Co-parenting: The basics

Co-parenting is a style of raising children that involves two parents working together, but generally living separately. It is beneficial to children of divorce, as it allows the children to have meaningful relationships with both parents. Co-parenting does not mean the parents agree on everything, split time and responsibilities equally or even cooperate, but it does mean they have the same goal: to raise healthy, happy children.

In addition to helping their mental well-being, co-parenting is generally supported by law. Although the details will vary by state, most states encourage a joint parenting role for divorcing parentings. In California, for example, judges for divorce cases generally approve a parenting plan put together by the parents. If the parents cannot agree, the court will likely send them to a mediator. This is a neutral third-party trained in helping to guide negotiations and put together an agreement. If this does not work and a judge needs to decide on the matter, they will take the best interests of the child into consideration. The judge will consider various factors, like the age and health of all involved as well as emotional ties and any history of abuse. Ideally, the finalized plan will include time with both parents.

Parents that are considering a co-parenting arrangement may have concerns about the likelihood of success. Although this arrangement does not require equality or cooperation, a co-parenting relationship does require collaboration. This can be particularly difficult if the other parent is not interested in working together or if the divorce was contentious and neither parent wants anything to do with the other. However, even in these situations co-parenting can work. The following tips can help better ensure success.

#1: Set boundaries.

Co-parenting works if both parents respect the other’s time with the children. Have basic rules to help ease the process. This can include speaking civil to each other. Try to converse without name calling or arguing. If this is difficult, cut back on what you talk about. There is no need to discuss dinner plans or other matters that do not impact the children, so don’t.

#2: Only talk about the important stuff.

What is important? Things that impact the child. You are not married anymore so you do not need to get into other stuff. Talk about the child’s schedule, classwork, and healthcare needs. Do not talk about your personal weekend plans or work stresses if it will lead to an argument unless it somehow impacts the child and the other parent needs to know about it.

#3: Choose battles carefully.

Not every disagreement is worth bringing up. If something really bothers you, like a concern about healthcare or safety, then discuss it. But it may be best to let other stuff, like parenting style differences, go.

Co-parenting is an evolving relationship. Parents who start out struggling with civility can grow their collaborative skills — after all what better incentive than helping your children to have a healthy childhood?