Dear Dr. Jann: I hesitate to call my child’s mother my ex because we weren’t really in a relationship, but she got pregnant and we decided to have our son. I’ve been available since the day she told me and our agreement was that we would share the baby equally.  Now that he’s here, I’m rarely allowed to see him—maybe a couple hours a day—and she acts like she’s in control just because she’s breast feeding. I was desperate, so I took her to court and the court only gave me a couple of hours as well.  Why do the courts automatically award kids to the mother? Tell them about good ex-etiquette!

Dr. Jann: Years ago courts did automatically award primary custody to the mother, however I don’t necessarily see that happening today. It probably feels like it, but it’s not because they like her best. The premise on which courts make custody decisions is, “In the best interest of the child.” If mom is breast feeding the child is dependent on the mother for sustenance. The fact that you see him a couple hours a day is a positive sign. After a few months, when the mother can pump breast milk, your time with your son should be increased in short increments until you reach your agreement.

That’s in concept. Don’t think I’m naive — I’ve seen agreements like yours go south once the child is born.  People start getting territorial and possessive and it becomes all about control. Plus, although you may not see it this way, if there was a “relationship” prior to the birth, there is at least some basis on which to build. You know each other’s likes, dislikes, temperaments (which may be at the root of the break-up) even extended family. With no history mom and you are flying blind. coParenting is hard enough with someone you know — with someone you don’t know it’s next to impossible. That’s when the Ten Rules of Good Ex-etiquette for Parents can help.

You may be thinking, “Come on, how can those ten rules help? This is serious.” The ten rules were designed to be a guide for good behavior after a break-up. If you follow them, communication with your child’s other parent will be easier and ultimately better for your child.

For example, the first rule is, “Put the children first.” That means both you and your child’s mother must put your own selfish desires aside in the best interest of your child. Both of you have to accept he deserves both of his parents in his life. When you truly use that as the basis for your decisions, decision making will be much easier.

Other rules, like “don’t be spiteful,” “don’t hold grudges,” or “use empathy when problem solving,” help you move on after a disagreement. Just remember, the more cooperative parent is going to have an edge in a custody dispute — and a parent who is obviously trying to alienate a child will learn the hard way that courts award primary custody to the parent who is most likely to share.

For more information on the Ten rules of Good Ex-etiquette, visit http://kidsbeforeconflict.com/good-ex-etiquette-for-coparents/.