hey, at one point in my life, this was my life. And this was my union. This was my relationship. Because of that, I need to show some respect to myself and have some dignity.” Because of that dignity, you show some class. When you show some class, you take the high road, and sometimes you have to swallow a lot to do what’s right for your children.  

Jessica: Yeah, we’ve definitely been down that road.

Sabrina: Yeah, I know—

T.H.: It’s hard to know. It’s hard to know what’s right for your children. I feel like we’re just, “I got to do this. I have to do that. I have to be there. I have to be here.” We have no idea if that’s even the right thing for our children. I mean, I definitely put myself in a lot of very uncomfortable positions with my ex and his fiancée and my kids. I wasn’t ready for that. I did it in the name of the kids.

Sabrina: I hear you. And I’ve done that too.

T.H.: But the truth was it would have been fine if it didn’t happen. So really digging deep and figuring out, “Am I really doing this because this is really what the kids need? Or is it because I think it’s what the kids need.”

Sabrina: I think T.H. that’s a really good point too. You have to at some point figure out what’s healthy for you, because what’s right for you, ultimately, will be what’s right for your children. People say that a lot. That’s a philosophy that says what’s right for me is what’s right for everybody. I truly believe that’s true because everything emanates from you and energy, and everything flows, and your children pick up on your energy. They pick up on how you are and how you feel and that safety. And so if they feel safe in your presence, it doesn’t really matter about all the circumstances and everything else going on, all the chaos and clutter. But if you’re putting yourself in a vulnerable position and you’re not strong enough yet to handle that, and they can sense and feel your anxiety or angst, then they’ll pick up on that. They too will feel that anxiety and angst. So if your children are old enough to ask them what their priority is, what their preference is, they’ll tell you. Kids will tell you. They have no problem telling you what they want, what they need. If it’s too uncomfortable for them to see the two parents, the two people that they love the most in this entire world at odds with one another in the same room, or too much tension, they’ll tell you. If they really want you both there at an event, at a soccer game or some type of a school function, they’ll tell you that too. They’ll tell you they don’t want you at a party where their dad or their mom is at, or the dad’s girlfriend or the mom’s boyfriend, or whatever. They’ll tell you if they’re old enough and hopefully emotionally mature enough, which you are teaching them to be, based on your own openness and vulnerability with your kids, in an age appropriate way.

T.H.: So let’s take a step back here. You were a litigator, and then you went into family law. Now you’re also creating another branch to your business focused on co-parenting. Why?

Sabrina: Why was I litigator?

T.H.: Why did you move through all these things? And why is co-parenting so important to you? I know you have your own situation, which you don’t have to share. But I’m just saying, you have progressed and moved and focused now, landed on co-parenting, what are you seeing happening out there that’s put you where you are now professionally? 

Sabrina: Well, you indicated that I started in litigation, which is absolutely true. But family law is litigation. It’s tough. It’s dog eat dog. It’s he said, she said; she said, she said; he said—whichever type of union you have that you’re separating from. But when you add children, and earlier, Jessica, you mentioned money, those two things are the worst things that people will fight about. I’ve seen people spend thousands and thousands and thousands of dollars arguing over dishes that cost a third of that. It’s because their egos get in the way. They cannot see the forest through the trees. They’re super hyper focused. Their lawyers do not get a hold of their client, because the lawyer wants that fee. They want to be perceived as fighting tenaciously for their client. I can’t necessarily blame the lawyer, but I blame the process. Because what the lawyer fails to realize, and what the people in that heated high emotional, toxic environment do not see is that they have to live with this other person in a different way for the rest of their life, essentially, even beyond the 18 years. And so it was extremely frustrating to me, and then even more so after I was through the process myself, is that in essence, these people in that situation are getting taken advantage of. It’s like a usurious lender trying to get the most, huge interest rate on a loan. It’s like predatory lending. It bothers me because these people are vulnerable. They don’t understand that look, you should not be fighting and spending thousands of dollars on this issue, when really, your children are suffering over here. And so it’s very important for me also to answer your question, T.H., that people have to understand that your outside circumstance is just a reflection of how you feel on the inside. Until people get a hold of themselves—their emotions, their inner being—they will continue to recreate this chaos in their lives. I’ve done a lot of work on myself so that my circumstances will change. It’s not always easy. It’s not. It’s not easy at all. It’s not pretty. It’s not elegant. It’s not whatever. But it’s necessary to move the needle, if you want a better life. Everybody thinks divorce is the answer. And it’s not the answer unless you are willing to put in the hard work for yourself, on yourself, and for your kids. And so I’m super passionate about this topic because I do not like seeing families separated. I’m truly very traditional at heart. The grass is not always greener. Even in the event of infidelity, if that partner is truly willing to change and show their remorse and get to the heart of why there was infidelity, then perhaps reconciliation could be had if both parties are willing to look at it. Because when there’s children involved, you should do everything you can to make it work. Because it isn’t going to get any better once you get divorced, unless you work on yourself. Now in the case of abuse or any type of toxicity or addiction, you can’t force someone else to change or do the hard work. You can only control so much. I’m not at all suggesting to stay in abusive situations. But at the end of the day, so that you don’t find yourself in another abusive situation, you better as damn sure you do the work on yourself to get better and stronger for yourself and your kids.

