Tips for Divorced Parents: What Does It Mean to Co-Parent?

Co-Parenting vs. Parallel Parenting

Co-parenting has become a catch-all term for parenting after a divorce. However, this is not really what the term co-parenting refers to. Co-parenting refers to a parental relationship that features frequent communication and cooperation as they work together to raise their children. Co-parents typically take the same approach when raising their children and often have shared rules and routines as the kids go back and forth between houses. They may also share holidays, attend events together, or consult with each other regularly.

It's important to note that just because a couple is co-parenting their children does not mean they never have disputes or disagreements. Part of successful co-parenting is the process of working to resolve conflicts as amicably as possible.

While successful co-parenting can be great for both children and parents, it is not the only option for parenting post-divorce. It is also not always the best option for families. One major alternative to co-parenting is called parallel parenting. Parallel parenting is when parents stay relatively separate, and communication between parents is limited to only that which is absolutely necessary. Each parent establishes their own rules, routines, and parenting techniques for when the children are with them. Parallel parenting can be great for families who struggle with communication or who go through a high-conflict divorce.

If you are a newly divorced parent, you may struggle to figure out the best method for parenting your children. In cases where you and your former spouse can still communicate with each other, even with some hiccups, you may wish to try co-parenting.

Below we provide a few helpful tips for parents looking to strengthen their co-parenting relationship.

Tip #1: Don't Try to Do Too Much

Co-parenting is hard. When you're committed to co-parenting, it may be tempting to jump in with both feet and try and do or commit to too much. For example, you may agree to frequent phone calls with your co-parent, shared holidays, and unrealistic schedules. All of these things may eventually be important parts of your long-term co-parenting relationship, but if you're just starting out, it might be too much to deal with, lead to burnout, or cause resentment when you or your co-parent slips up.

Before setting these expectations for yourself and your co-parent, spend some time considering what your life is going to look like post-divorce, and really think about what you can truly accomplish in the immediate aftermath of your divorce. This means looking at both your schedule availability and your emotional bandwidth. You may want to preserve the holidays as a happy time for your kids, but spending your first post-divorce Christmas with your ex is likely unrealistic.

Remember, divorce is an emotionally draining process for you and your children. You want to set yourself up for success by setting attainable goals. You may find that you are ready to do more as things progress. But right out of the gate, you want to be kind to yourself.

Tip #2: Set Communication Boundaries

One of the hallmarks of co-parenting is fairly frequent communication with your co-parent. What this communication will look like will depend on your relationship with your co-parent and how you communicate with each other best. In addition to considering what communication methods are best for you, you should also think about when and how frequently you want communication to happen. Finally, come to an agreement with your co-parent regarding what subjects require phone calls vs. those that can be handled via email or text message.

Tip #3: Avoid Using Your Kids as Go-Betweens

Even in amicable divorces, communication can be difficult. However, you should avoid using your children as go-betweens. Even if it is something small, do not ask your children to convey messages for you. Instead, go back to the communication boundaries you and your co-parent set and use that to guide you in approaching them. Similarly, avoid quizzing your children on what goes on at their other parent's house. This can put your children in a difficult, stressful position where their loyalties to both you and your co-parent are divided.

Tip #4: Try to Give Your Co-Parent Space

Relinquishing control to your co-parent can be incredibly difficult, yet it is necessary. When your child is with their other parent, you are not in charge, and you cannot control what happens there. You also can't anticipate every little thing that will happen. Try to give your co-parent the space they need to parent, and remember that all parents will have differing parenting styles, even in cases where you and your co-parent have generally agreed on how you will raise your kids.

Relatedly, try to avoid venting to your children about their other parent and avoid criticizing their other parent in front of them. This can put your children in a very difficult position and can potentially lead to allegations of parental alienation.

Tip #5: Know When To Get a Lawyer Involved

Even parents who have strong co-parenting relationships may have to return to court once in a while. And, this return to court doesn't always mean something is wrong with the co-parenting relationship. As time goes by, your children's needs will change, and your original visitation schedule and parenting plan may need updating. Changes to your custody schedule and/or parenting plan must be registered with the courts. This is true even if you and your co-parent agree on the changes.

Other reasons you may need to return to court:

  • To modify a visitation schedule
  • To modify a child support agreement
  • To enforce a child custody order
  • To enforce a child support order

If you need to change your custody agreement, contact the Law Office of Alexandra White, PC, for guidance.