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Guide to Co-Parenting

What co-parenting involves and how to navigate shared parenting effectively.

For couples who divorce or separate after having children, figuring out what co-parenting entails and how to do it well can be a complicated and stressful process for both parents and kids. No matter how the relationship stands after the dust settles from the split, both parents must approach shared parenting as a partnership to benefit their child's physical, mental, and emotional well-being.

Co-parenting is not a one-size-fits-all approach, and there are plenty of successful methods, so it's critical to understand the basics of shared parenting and how to adapt fundamental tools for each unique situation.

What is co-parenting?

At its core, co-parenting is an arrangement in which both parents share the responsibilities of raising a child even though they are no longer in a relationship. In cases of effective co-parenting, both parents are able and willing to collaborate for the sake of their children, but it's still possible in situations where parents are less inclined to work together.

Essential responsibilities and costs typically shared by co-parents may include:

Co-parenting offers different pros and cons for each unique situation, and it's up to each parent to assess their respective circumstances and determine whether they would find shared parenting a helpful solution. No one understands the dynamics of a relationship better than the two people involved, and it's critical to take stock of each situation and imagine what co-parenting could look like. Co-parenting is not easy and requires a complex toolbox of communication skills, patience, and cooperation that will inevitably be challenging in the wake of a separation or divorce. However, when done right, it can be a game-changer for kids.


What are the benefits of successful co-parenting?

Co-parenting takes a lot of hard work, dedication, and patience to manage successfully. When done effectively, parents can enjoy the benefits of shared parenting and create a healthy, nurturing dynamic that supports themselves and their children.

International studies show that children who spend at least 35% of their time with each parent can experience:

  • Stronger relationships with both parents
  • Better school performance and grades
  • Improved psychological and social health
  • Lower chances of substance abuse
  • Fewer mental health or stress-related issues

As for parents who choose shared parenting, some of the benefits they can enjoy include:

  • Sharing the responsibility of disciplining their kids
  • Following a routine and being more consistent
  • Being able to share expenses and save money
  • Avoiding the stressors of being a single parent
  • Feeling greater freedom to pursue personal interests

What are some standard co-parenting rules?

Every situation is different, but common co-parenting rules that are prevalent across the spectrum can include:

  • Having a unanimous focus
  • Creating and following a plan
  • Communicating efficiently
  • Committing to consistency
  • Showing mutual respect

Is co-parenting for all separated parents?

Despite the numerous benefits and success stories, many parents can't co-parent for valid reasons. Communication can be close to impossible for some parents with a high-conflict dynamic, even if it pertains to any shared children. In other instances where violence or toxic relationships play a role, it may be healthier for a parent to avoid their child's other parent and limit contact to a minimum.

Some factors that can make co-parenting difficult or impossible may include:


How do I start co-parenting?

You and your co-parent are a team in raising your child, and starting by setting ground rules and creating a shared understanding can build a strong foundation to help you succeed. Creating healthy co-parenting boundaries will also help to have productive conversations from the start. While a parent's shared parenting journey can start as soon as two parents separate, the legal beginning of co-parenting stems from a court-approved parenting plan.

What is a parenting plan?

A parenting plan is ultimately a list of everything you and your child's other parent will do to provide and care for your children. A parenting plan should span every aspect of a child's life, like bedtime, meals, doctor's appointments, school commitments, and more. Developing a parenting plan with your co-parent is a vital part of starting logistical discussions that will build the future of your co-parenting, and there are ways to simplify your parenting plan for everyone involved.

Are parenting plans permanent?

While it applies until the children involved turn 18 and become legal adults, a parenting plan is not a one-and-done situation. Once your parenting plan goes into effect after the courts review and approve it, co-parents can request modifications whenever they feel it is necessary.

Circumstances that can call for a parenting plan modification may include:

  • Getting a new job
  • Developing a chronic illness
  • Moving to a different state
  • Marrying a new partner
  • Changing schools or extracurriculars

Do I need to work with a lawyer?

While it is possible to co-parent without going to court, negotiating and planning your parenting plan can be complicated, especially for those going through a contested divorce. Finding and hiring licensed and experienced legal professionals, such as mediators or attorneys, can be vital to building a parenting plan that is as fair as possible while prioritizing the children involved.

Calculating the costs of raising a child between two households must be considered as part of the parenting plan process. This consideration is crucial if one parent handles most of the finances. Maintain records of your spending and expenses when calculating child support to ensure your child receives the financial support they need from both parents. Like a parenting plan, child support adjustments may be necessary for future changes and events.


What if co-parenting doesn't work?

Traditional co-parenting is not a one-size-fits-all solution and may not suit your situation. There are many common co-parenting issues that families encounter regularly, but some situations can involve a degree of conflict that becomes unhealthy for parents and children. Here are 3 solutions for parents concerned that co-parenting is not working for them.

1. Take parenting classes

While not every parent needs to be educated about being a good parent, practically any parent can learn beneficial information and tips by taking parenting classes. By taking classes and better understanding your child's developmental needs and changes, you can better cater your parenting priorities and preferences to benefit your child. Parenting classes also enable parents to meet people with similar experiences and bond over shared successes and struggles.

2. Switch from co-parenting to parallel parenting

Believe it or not, sometimes traditional co-parenting doesn't work for parents who engage in shared parenting. This breakdown mainly occurs due to communication issues, but parallel parenting is a great alternative that completes the same goal through different steps. Instead of maintaining thorough communication, parallel parenting only involves communication between parents in emergencies or urgent situations. Outside of these outliers, both parents do not communicate and instead focus on their parenting preferences while any shared children are in their own custody.

3. Use a co-parenting communication service

For co-parents who can collaborate but want to maintain or strengthen a sense of accountability and security, a service like TalkingParents is an excellent tool that keeps communication organized and documented. Through features like Accountable Calling, Secure Messaging, and the Shared Calendar, co-parents can manage every aspect of their custody arrangement more efficiently, meaning they can focus their time and efforts on what matters most—their children.

Regardless of whether you can co-parent successfully, acting and making decisions that are in your child's best interests is critical. With the right combination of research, preparation, and tools, you and your co-parent can prepare for shared parenting, collaborate on your parenting plan, and do everything possible to create the best outcome for your child.

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