What is co-parenting? Co-parenting describes a parenting situation where the parents are not in a marriage, cohabitation or romantic relationship with one another. The term ‘co-parent’ may also be used to describe a situation where, following divorce or separation, the child’s parents seek to maintain equal or equivalent responsibility for the child’s upbringing.
The principle of co-parenting states that a child has always and in any case the right to maintain a stable relationship with both parents, even if they are separated or divorced, unless there is a recognized need to separate him/her from one or both parents. Such a right is based on the concept that to be a parent is a commitment that an adult takes with respect to his/her children, not to the other parent, so that it cannot and must not be influenced by any kind of separation among parents.
How to co-parent After divorce, the role of spouse ends, yet the role of parent continues. You may find it helpful to stop and think about the following questions: • How can I be involved in my child’s life? • How do I manage parenting if my former spouse and I can’t get along? • How can I get along with my former spouse well enough to parent our children together?
Co-parenting means both parents play an active role in their children’s day-to-day lives. The key to successful co-parenting arrangements is how well the parents function. What works best for some divorced parents may not work well for others.
Talk with other divorced parents for ideas. Then decide with your former spouse on the best parenting arrangement for you, your former spouse and your children. If your family has faced serious problems, such as family violence, child abuse, high conflict, or parental substance abuse, then co-parenting may not be the best option for your family. In such instances, you may want to seek information from attorneys, law enforcement, relatives, or shelters.
Research has shown that some of the benefits of co-parenting include:
• Children develop feelings of stability. • Children continue relationships with both parents. • Children are less likely to feel torn between their parents. • Children are less likely to feel abandoned. • Children are less likely to feel they have to meet the social and emotional needs of their parents.
In every separation or divorce, parents need to recognize the importance of finishing what they started— raising their children. Separation and divorce are difficult for most children. They benefit when they have relationships with both parents and they tend to adjust better to divorce when:
• They have a good relationship with both of their parents. • Both parents respond to the needs of their children. • Parents don’t argue, especially when their children are present. • Parents don’t place their children in the middle of their conflicts.
What a co-parenting arrangement includes: Parents must decide what aspects of parenting to share. This will often depend on where children live, how often they see each of their parents, and the parents’ ability to discuss issues with one another without conflict or “rehashing” the past. Ask yourself:
What decisions will you need to make? Some of the “standard categories” are decisions about education, religion, extracurricular activities, medical and mental health treatment, sporting events, and social activities.
How you will make the decisions? Will you talk with one another? Write letters? Write emails? Meet once a year over coffee to discuss the major decisions and how your children are doing?
How and when you will talk to your ex-spouse? For example, will you only talk to one another when a decision has to be made? Maybe when you “exchange” the children? Will you set up a regular time once a month to check in with each other? Will you send emails to each other?
How will you arrange and share schedules? When will the children see each of their parents? How flexible do you want to be in scheduling? What if your ex-spouse is 30 minutes late? How will you decide to deal with this? Will the schedule vary with school or summer schedule? Will the schedule change as children get older, and will the children have a say in what they want?
Who will arrange childcare when neither parent is available? If one parent is unavailable, will the other parent have “first refusal?” Will the children go to the same babysitter? Or will they have a different babysitter near each parent’s home? How might extended family help out, and would this be beneficial for the family overall?
How you will handle discipline? Will each parent handle discipline on his or her own? If a child misbehaves at mom’s house, should he be disciplined by both mom and dad? If a child misbehaves at school, will she receive discipline at both homes or just the home that she goes to after school?
What will happen in an emergency? In an emergency will parents notify each other before emergency medical treatment? Or after one parent has given consent for treatment? Have you exchanged all emergency contact information with your ex-spouse, such as work numbers, home numbers, cell phone numbers, etc? Sometimes these change when couples get divorced. School officials and all caregivers should have this information as well.
Co-parenting plan A co-parenting plan is a contract that you and the other adult agree on for set guidelines you will follow. The reality is people change. Rules change, living situations change, and people move on to new relationships. The parenting plan addresses many of the pitfalls that come about to keep you out of court or conflict with the other parent. Because dividing time between adults consists of such trust with the other parent, this in a large way promotes some security that you agree on areas. The age of the child of course has a great bearing on how detailed you need to be. Young children NEED consistency between homes where older children are more adaptable but may require more rules. Co-parenting Plans help future relationships because it allows the significant others in your present or future to read what you agreed on and you will be less prone to follow a different path than what you initially agreed on. You know your child better than anyone else and both parents know what direction they want to raise the child in. A parenting plan should consist of at least some of the following:
Bed time routines Bath before bed?, Reading before bed?, Where does your child sleep, alone or with someone?, Does your child use a blanket or pacifier?, Does your child sleep with a bottle?, Does your child sleep in a crib or bed?, Does your child sleep with or without adults?, What do you do in the middle of the night with crying spells, put them in your bed or comfort them to sleep in their own bed?, Do they listen to music while going to sleep?
Discipline Reward and Punishment: How do you praise- vocally, gift, allowance, charts, etc. How do you discipline? Do you use corporal punishment? Do you use time out, send them to room, put in corner, ground (and if so, how long and for what consequences), remove privileges? etc. Will you use carry over discipline between the two homes.
