Co-Parenting With a Toxic, Controlling or Difficult Ex

It's a challenge to cooperate with your ex when they're making your life more difficult. However, because you're co-parents, you have to find ways to work together for the sake of your child.

The severity of the problem affects the steps you take. Is your ex:

  • Truly toxic: nearly intolerable and maybe even unsafe?
  • Controlling in certain ways, and can you free yourself from that dynamic?
  • Merely difficult, as many people would also describe their relationship with their ex?

Toxic, controlling and difficult aren't official categories, and they aren't mutually exclusive. Your relationship with your co-parent could fit into more than one category.

Take this as an invitation to think about the specific problems you're encountering — and to take steps to solve them.

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Co-parenting with a toxic ex

Breakups almost always feel hard, and co-parenting with an ex usually doesn't come naturally. That said, each breakup is different because every individual is different, and some exes are over-the-top difficult. They may not know or care how to work constructively with you. If you're going through this, be clear-eyed about what's happening and take necessary measures to protect yourself and your child.


Your ex may admit having done something wrong yet try to brush it off and convince you it wasn't a big deal. For example, they'll tell you that their overspending is acceptable because "it's normal," last week's incident happened "a long time ago," an important issue you've only begun to discuss is something you "should have gotten over already," or a major disappointment or betrayal is "not as bad" as what someone else went through.


This means lying, and especially manufacturing false evidence, to cause someone to doubt their own perceptions or memories. For example, if your ex promises to come over at 10 a.m. and reimburse you $100, then doesn't show up, you might demand an explanation. This is a gaslight: "I said I'd come at 5 p.m. and give you $20. Don't you remember agreeing to that?" They might try to make you feel like "the crazy one" by repeating the wrong information in front of others or by trying to get your friends on their side.


This could involve spreading rumors about you, trying to force you to interact publicly online, or showing up to "surprise" you where you don't expect to see them (like at work). Standing up for yourself can feel awkward when you're worried about other people judging you.

Bad influence

If you're improving your mental and physical health — for example, quitting smoking and drinking, cooking balanced meals, taking your medicine, or distancing yourself from bad influences — you want to spend time with people who support you and don't drag you back into old habits. A toxic ex may tempt you to backslide because they want to drag you down or they don't care what happens to you.


A co-parent behaves counterproductively when they undermine or discard your decisions or when they try to turn your child against you. Without stooping to their level and retaliating against them, you have to find a way to keep the focus on your child.


A toxic ex may devote themselves to bothering you, even if it costs them money and time to do so. For example, they might prolong your legal battle by filing motions that are unfair (like asking for the house) or unnecessary (like asking to take your child to the Fourth of July parade, when their real aim is to disrupt your summer vacation). When lawyers are involved, ongoing fights can rack up tens of thousands of dollars in legal bills for both of you. It's unfair to you and your child.


Family law takes domestic violence seriously. If it's happening to you or your child, report it to the appropriate child welfare enforcement agency and tell the court.

A tool that may help

The Custody X Change journal lets you document everything that happens. Even if you link accounts with your co-parent, your journal stays private. You can share it with your lawyer and print it for court.

Co-parenting with a controlling ex

Your ex may be jealous because they wish you could get back together. Or, even if they're also ready to move on from the relationship, they may be envious of the life you're building without them. They may choose their words and actions to try to control what you say and do.

On the other hand, it's possible that their heart is in the right place — the best interests of your child. Nonetheless, you want them to stop micromanaging how you parent.


A narcissist is self-involved to an extreme degree. They just don't care about how their behavior affects others. The effect they have on you may not be intentional. Yet if you cave in to every expectation they have (like their need to be complimented), they'll be controlling you.


To attempt to manipulate you, a controlling ex may:

  • Buy things you can't afford, like fancy clothes for your child, and expect you to pay for some or all of it
  • Refuse to move out of your house, or ask to move back in
  • Take the dog
  • Make last-minute scheduling changes
  • Invite themselves over to your family dinners or celebrations
  • Call you frequently to pressure you, or hire a lawyer to make these phone calls for them
  • Send messages through your child so you can't avoid a conversation

A tool that may help

The Custody X Change expense tracker lets you record what you spend to care for your child. Link accounts to share the tracker. When one of you incurs an expense, either of you can record the amount, store the receipt and ask the other for reimbursement. Then, your co-parent won't control all the financial information — you have control too.

Co-parenting with a difficult ex

It's common for exes to frequently disagree, find excuses to avoid doing what they told each other they'd do, or comply while quietly resenting each other. (These may be the reasons they broke up.)

You can't make your ex be an "easier" person. However, if specific things are happening that you find difficult, pay attention to your role in the dynamic and see if you can nudge the interaction in a better direction.

Thinking 'differently'

Everyone's brain is unique. Your ex might tend to perceive, feel, think, react or communicate very differently than you do. This doesn't necessarily mean one of you is right and one is wrong, but it does mean you'll disagree and may tend to find yourselves in high-conflict. If either of you is in therapy or treatment for mental illness, the other should respectfully support that effort.

Being unreliable

A difficult co-parent may fail to do everything they should. For example, they may routinely oversleep, be late for exchanges, expect you to personally remind them of each exchange, or arrive unprepared (e.g., without the child's backpack). They may miscommunicate about matters related to your child.

Being too permissive

Maybe your ex is trying to be "the fun one" by letting your child eat ice cream in front of the TV every morning, or maybe they otherwise neglect to follow your shared parenting rules. This can be confusing for your child and frustrating for you. Safety issues, like leaving the swimming pool unsupervised or storing cleaning products within a toddler's reach, need to be addressed promptly.

Blaming you excessively

It's tiring to be told "It's your fault" when the day doesn't go smoothly. The weather report said it would be sunny, but you're caught in the rain. The older child gets the flu, then the younger one does too. You paid the doctor, but your payment didn't go through. The teacher wanted to talk, but you missed the call. Maybe it's no one's fault, and when your ex starts an argument about it, they're being unhelpful.

A tool that may help

The Custody X Change calendar lets you create color-coded schedules for parenting time. For example, if one of you has two days and the other gets the third day, it's time-consuming to fill out your calendar by hand, but it's easy to do it in the app. You can share your calendar so you'll both work off the same information. This is how to co-parent with a difficult ex.

The tools you need to co-parent with a toxic, controlling or difficult ex

Get specific about what should happen in your co-parenting relationship by proposing a parenting plan and a schedule and bringing it to court. If the other parent isn't complying with court-ordered parenting time, document what happens.

Custody X Change empowers you to do this and more.

The Custody X Change app walks you through each step of creating a comprehensive parenting plan.

The many co-parenting features — including a parenting journal, expense tracker and parenting time schedule — equip you to secure your child's well-being.

The easiest and most reliable way to co-parent is with Custody X Change.

Visualize your schedule. Get a written parenting plan. Calculate your parenting time.

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