What Is Co-Parenting?
If you are going through a divorce or are already separated, you have probably heard the term "co-parenting" before. Co-parenting is a collaborative approach to parenting after a divorce or separation, which emphasizes teamwork and communication. With this model, parents work together as much as possible to parent their children, despite having two separate households. When problems arise, the parents and family work together as a unit to come to a resolution.
Though co-parenting looks different for every family, it often means that rules remain consistent between homes, both parents attend important events and school meetings, and important decisions are made jointly. Often, co-parents will even celebrate holidays and birthdays together, instead of splitting the day.
When Co-Parenting Works
Because this style of post-divorce parenting relies so heavily on frequent communication and cooperation, it works best in low-conflict situations where the parents are on relatively good terms and share custody of the children. Going through a divorce or separating from a partner is emotionally very difficult. However, if you and your partner can separate those feelings from your relationship as parents, co-parenting may benefit you and your family.
There are many benefits to co-parenting, including:
- Increased stability for children
- Decreased stress and conflict
- Children are less likely to feel pulled between parents
- Children often enjoy more time with both parents
- Less disruption to existing parent-child relationships
When Co-Parenting Doesn't Work
For many, co-parenting represents the ideal. However, trying to force a parenting method so reliant on collaboration and teamwork can be detrimental to some families. Trying to co-parent when you struggle to get along with your child's other parent can ultimately create more conflict and instability for your children. You shouldn't feel bad if co-parenting doesn't work for you and your family. Every family is different, and you should avoid comparing yourself to others.
In particular, co-parenting may be inappropriate in high-conflict situations where parents cannot communicate openly or amicably with each other or in cases where abuse or domestic violence has been an issue. Additionally, even when parents are on good terms, they may struggle to agree on parenting styles and decisions. When disputes are common, co-parenting may not work.
Alternatives to Collaborative Co-Parenting
So, what are the alternatives? A method of post-divorce parenting that is gaining popularity is called parallel parenting. With this parenting style, both parents disengage from each other and instead focus on creating stability for their children individually. If the parents share legal custody, they will still have to work together to make important decisions (such as medical care and educational decisions). Day-to-day decisions are left up to each parent without involving the other.
It may seem counterintuitive, but having two sets of reliable rules and routines can increase children's sense of stability in high-conflict situations. Instead of the rules and routines constantly changing as their parents fight over how they want things done, the children know what to expect from each parent.
Increased Structure & Boundaries
If co-parenting is not working for you, but you aren't sure that a full parallel parenting model is right for you either, you can instead build a relationship that falls somewhat in the middle. One way you can do this is to increase the structure and boundaries of the relationship with your child's other parent.
You can accomplish this by setting rules around communication, including how and when the other parent can contact you and vice versa. For example, you may wish to schedule a weekly phone call or meeting to discuss child-rearing matters, but outside of that appointment, keep communication to emergencies only. You may even want to isolate your communication to a written format only or even to a third-party parenting app.
Parents struggling to have an amicable relationship also find that limiting the topics up for discussion is helpful when dealing with a difficult co-parent. For example, keep conversations focused on the children and avoid talking about your personal life. Making non-child-related topics off-limits can help keep conversations calm and focused.
Work with a Family Counselor
Depending on your relationship with your former partner, it might be worth reaching out to a family counselor or therapist for help if you are experiencing consistent issues relating to your child's other parent. If your child's other parent refuses to attend family or joint sessions, you may still benefit from working with a therapist on your own. A therapist can help you learn how to deal with an uncooperative former spouse and provide you with the support you need.
Seek Help from an Attorney
In some situations, the original parenting plan you agreed on during your divorce or separation just doesn't meet the needs of your family. There are many reasons this can happen, such as a change in your children's needs or a change in your circumstances. Sometimes, things that looked possible in theory don't work in practice. You and your former partner may also become overwhelmed by parenting disputes.
When this happens, it is good to consult with an experienced lawyer to discuss your options. Depending on your circumstances, you may be able to seek a modification to your parenting plan. Additionally, you may also find that working with a mediator helps resolve larger disputes or develop a new parenting plan that meets your children's needs with less conflict. If you decide to work with a mediator, you must ensure that you also have legal representation present during the mediation meeting.
Our lawyers at the Law Offices of Jonathan Merel, P.C. are experienced in collaborative law, representing clients during mediation, and litigating cases in family court. We are passionate about helping our clients find the creative solutions they need to regain stability. Contact us to discuss your case.