Relationships When should you introduce new relationships to the child? What do you want to make sure potential relationships know about your agreement before they decide to become involved? What terms will your child use when referring to stepparents- first name, mom/dad, or stepmom/stepdad?
Daily Routines For younger children, what are the daily routines? What baby care products do you use? What diapers? What formulas? When do you switch foods? When do you potty train? Will you use a pacifier or walker? The list goes on and on with infants. What are the children’s bed times? Will the children sleep with adults or in their own room?
Illness What do you do when your child is sick? Do you still exchange? If so should the other parent be able to attend doctors’ appointments and should they be notified in advance baring an emergency? Should you keep a medicine checklist so you are giving medicines about the same time and noting reactions to the medications?
Special Needs Does your child have special needs? Do you both need to attend appointments together? Will those special needs impact the schedule between homes? Do you need to duplicate items such as nebulizers? Will one parent be the primary caretaker or will you both be equal caretakers?
Extracurricular Activities Do you need to both agree before enrolling the child? Should you tell your child you support an activity before you talk to the other parent? What happens when an event occurs during the other parent’s parenting time? Can your child still have sleep-overs and independent relationships with friends near the home of their mother/father during the other parent’s parenting time?
Religion Will your child be raised in one faith, two faiths, or with no religious training? Will values change depending on who each parent is in a relationship with? Are there specific days that need to be incorporated in your plan? Are there specific values you want to incorporate in your plan? Do you need to mutually agree on religious activities and practices?
Supervision What are your limits on adult supervision of your child? Can your child ride bicycles in the street alone? Can your child run down the block to a neighbor’s house? Do they need to check in with you when they get there? At what age can your child be left home alone and for how long?
Financial contributions How will school activities or extracurricular events be covered? What do you do with clothes, do each of you keep equal stock or does one send a suitcase with all belongings?
Terminology What words will you use (Visiting, Living with, When you are at your other home)? Will you refer to the other parent as “her mother/father” or as “my ex?”? What terms are appropriate for each parent and for other relatives? What terms do you want to make certain professionals for your child are using in the presence of your child?
Other Family Members Will your child be able to see all family members independent of which parent they are with, or will they only spend time with maternal family during maternal time? Will all family members be invited to your child’s birthday parties? Are there family members your child should not see or should always be supervised with?
Child care Will you use one child care provider, daycare, or nanny, or two? What age does a child care provider need to be? Should you offer the other parent the opportunity to care for your child before you offer anyone else? Does the anyone else include grandparents, stepparents, and live ins or not? Do you offer it for two hours or more, or only if you will be gone overnight?
Trips If the children will be out of the area, do you need to provide each other with itinerary? If so, how much travel information? What needs to be included in the notice? What age can your child travel alone?
Decisions Who will make final decisions when all else fails or what steps will you take before bringing it to the court (i.e. Mediation)?
Professional Services Who will make professional decisions? Will they need to be joint or one parent? Will one parent make the education decisions and the other the medical?
Professional Appointments Do you need to notice each other in advance of appointments? Who will make the decisions regarding professional services?
Distance Will you have a geographical restriction where your child will reside? Will there be a maximum distance between the two homes?
Schedule What schedule will your child have between the two homes? Will the school year schedule be different than the summer? Will that change as they get older? What voice, if any, will your child have in that schedule? Does the schedule change depending on the distance?
Holidays How do you celebrate? Will one parent have Christmas Eve and the other Christmas day? Do you rotate Christmas with one parent one year and the other the next? Which holidays do you observe? Do you have religious issues related to holidays? What about child birthdays, and what about the parent’s birthdays?
School Work and Study Habits Do you want to make sure there is the same routine in both homes for dealing with homework or studies? How do you handle more than one day projects that may go between homes? Children’s Property What do you do with clothes, do each of you keep equal stock or does one send a suitcase with all belongings? Who does the property belong to, you or your child? Can they carry what they want to between homes?
Making Co-Parenting Work You have a great deal of control over the way your children handle life after divorce. By cooperating with the other parent, you are establishing a life pattern your children can carry into the future.
Cooperate with the other parent as much as possible.
Keep each other informed of what’s going on when it comes to a child’s schooling, medical care, and social life.
Establish a polite business relationship with the other parent.
Be responsible in maintaining the visitation schedule. If a change must be made, work it out with the other parent in advance.
Respect the rules of the other parent’s household, just as you respect the rules of school and other public institutions.
Don’t send messages to the other parent through your children. Business should be conducted only between parents.
Bahareh Talei, Psy.D.
Dr. Bahareh Talei received her Doctorate of Psychology (Psy.D.) from Pepperdine University, Graduate School of Education and Psychology. Dr. Talei is a licensed psychologist and is co-founder of Diagnostic & Counseling Center (DCC). Her experience has primarily been in working with children and adolescents with various disabilities such as autism and difficulties with learning and attention. Throughout her career, Dr. Talei has been actively engaged in the assessment of a diverse population (e.g., pervasive developmental disorder, learning disorders, central nervous system damage) and training of other professionals. Her experience and interests also includes conducting individual and group psychotherapy with family members of children with developmental disabilities and other populations (e.g., depression, anxiety disorders, and infertility).