Co-Parenting. How to rise to the challenge

Co-parenting. It sounds like a great word, but many of us don’t know what it really is or how to do it. Rachael Scharrer, Divorce Expert and Founder of DivorceAnswered.com.au, sheds some light on co-parenting and how parents can rise to the (positive) challenge and plan how they navigate co-parenting together.

Co-parenting is finding a way for parents to work together and make decisions for the benefit of all people involved (for both parents and with a specific focus on the children). Co-parenting can occur in the homes of married couples but is more commonly referred to in separated families living in two homes. Co-parenting benefits the parents as much as it benefits the child.

The benefits of co-parenting to parents include:

  1. Active participation in the child’s daily life by both parents
  2. Flexibility to care schedules
  3. Being at events together and as a ‘family’ and not making it feel awkward for anyone else

The benefits to children of successful co-parents include:

  1. Greater Emotional stability
  2. Greater sense of security
  3. Greater sense of self-worth
  4. Ability to positively resolve conflict and be respectful during disagreements
  5. Ability to better problem solve
  6. Less likely to have feelings of abandonment
  7. Reduces stress and anxiety in each home
  8. Reduces stress and anxiety in social settings (or outside the home)
  9. Ability to love each parent without guilt
  10. Less likely to have to be their parent’s best friend/confidant
  11. Less likely to have to be the social source of the parent
  12. Ability to communicate with each parent openly
  13. Ability to form strong relationships with each parent
  14. Both parents respond to the child’s needs
  15. (some studies report improved academic abilities)

My admiration and respect goes to the people who can and choose to co-parent. I have several friends who do this well. I don’t want to say that it is easy; It can be hard. One person often feels like they are doing more work than the other or accommodating the other parent more. It is a choice not to react or criticise the other parent for everything that they do. Acceptance that the other parent will never do exactly the same as you is essential. However, they do share family events. Their children are well-adjusted, happy and sociable. The parents are both happy and surrounded by a supportive social network. Co-parenting doesn’t mean that the parents have to be best friends to do it successfully. Most importantly, the parents work together for the benefit of the children with a bigger vision than just the immediate challenge.

Every person is different and every relationship is different, as such, co-parenting isn’t able to be prescriptive or a ‘one size fits all’ solution.

For co-parenting to work harmoniously, you and the other parent will need to commit to the following:

  1. Being respectful (to the other parent and the child as well as their belongings and boundaries)
  2. Communicating clearly
  3. Being pro-active and responsible for all administrative and personnel chores for yourself (like updating email, address, phone numbers)
  4. Not arguing or denigrating the other parent in the presence of the child
  5. Not using the child as a ‘pawn’ in the divorce or putting them in the middle of any disagreements/conflict
  6. Not picking on the small, irritating issues When you separate, according to family law, you default to Equal Shared Parental Responsibility. You both have a 50% (equal) share and right in the decisions made for your child. As such, you need to work together to discuss relevant and timely decisions regarding education, health, travel, general wellbeing.

Before getting too far ahead, parents will need to create a Parenting Plan. This will offer each parent and the child structure and assist with decision-making and other responsibilities. The more detailed and thorough the parenting plan is, the less likely parents are to argue over the unknown or unforeseen.

Once you have a Parenting Plan in place, there is a lot for co-parents to consider like: • How will you make decisions? • How will you communicate? • How will you handle health concerns (for the child and for the parents)? • How will you handle concerns at school? • What is punishment and how is it administered? • Will you live near each other for convenience and access? • Will you keep your child on the same routine in each home or different routines for each home? • If one parent is going out, do you offer the additional time to the other parent before arranging time for the child with another family/friend/babysitter? • How will you share and arrange schedules? Will you use a shared calendar? • What happens if the parents disagree and can’t reach an agreement? Will you use a mediator? Is there a third party whom both parents respect to ‘weigh in’ in the situation? • What is the process to follow in the event of an emergency?

When I first separated, I had idealistic notions of living on the same property as the children’s father, living in different ‘wings’ of the house, sharing the communal spaces and allowing the children the freedom to move between each parent’s section/space. However, it didn’t happen and I was deluded to think that it was possible in my situation. Relationships involving severe domestic violence, abuse, addictions, mental health concerns, abandonment, certain criminal histories, particular Court Orders and neglect makes co-parenting either more difficult or not possible.

Not every relationship can entertain co-parenting despite the courts and family law encouraging both parents to have decision making rights, shared responsibilities and active involvement. However, if it is possible to co-parent or in the least implement some of the co-parenting principals, you and your children will immensely benefit emotionally, socially and personally.

Disclaimer

This is general advice only and is not provided as legal advice. If you have a legal issue, you should contact a lawyer and/or accountant before making a decision about what to do or applying to the Court. DivorceAnswered.com.au cannot provide legal advice. If you have an emergency situation, please contact Emergency '000'. © Divorce Pty Ltd