Jessica: So the co-parenting part of your business expansion, what exactly does it look like?

Sabrina: So Jessica, during the pandemic, I wanted to continue to deliver value to my clients. Prior to the pandemic, I was offering a lot of free lunch and learns where clients and other potential clients or just interested people could come have some free lunch and ask any kind of questions they want relative to divorce or parenting time, or even relationships in general. Once the pandemic hit and we were all stuck at home, I thought I really wanted to continue to do this. It was just super off the cuff—I started a Facebook Live event every Tuesday. I would bring in just some topics and ideas. I started talking live to an audience. I just started also interviewing different people from time to time and from week to week, and the audience grew. From that, it was born, really a love of bringing knowledge to people, because through knowledge, that’s truly when you’re empowered. But knowledge is only half of it, right? Once you intellectually know something, you have to learn how to embody it. My role and what I believe is my purpose is, all of the hard lessons that I’ve had to live in my life, I feel like I didn’t go through in vain. I feel like there’s really a purpose to it. Because I have the knowledge from both the legal perspective as well as the real tangible experiences of it, I can truly help people and really life hack it so it saves them a lot of time. I can really cut down on a lot of needless and fruitless ways of going about it and really help people live their best life in the shortest amount of time possible.

Jessica: We always say we have so many of our exEXPERTS as part of our community that we call real life experts. Because we really do feel having come from the place and having the perspective that you have really adds something that people need to understand. They won’t necessarily get from someone who hasn’t actually had to walk the walk themselves.

T.H.: Right, right.

Sabrina: And I think that’s why I was so passionate too as a family law attorney, because I know it, I feel it, I’ve lived it. I’ve lived through acrimony. I’ve lived through the issues T.H. and I talked about last week, where it’s fricking hard to be at an event when you’re going through a divorce, when your ex is there with his soon-to-be wife or whatever. Then I always, just joking, like, “Oh, I wonder what anniversary they’re celebrating.” It’s just funny because—it’s not funny, but you have—

Jessica: Yeah, you got to laugh.

Sabrina: You have to take a humorous—right. Once you get away from it emotionally, then you can be like, “Ah…” So yeah, you don’t take it so personally once you’re more removed from it.

Jessica: Right.

T.H.: Hey guys, we’re going to take a quick break. We know it’s hard to get honest and reliable information about your divorce and life in general, so we’ve done the work for you with exEXPERTS and our Divorce etc… podcast. Jess and I had one another to ask all of the questions and figure out the answers, and now you have us too. We are your no bullshit, no nonsense girlfriends through divorce and beyond. Ask us anything about life and all comes with it. Be sure to subscribe to our weekly newsletter to get exEXPERTS in your inbox, and find out all the updates on the latest Divorce etc… podcasts and events we have coming up. Don’t miss out on information and tips that you really need to know. If you want some one on one time with us, you can sign up for a private session. We know that the work really begins once the divorce is actually over. You can connect with us and get all of this information at We’ve lived it, so we get it.

Jessica: So Sabrina, I want to get back to something that you had said before in terms of when I was asking you about how do you deal with a respectful co-parenting relationship when the other co-parent doesn’t respect you. I wholeheartedly agree with your philosophy of you’ve got to take the high road. But what about when you are the one who really is legitimately always taking the high road and everything that they’re doing is just getting you angrier? Listen, I understand there are a lot of difficult people out there that are always trying to get a rise out of people. That’s their purpose in life. But I feel like we have a lot of people who come to us with those kinds of issues, who will say like, “I am doing the ‘right’ thing,” but the other person is still making it so much more difficult that it creates all of this extra additional anger. Then people, like you said, have trouble seeing the forest through the trees. What then?

