Understanding Co-Parenting- Complications And What To Expect

Co-parenting may seem like a modern or new term but in practice it’s been around as long as divorce has. The dynamic and arrangement of each family is different, there’s no wrong or right way but many families throughout history have adopted an approach which we would now label as some form of co-parenting or parallel parenting.

Co-parenting is simultaneously simple yet complicated. The concept is easy to understand, two parents who for one reason or another (but usually through mutual desire to separate) have decided to parent their children separately. Whether this means the children live permanently with one parent or if it’s a more equal shared parenting setup obviously varies on an individual basis.

Co-parenting well on the other hand can be complicated as it incorporates many varying factors. I’ll try to simplify them so that if you’re new to co-parenting you can absorb the basics easily and identify the imperative points and inevitable pitfalls.

Communication

The key to every relationship, romantic or otherwise is communicating effectively. As someone whose partner is from another country and a completely different cultural background I can testify in regards to the difficulty of always communicating well and also the consequences of miscommunication.

After a divorce and all that comes with it, barriers in relation to communication may be at an all-time high between you and your ex. However if you wish to forge a successful parenting relationship for the sake of your children you need to sit down together and work out your parenting plan, whether this is with the help of a therapist or mediator depends on how co-operative your ex-spouse is. You both need to be clear on where you stand in terms of obligations and expectations to avoid potential future disagreements and conflict.

Keep in contact and keep each other updated in order to fulfil your co-parenting duties and stick to the schedule you have agreed upon to the best of your abilities. You are a parenting team now and need to be able to work together which means being able to voice your concerns or misgivings without initiating a giant argument. Easier said than done! You will come across obstacles; no two parenting styles are exactly the same. Learn to lead by example, communicate your issues politely and calmly, encourage rather than disparage and be assertive but not confrontational.

Trust

An essential component of parenting well together is learning to trust in your co-parent. Don’t continually hold them up to your standards or you’ll always be left disappointed and frustrated. That being said they need to fulfil agreed upon obligations, don’t be afraid to take the necessary action if they continually fail on their end of the agreement, it takes two people to co-parent!

Non damaging aspects of your ex partner’s parenting style are better to accept. Trust is compromise and you should learn to respect your differences. After all this is a clean break for you, you can parent the way you always wanted now, create a new dynamic. It’s an opportunity to invent a new routine, game, activity or go on trips with your children that you always wanted to. Your parenting time is now truly yours and unique.

Trust is generally reciprocated which helps form a healthy co-parenting relationship, it fosters a sense of responsibility and you can motivate each other to meet that responsibility. The more you trust the more you will let your children’s relationship develop naturally with their other parent, this is vital for your children and benefits them indefinitely.

Stability and consistency

Your ability to communicate effectively with your co-parent affects stability which in turn directly affects the well-being of your children. They need stability, consistency and structure in the form of routine to help them adapt to this new form of parenting and family life. Your parenting plan and schedule whilst not inflexible (it can help to have a temporary agreement whilst you adjust to your new schedules, leave room for change in your initial agreed up schedule) need to be clear. Establish routine and remember the schedule is not designed to be convenient for the parents. The goal is the best possible parent-child relationship for your children and a smooth transition to this new set-up with minimum disruption to them. Although parent styles differ, ensure you keep the rules more or less the same in both households, stability in this way minimizes the risk of separation anxiety.  

Terms

Another confusing aspect of co-parenting is the documentation that comes with it and also the interchangeable terms for said documentation. A parenting plan is essentially the same thing as a custody agreement, a detailed document which outlines your custody schedule or calendar along with certain provisions legal or otherwise as to how you will both manage the custody of your children.

The terms can be used interchangeably or sometimes a plan is said to contain the agreement or the agreement said to contain the plan! In order to avoid misunderstandings it is better to just remember that your plan or agreement should include a regular custody visitation schedule/calendar, a holiday custody visitation schedule/calendar, all the relevant provisions, child support information and any extra relevant details that can help you and your fellow co-parent raise your child or children.

There are custody agreements or parenting plans to meet everyone’s needs or expectations. Agreements designed specifically for long distance co-parenting, temporary custody agreements to help through transitional stages and also agreements intended for parents with shared/joint custody or when one parent has sole or primary custody.

Lastly I would say it pays to have a non-verbal agreement. Getting it in writing gives you action to take for (and evidence of) repeated violations/unfulfilled obligations. The less formal option may be appealing if you are really amicable with your ex-spouse but that option will most likely lead to future complications.

Co-parenting when done well gives your children what they need whilst giving you more quality time with them and more free time for yourself. If you are new to co-parenting keep an open mind it may be much more rewarding than you are expecting!

This article was authored by Krishan Smith: senior editor and content specialist at Custody X Change, a custody software solution. Custody X Change provides software for developing and managing custody agreements, parenting plans and schedules whilst additionally providing free co-parenting resources.