Shared parenting agreements can put a strain on parents. However, using these five easy tips for co-parenting after your divorce and child support agreements are finalized can help reduce stress for you, your co-parent, and your children.
Co-parenting is when divorced or separated parents, or partners, continue to raise their child(ren) and make decisions regarding their child(ren) together after they are no longer a couple. Rather than filing motions and returning to court to let a judge make decisions regarding the custody of their children, the parents work together in deciding what is best for their children and reach agreements on their own.
Healthy co-parenting includes parents regularly communicating with each other to share information and discuss their child(ren)'s needs, school progress, medical issues, and coordinating schedules so that the child(ren) have quality time with both parents.
There are many benefits of co-parenting for children and for parents. Some of the benefits of co-parenting to the child(ren) include providing the child(ren) with a greater sense of security through stable relationships, providing children with consistency between parenting households so they understand familial ethical guidelines and rules, providing the child(ren) with an example of how adults can amicably problem solve when the two sides work together.
Some of the benefits of co-parenting to the parents include reducing the stress of the post-divorce situation by committing to problem-solving together, teaching both ex-partners to set aside differences and look at problems in a more objective way, and growing each parent’s diplomatic skills.
The rewards of successful co-parenting on children and parents can include a reduction in the mental and emotional side effects of divorce and turbulent co-parenting, i.e., depression, anxiety, ADHD, etc.
Working with a former partner is not always easy. Although joint physical custody arrangements are often in the best interests of children, it can put significant stress and burden on one or both parents because of the recent divorce or from emotional turbulence stemming from the former relationship.
Co-parenting challenges are likely to occur. However, taking a collaborative approach, with a commitment to compromise, and focusing on the best interests of the child(ren), can radically streamline and de-stress the co-parenting process, increasing its chance of success. Learning to collaborate and compromise with a former partner can also help break down emotional barriers and reduce conflict so that the child(ren)’s needs can be prioritized.
When co-parenting with a former partner, it is important to focus on the power of collaboration in compromise. Like many situations in life, we cannot always choose who we work with.
For example, one does not usually get to choose their coworkers or teammates. This situation is no different. Similar to working collaboratively with co-workers, taking a collaborative approach to co-parenting (with a compromise-forward mindset) can help increase the chances of its success and relieve the child(ren) of stresses and responsibilities that they should not be burdened with, leaving them feeling safe, stable, and secure, allowing the parent and the child(ren) to simply enjoy their shared time together.
Shared parenting can be challenging. One of the best ways to reduce conflicts while navigating the challenges of shared parenting is for co-parents to communicate and interact with each other in a professional manner, and to keep all conversations and interactions focused on the child(ren). Following these six tips will help divorced parents manage co-parenting with fewer headaches and less stress:
Remember that even though your marriage has ended, and there are custody and child support orders in place, your family has not ended. Parents are forever bonded by and through their children.
It is important to reframe your relationship with your ex as something entirely different from what it was. Change your mindset so that you are no longer sparring exes. Going forward, your relationship with your ex is all about the wellbeing of your children.
By focusing on the child(ren)’s needs, parents can agree to an amicable custody agreement if there is need for a change to the current joint custody agreement or even to the current child support agreement.
While court orders regarding the children will end around when the children are 18 years old and have graduated from high school, you may still need to work with your former partner to help your child(ren) out as they enter college and with issues they encounter in early adulthood. The court will not be available to make decisions at that time, but parents can rely on their co-parenting skills to help the child(ren) navigate whatever issues may arise.
It is paramount to keep the child(ren) out of co-parenting issues. Some examples of putting kids in the middle of co-parenting disagreements include asking the child(ren) to relay messages or communicate on one parent’s behalf to the other parent, venting or complaining about the other parent to your child(ren), or asking the child(ren) to make a decision that the parents should be making jointly. This includes decisions such as changing the joint custody agreement, or which school the child(ren) should attend, or how many extra-curricular activities the child(ren) will participate in.
The court is very particular on when it is appropriate to involve children, or to seek a child’s input in custody proceeding issues. Depending on the age and maturity of the child(ren), having input from the child(ren) regarding things such as which extra-curricular activities the child(ren) are interested in can be helpful to ensure the child(ren) participates in activities they enjoy and want to do. However, parents also need to keep in mind that it is the parents who are the decision makers.