Sabrina: It’s hard. I’m not going to lie. I deal with it all the time. Unfortunately, and I don’t want to stereotype, but a lot of times, a lot of things rest with the more responsible parent. The one that was the responsible parent during the marriage typically is the more responsible parent post divorce.

Jessica: Yeah.

Sabrina: Up until a couple of months ago, I had someone helping me as an assistant or a sitter now that my children are a little older. I had more of an assistant help with driving, with errands, with around the house. And so I didn’t have to rely so much on my ex.

Jessica: Mm-hmm. That’s smart.

Sabrina: But now that I don’t have that, for a lot of different reasons, it is very, very hard. I find it interesting that the other person oftentimes will just pick up—it’s like they don’t have a schedule. It’s like they—

T.H.: Right, it’s whatever, whatever.

Sabrina: It’s like they don’t even think about their obligations. But it’s really why are we thinking it would be any different? Because it wasn’t different during the marriage, so why would it be different now? And so when you ask this question, it’s difficult because a lot of times the parent gets upset because the other co-parent doesn’t take the child on his or her parenting time. So to me, my answer would be okay, well, I like having the kids more anyway—and I do—but for those that really have a true 50/50 split, you have to take the other parent aside, or put it in an email, or a text or however you best communicate, without emotion, and just say, “Hey, please give me more notice when you cannot take the kids so that I can make alternate arrangements,” or “I have a plan to do X, Y, and Z. I really need to know if you’re going to take the kids, because I need a backup plan.” If they continue to fail to respect you, then you need to take other measures and perhaps fix the parenting time schedule where the kids don’t go there. You always make it so that when you have it and you have an obligation, or you have an activity that you need to do without your children, then you get a sitter. Then if money is an issue, then you take them back to court for more support. There has to be some boundaries in place. 

Jessica: We did an interview a little while back with someone and we talked about what she had coined as the “what if they don’t” clause in a divorce. If the other spouse has to pay alimony or has to pay child support, and what if they don’t pay X amount by X date? There were repercussions and consequences that could sometimes be built in. I’m curious where the legal line is drawn in terms of what someone can actually put into their parenting/co-parenting agreement, where is there something that someone can do, like a three strikes you’re out? Like, if you’re late picking up the kids X number of times, then the parenting agreement is going to shift, and this is going to be the new structure. Are there things people can do to so that as annoying and as stressful as it is when your co-parent isn’t picking up the slack and doing their part of the required parenting agreement, that rather than even having to deal with really actually going back to court, it’s like, you’ve just automatically shifted into plan B in our parenting agreement?

Sabrina: That’s a great thing to really bring up today. Because we try as lawyers to predict a lot of contingencies, but we cannot predict every contingency. But a good judgment or settlement agreement, if you keep it separate from the public document, is extremely important. Because if you’re not detailed, and a lot of lawyers by then, they get burned out because their clients are difficult or fighting or vindictive, and so sometimes the lawyers just want to be done, just like the clients. That’s unfortunate because it does a disservice to the client, because things like this come up. Now, you have to remember though, you have to be reasonable in your contingencies. You have to be reasonable, or a court will strike it. A lot of states do not allow any type of punitive measures against parenting time. For instance, if you do not pay child support in Michigan, you cannot withhold the child from that parent who’s not paying. 

Jessica: That’s crazy.

Sabrina: —measure in Michigan law does not allow for that. I know a lot of other states don’t either. But a lot of parents, that’s their initial reaction: “They’re not paying me, so I’m not going to give them the child.” “They’re not paying me, so the child’s clothes aren’t going to go with them to their house,” or their iPad or whatever, or “I’m not going to pay him for lunch money,” or “Lunch money should be included in the child support.” But what they fail to realize is it’s the children that you are punishing. 

Jessica: Right.

T.H.: Totally.

Sabrina: It’s not the other parent. And so please, please listen here, please, if you take anything away from this, your actions are only hurting your children and yourself, ultimately, because they’re an extension of you. So that’s why you have to be respectful of the process. If the ex or your other parent is not being respectful of you or the process, then you either have to go back to mediation or whatever’s in your agreement, or look at those failsafe backup plans, and or come up with your own, if you didn’t have them built into the judgment.

