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Co-parenting is a child custody agreement in which two or more adults work together to share the duties of raising a child even though they are not involved romantically. For co-parents, decisions are made with the goal of doing what is in the best interest of the child. Co-parenting requires a high level of cooperation and collaboration to benefit their children.
Who are Co-parents?
Co-parents can include couples who do not live together, but who are raising children together. In some cases, for example, co-parents are the child's biological mother and father who are divorced, separated, or have never lived together. Co-parents may be same-sex couples who are no longer together or a biological parent and any other relative who has been given responsibility of the child.
Benefits of Co-parenting
Whatever the configuration, when co-parenting is done right, it provides long-term benefits to both the children and the parents.
For children, co-parenting is linked to better outcomes across a wide range of emotional, behavioral, and physical health measures, according to Linda Nielsen, a Wake Forest University professor who analyzed 60 studies spanning multiple decades and numerous countries.
Why is co-parenting so beneficial to children? HealthyPlace.com, a consumer mental health web site, summarizes some of the contributing factors to co-parenting's success.
Co-parenting reduces the likelihood of a child developing mental health challenges like anxiety, depression, and low self-esteem.
It allows the child to bond with both parents without feeling guilt, stress, or anxiety.
It provides children with stability, security, and a consistent routine because parents are working together to provide these things.
The child's parents are modeling communication and problem-solving skills.
Children grow up with reduced conflict in their lives.
In addition to benefiting children, healthy co-parenting is also beneficial for the co-parents. Divorce coach and advisor Dr. Karen Finn suggests that co-parenting is helpful for parents too because it provides:
Breaks from parenting, especially during the separation or divorce because they give each parent alone time to heal and have adult time without worry about their kids.
Reduced conflicts about parenting, as the agreement requires parents to be on the same page about how they will raise their children.
Emotional support for parents when challenges arise with raising their children.
What does Co-Parenting Look Like?
All co-parenting relationships look different, based on the relationship between the parents, their respective locations, and the ages of the children. Over time, co-parenting relationships within the same families will inevitably change as well.
Co-parents do what is in the best interest of their children and work hard to allow both parents to play an active role in their children's lives. Through constant communication and problem-solving skills, co-parents navigate difficult decisions and determining solutions to the challenges they encounter.
Some co-parenting rules may include:
Making sure the kids follow similar routines at each respective home, as it relates to things like homework time, mealtimes, and bedtimes.
Communicating and planning with one another to develop consistent routines for pickups, drop-offs, holidays, and vacations.
Agree on similar disciplinary measures and household rules for curfews and chores.
Displaying a united front in front of the children, and not arguing or fighting in front of them.
Never say anything negative about the other co-parent in front of the children or allowing other family members or friends to speak negatively.
Compromise is key to a successful co-parenting relationship. Co-parents will not always agree on every issue, but when they do not agree, they should both still make every effort to work out a solution they can both live with for the sake of the children.
There tend to be some common issues that come up in co-parenting relationships, but it's ultimately how the co-parents choose to handle these issues that contribute to their success.
It's also important to keep in mind what co-parenting is not if you are committing to the practice. Co-parenting is not a competition, it is not always comfortable, and it's not about you.
If Co-Parenting does not Work
Co-parenting is not right for everyone. Complications may stand in the way of co-parenting ever being a viable choice for some families. Situations involving physical violence, substance abuse, or struggles that make cooperation between the parents impossible may require a different parenting plan altogether.
Luckily, there are many ways to structure a healthy family, such as implementing parallel parenting. What is most important for the development of children is that they have safe and loving homes.
Consider the Pros and Cons of co-parenting, and whether it will be a good fit for you.
Whatever your circumstance, you can benefit from building a co-parenting support team of people you can trust—ranging from reliable friends and family, counselors, and support groups. The following resources are among many that are available to parents and caregivers of children\:
Up to Parents is a free online resource for helping divorcing parents stay focused on their children as they begin their co-parenting relationship.
Co-Parenting Meetup platform for local co-parents to discuss challenges and rewards in their situations. Related topics include successful co-parenting, sharing tough co-parenting experiences, positive co-parenting, high conflict parenting, gay co-parenting, and troublesome exes and co-parenting.
National Parent Helpline for emotional support from trained advocates and assistance with issues related to parenting and positive discipline techniques, effective communication strategies, stress reduction, and personal care and safety.
DivorceCare support group is designed so members can join a group at any time. Its directory links to thousands of weekly group meetings around the world and online.
You may also want a family court lawyer and an arbitrator or neutral third-party on your team.
Talking Parents is a co-parenting communication service that helps over a hundred thousand users every day through its free web application and premium mobile app.
Mediate.com and AAA Mediation.org are search directories of mediators to help parents find and contact appropriate mediators in their areas for their specific cases.
At Talking Parents, we believe that creating secure communication channels are the foundation of strong co-parenting relationships. Accountable Calling and Secure Messaging features are some of the ways that we can help you create more efficient interactions and reduce conflict.
TalkingParents blogs are for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice. Always consult with a qualified attorney regarding legal matters.