Co-parenting during and after divorce or separation can be fraught with peril.
Even Netflix’s A Marriage Story illuminated in authentically painful detail what not do to when navigating the minefield of co-parenting. However, this minefield can largely be avoided with the child mostly sheltered from emotional harm, by following some simple, yet extremely effective guidelines. After more than two decades of working in family law, I have witnessed the full spectrum of co-parenting relationships—from excellent to horrendous. I now carefully counsel my family law clients about the following co-parenting “do’s” and “don’ts.”
What NOT to Do:
- Disparage or argue with the other parent in the child’s presence or when the child is within earshot. Avoid any communication that may lead to conflict during parenting exchanges. Do NOT let friends or family disparage the other parent to the child or within the child’s earshot.
- Make promises to the child or to the other parent that you do not keep.
- Question your child about the other parent’s activities or relationships. Do NOT ask your child about what happens during the other parent’s parenting time. Do NOT ask the child to keep secrets from the other parent. Do NOT interrupt the child’s time with the other parent with excessive phone calls or text messages.
- Use the child for your own emotional support or discuss “adult” issues and problems with the child or when the child is within earshot. Do NOT discuss the divorce or any financial issues with the child.
- Use the child to deliver messages or to communicate with the other parent. Do NOT place written messages or child support checks in the child’s bag.
- Withhold parenting time for the other parent because child support or other child-related expenses have not been paid.
- Make the child choose between you and the other parent, or make the child chose between you and the other parent’s new mate/spouse.
Successful Co-Parenting Incorporates These “Do’s:”
- Implement a respectful and “business-like” method of communication with the other parent, even if the other parent refuses to communicate with you in a respectful way.
- Allow the child to bring important things with them to both homes. This includes special clothing, toys, security blankets, books, and sometimes even pets.
- Establish routines in both homes that are as similar as possible. A child benefits from familiar routines in each parent’s home such as bedtime, mealtime, and homework time. Try to also handle rules and discipline consistently in both homes.
- Keep parenting exchanges stress-free for the child. Be on time and have the child ready to go. ALWAYS greet the other parent in a pleasant and courteous manner, even if it is the last thing you want to do. Keep in mind that the child loves the other parent despite your feelings about him/her.
- Follow ALL court orders and parenting plans. Schedule activities, vacations, and travel around your own parenting time so that the other parent does not miss out on time with the child. Make sure the other parent has a complete travel itinerary well in advance of any trip.
- Maintain and support the child’s relationships with grandparents and extended family. Give the other parent plenty of notice of upcoming special occasions, and be flexible with the other parent to allow the child to participate in these events.
- Initiate and support the child’s regular contact with the other parent during your parenting time. This contact can be via phone, email, video calls, mail, and text messages.
Try to remember that successful co-parenting does not happen overnight or without making some mistakes.
This is hard stuff, and emotions run high. Be patient with yourself AND the other parent. If you find yourself committing a “don’t,” repair it quickly with an apology to the child and/or the other parent, and try again. Don’t hesitate to utilize other support resources such as online co-parenting classes, co-parenting smartphone apps (such as Our Family Wizard), or in-person co-parenting counseling—either individually or with the other parent. Positive co-parenting is built on progress, not perfection.