Jessica: What kinds of things have you—?

T.H.: Wait, I’ll tell you exactly what we did. It all came down to money, regardless of time with the kids. Saying 50/50 is so crazy. I never thought of my kids in terms of 50/50 before I was getting a divorce, but here it is. He wanted 50% of the time, and he really only wanted it because he didn’t want to pay me more money in child support—because he couldn’t actually handle that schedule. But we made it work out. But our statements in our agreement were that if he—so we had a shared financial account where we put joint money into to pay for the kids’ activities and stuff like that. So it wasn’t always a one-off asking each other for money. It was my job to manage it. If I let it fall below a certain dollar amount, there was a financial penalty to me.

Jessica: If you let your share fall?

T.H.: No. I was in charge of distributing the money for all the activities. And if I let it go lower, even if I wasn’t managing it, there was a financial penalty against me. It was on me. I was the primary parent, I was getting what I wanted—I’m totally air quoting here everybody—in terms of visitation and parenting time. He also had a statement in there that if he fell short of his obligations in terms of visitation, taking the kids on his days, all of that, there was a financial penalty to him. It was not about the kids. It wasn’t he wouldn’t get the kids for this holiday. It wasn’t he wouldn’t get them on Father’s Day. There was a financial penalty, which hurts him a hell of a lot more in his own head than whether he gets the kids Monday night for a random dinner.

Jessica: Did he ever fall short?

T.H.: No.

Jessica: Interesting.

Sabrina: Well, and sometimes people that do fall short, they never make good on it anyway. Those are the people that don’t pay child support. Those are the people that really don’t care. They don’t make good on their debts or obligations. So it really depends on the person you’re dealing with to have a financial measure, that punitive measure there. But that does work, T.H., in a lot of instances.

T.H.: Well, money’s where it hurts. Money’s where it hurts. And so this way you keep your kids out of it, and whether you choose to enforce it, because it’s not going through, and it’s worth your time to lawyer up and go to mediation and do all those things is your personal decision. But at least you have something in there that you’re—I mean, we lived by our divorce agreement in terms of vacation times, managing the agreement. I mean, he’s got a ton of money. He takes my son for a ridiculously priced haircut, and then he tells me I owe him money because haircuts are included—except reasonably priced haircuts are included, not a $150 haircut for a seven year old, right? So I said, “Listen, that’s not the average price for a seven year old. I’ll pay.” And so even though that totally irks me, that’s in my agreement, that’s part of child support, and I’m going to pay for the freaking haircut, even though it’s no sweat off his back to pay for the haircut.

Jessica: But I will say for people listening, these are really good takeaway tips, but you should have something in your agreement. If you’re doing some kind of a split—you’re 83/17, and you’re responsible for the 17%, or the 83%—well, probably this applies more to the person who would be responsible for the 17%. But if you are having things like: this is included, that’s included, something like a haircut, something like a new winter jacket, something like a pair of sneakers, you do potentially run the risk of your co-parent spending what they deem to be necessary. It could be far more expensive than what you think is actually necessary. And so I think that that’s a good tip to have in your agreement, reasonably or on average—

T.H.: The average price.

Jessica: Right. You can buy a pair of sneakers for $75, or you can buy a pair of sneakers for $250. And if I have to pay towards that purchase, then you better either clear it with me, or buy the $75 sneakers. Because why should I be responsible—

T.H.: Exactly right.

Jessica: Right. I do think that that’s a really good tip to have that worked in and be able to have those kind of, you know…

T.H.: Because my son actually preferred to get a haircut with him. Haircuts with my son were murder. So it was like a relief. But I think that really—

Jessica: That which you paid for.

T.H.: Right. Thinking about this, if you’re in the process of negotiating, is really important. Because he bought him like a designer ski jacket, it was like $1,200. He’s taking him shopping. Then I’m like, it just can’t happen anymore. And I’m not paying that. You can certainly push back. And I handle business with my ex kind of like Sabrina was talking about. I literally handle business. There’s no emotion. These are the facts. We have an agenda for our phone calls. There’s no emotion in an email. I reread it a hundred times to make sure that I’m not telling him what to do, because I know that will not be received well. I usually start with something positive about our kids because I don’t have much else to say, but like, “Isn’t it great that my—” Our son, not my. So there are a lot of things you have to be careful of when handling business with a difficult ex. But whether or not he fell short, he knew there were financial implications for him not following through. I would bet that’s why he mostly stuck to it.