In order to effectively co-parent, parents need to be able to effectively communicate with each other. Effective co-parenting communication will include:
Keeping a professional tone. Be respectful and polite when communicating with your ex. Keep it formal and focused on the child(ren) related issue or issues.
Making requests of the other parent, not demands. If you have a two-day business trip scheduled during your parenting time and want make-up time for the missed parenting time, then you will need to communicate that issue to your ex, particularly if the co-parenting agreement has a right of first refusal provision requiring you to offer the other parent to watch the children if you are unable to do so overnight. In such a case, do not write:
“Hey, you have to watch the kids in two weeks while I am on a work trip, so I’m keeping the kids an extra two days this week.”
“I have been scheduled to attend a two-day work conference on June 5 – 6. This occurs during my parenting time. Would you be agreeable to having the children on June 5 – 6, and allowing me two days of make-up time sometime in the next few weeks, at your convenience?”Limiting communication to only kid-related discussions. When communicating about the child(ren), keep the discussion focused on those child(ren) related issues only. Do not rehash old arguments, or current disagreements regarding other issues.
Communicating often and early. Last-minute changes to the schedule can be stressful to the child(ren) and the other parent. Communicating early allows you and your ex time to work out details, or explore alternatives.
It can be difficult to co-parent while in a relationship, whether it is you, your ex, or both of you that are in a new relationship. When communicating with your co-parent, it is important to separate your feelings from behaviors.
For example, you may be feeling angry or jealous that your former partner has started dating after the divorce, or is now in a more serious relationship. If so, you may want to consider talking to a therapist or counselor to help you manage your mental wellbeing and develop healthy coping mechanisms and stress-relieving techniques, so that you can remain child(ren)-focused when communicating with your ex about co-parenting issues.
Co-parents can help their children thrive by providing clear basic expectations and consistency between households. It is important for co-parents to discuss and align on, whenever possible, rules and disciplinary actions for breaking rules.
Although household rules can vary from house to house, maintaining consistency for issues such as bedtime, cell phone usage, homework, chores, internet access, and curfews can help the child(ren) know what to expect day to day, and week to week.
Issues of discipline can be tricky between households, but they need to know there are consequences when rules are broken. If a child loses out on an activity or TV privileges at one parent’s house, the parents can communicate to see if they can have the same consequence apply at the other parent’s house.
Children also like to know their schedule. Although some children can go with the flow of things, most children like having consistency. Schedules that are inconsistent often lead to the child(ren) having confusion or difficulties in adjusting to having two homes.
Although you are no longer together as a couple, you and your ex are still together as the parents of your child(ren). Effective co-parenting includes the ability of parents to make important decisions regarding the child(ren) together such as:Medical Decisions. Do not unilaterally make medical decisions for the child(ren). This includes starting or ending medical services or changing medical providers. Discuss which parent will take the child(ren) to medical appointments, and if there is a way for the other parent to participate remotely. If not, the parent taking the child to the medical appointment needs to inform the other parent of all that occurred during the appointment, and to discuss recommendations by the provider before agreeing or consenting to the recommendation. Some of these can be discussed and agreed upon in advance, such as immunizations.
Educational Decisions. Do not unilaterally make educational decisions for the child(ren). Discuss issues such as which school the child(ren) will attend. Although you may want the child to attend the school that is closest or most convenient for you, if the school that is closer to the other parent is a much better school, or most of the children’s friends will be attending that school, you may want to compromise. Parents sharing joint physical custody may end up living farther apart; however, they may be able to compromise on a school that is in between where the parents live.
Financial Decisions. Remember that in many cases, what can be provided in each household may differ, and that is OK. Co-parenting can include factoring in financial status differences between the parents.
It is normal to face co-parenting challenges after a divorce is finalized, even if there is a very detailed joint custody agreement. However, effective co-parenting can help resolve most, if not all, of any challenges that occur.
Maintaining a business-like relationship, having child focused conversations early and often, focusing on what is in the best interest of the child(ren) when making decisions about important issues such as education and medical care, and shielding the child(ren) from any disputes are all key to effective co-parenting.
The rewards of co-parenting include less stress for both parties and for the child(ren), more quality time to spend with your child(ren), and providing the child(ren) with a stable environment they can thrive in.
Sometimes, even the most effective co-parents are unable to resolve a dispute regarding their child(ren). If this occurs, it is important to have an attorney who can help resolve the issue, or advocate on your behalf in court if resolution cannot be reached. To get help with your post-judgment custody and support questions; contact Cage & Miles today.