Child custody laws differ by state and whether you are married or unmarried, but all states do want what is in the best interests of the child. Shared parenting has been linked to better outcomes for children of all ages across a wide range of emotional, behavioral and physical health measures, according to findings published by Linda Nielsen, a Wake Forest University professor who analyzed 60 studies spanning multiple decades and numerous countries.
More than 20 states in 2017 considered legislation to encourage shared parenting, and the state of Kentucky this year passed legislation that some officials are calling “one of the best” joint custody laws in the United States.
If both parents are fit, co-parenting — an arrangement in which both parents share the duties of raising a child — is preferred by professionals.
Here are some of the pros and cons of a co-parenting relationship:
- Psychological benefits for the children — Numerous studies and articles cite the benefits to children in shared parenting relationships, including higher self-esteem and better academic records. A professor of psychology at the University of Virginia also made this critical point in a Washington Post article, “It’s not the amount of parenting time but the quality of parenting and the quality of co-parenting that matter.” Co-parenting is ultimately about two people coming together to provide the warmth and attention for their children that are the hallmarks of good parenting.
- Regular support payments — Paying and receiving child support payments are less of a conflict in shared parenting situations, according to The Center for Divorce Education. Because both parents have an active parenting role, they do not feel they have lost their children or have been denied access to them, so they continue to provide financial support.
- Reduced single-parent stress — The life of a single parent can be very stressful, according to the American Psychological Association. The demands of caring for the children, work, bills and household chores by yourself can be overwhelming. This is where a healthy co-parenting relationship can be a significant help IF the co-parents are communicating effectively, sharing relevant information with one another and treating one another with respect. You have someone to help run the kids to practices and games; if there is a sudden illness, you have someone to help with childcare; you have another adult to help keep track of important school assignments, due dates, and doctors’ appointments.
- Persistent conflict — If you are unable to put differences aside with your former partner or spouse, or you are still experiencing feelings of anger and hostility, co-parenting may not be the best option. A successful co-parenting relationship is one in which both parents agree that they will never disparage one another in front of the kids or allow the kids to speak disrespectfully about either parent. Remember, your children love both parents. They don’t want one good parent and one bad parent. After all, what does that make them: good or bad? Persistent conflict can cause children to feel extremely torn and put in the middle, which is not psychologically, physically or emotionally beneficial.
- Limits mobility — Co-parenting may limit your mobility. If you and your spouse are both committed to being in your child’s life, then you will need to be in relative proximity to one another. This can be especially difficult if one parent has a demanding travel schedule, is relocated or loses his or her job.
- Extra work — Successful co-parenting isn’t easy. It requires extra work on the part of both parents. You are going to have to put aside emotions and disagreements with your ex. You are going to have to work on a detailed plan with your ex to raise your kids consistently. You are going to have to move the kids back and forth from one residence to another, and that likely means missing belongings and some unexpected trips to pick up missing items. If you have a child who is extremely anxious being transferred from one place to another, it may be better for one parent to be the primary residential parent to avoid this stress.
There is a lot to consider for a co-parenting relationship to be successful. The most important thing is good communication between both parents. Make sure you communicate frequently and document all decisions you make together about your children.