Jessica: I just want to say one thing, the whole idea, and I totally get the knee jerk reaction of well, he’s not paying, or she’s not paying, whoever it is. They’re not paying, so in retaliation, I’m going to keep the kids, and they’re not going to be able to get their parenting time.

T.H.: Yeah, you can’t do that.

Jessica: No, no, I understand that. But if you think about that, it totally defeats the whole purpose. Because now you’re talking about having the kids more, which is going to cost you more money, so you would need more money from your ex for groceries, for food, for the regular bills.

T.H.: Your child support.

Jessica: Right. So withholding your kids from the other person, what it should be is, “You’re not paying? Here are the kids, because you got to pay for everything.” But I mean I understand the mentality of how it all works, but it is kind of funny. It literally achieves the opposite effect. You then would need more money.

T.H.: You would need more money, get less…

Jessica: Right, exactly.

Sabrina: Well, I know people actually, I know some dads out there, if they’re not getting the kids, they’re like, “Okay, I’m not going to pay for anything.” But that’s counterintuitive. Jessica, they should be paying for way—


Jessica: Everything.


Sabrina: Everything. But that’s just the knee-jerk reaction like, “Hey, you know what?” It comes out of being hurt. They’re hurt because they’re not stepping up to be the dad or the father or the parent they should be, or the mother, if it’s the reverse. There are a lot of moms that will abandon their kids and go off and be the single parent because they never had that before. I’ve seen it all. I mean, I’ve seen a lot of them that are really sad.

Jessica: I bet.

Sabrina: Then the kids get left. It’s really unfortunate.

Jessica: We always try to put out the message “love your kids more than you hate your ex.” Because it is true—

T.H.: Sabrina and I talked about that statement. Didn’t we talk about that?

Sabrina: That’s right. I state that all the time. Yeah.

Jessica: Yeah. I say it all the time too. And our friend Michelle Dempsey, who does a lot of co-parenting stuff, she’s like, “If my daughter leaves her uniform at her dad’s and she’s with me and she’s not going to be able to play in the game, and he’s not going to or able to bring the uniform over, I’m going to go pick it up. I’m not doing him a favor because he forgot to pack it in her bag. I’m doing my daughter a favor by letting her play in the game she wants to participate in.”

Sabrina: Oh, yeah.

Jessica: It is easy to get stuck in the muck. But you do have to take a step back and think about who are you really helping and what are you doing it for.

Sabrina: Well, it’s a maturity, right? Jessica and T.H., I mean, people think, “Well, I’m not going to do that.” But no, you have to be mature. You wanted to have children. You have to own it and do what’s right for your child.

Jessica: That’s right.

Sabrina: And if it’s driving an hour to pick up that uniform—I don’t care where they live—then you better do it. Otherwise, your child will only remember what mum or dad didn’t do, and therefore, I had to miss out on cheering, or being in my game, whatever it was. Remember guys, it’s the feeling that the children have when they’re with you. They’re not going to remember every little incident. But if they don’t feel safe with you, for whatever reason, that’s what they’re going to carry on when they get into their adulthood. Those are the things that will stick with them and burden them as they get on with their lives. So just remember, be mindful of that. Be the mature one and do what’s right for your children. They didn’t ask for this divorce. They don’t want to flip flop between homes. Would you want to flip flop between homes? Any time my clients ask me that, I’m like, “Well, why don’t you just help them? If they forgot something, go there, get it, or bring, or do.” I’m like, “Would you want to live in a suitcase? Would you want to flip flop?” Absolutely not. Be like a ping pong ball? Absolutely not. Put yourself in their shoes for a second.

Jessica: Agreed, agreed, all amazing advice. Thank you so much for your time today, Sabrina.

Sabrina: Oh, it was so fun.

Jessica: We really appreciate it. For everyone listening, if you enjoyed this episode of the Divorce etc… podcast with the exEXPERTS today, then please help some girls out. Because when you subscribe, rate, and review, it helps us get the word out so we can support more people like you going through divorce and beyond. Check the show notes for more info on Sabrina, her co-parenting practice, and everything that she offers. And of course, share with anyone you know who can benefit from listening. Have a great day. 

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