Want to know how to co-parent after divorce? Here are the top 8 characteristics of good co-parenting.

Co-parenting is the art of both parents sharing responsibilities equally and making joint decisions in all matters pertaining to the care and raising of their children after a divorce.

Feelings of resentment and anger can still exist no matter how amicable a divorce may seem. This will make communication between the partners difficult.

If this is you, the first thing to realise is that until your children are fully grown and self-supported, you’re going to need to remain in regular contact with each other. So you might as well pack your anger away and put your heads together in coming up with a co-parenting strategy to make everyone’s lives as easy and conflict-free as possible.

How to develop a co-parenting strategy

Whatever co-parenting plan you develop, it needs to be focused on what is best for the children. It’s not about you. You’re going to be hearing this phrase over and over again, no matter where you look. Get used to it.

It’s easier to keep all emotions at bay when focusing only on the needs of your children. This allows you to think logically and calmly, thus reducing the level of conflict and improving communications with your ex. Only then will you both be able to sit down and develop a co-parenting strategy that will meet everyone’s needs.

A co-parenting plan roadmap should set out the following:

  • Custody and visitation rights for each parent
  • Finances (who pays for what)
  • Arrangements for holiday and special family events (Christmas, Easter, birthdays, etc.)
  • Schooling
  • Medical needs or health concerns
  • An agreement from both parents to work together and keep all conflict away from the children

A good place to start would be for both parents to abide by the terms set out in the agreement.

Parenting plans vs parenting orders

Divorcing parents most commonly have two basic parenting options:

  1. A parenting plan
  2. A parenting order

Parenting plan

This is a voluntary agreement signed by both parents, setting out the details relating to the care and welfare of their children. It can include all issues agreed upon and does not have to be approved by the Family Court. It is obtained quickly and costs nothing. It is a fairly flexible agreement and can be changed by mutual agreement when circumstances change.

The parenting plan must be “in the best interests of the child”, which can take a bit of discussion to work out.

It is important to note that a parenting plan is not legally enforceable, if either parent does not follow it. Parenting plans are suited for parents who wish to keep costs to a minimum and maintain an amicable relationship after they have divorced.

Parenting order

A parenting order is a similar agreement, but does not include financial matters and has to be approved by the Family Court. It will cost you to file through the court and can take a little longer to be granted. The court will only make the orders if they consider that they are in the children’s best interests.

Parenting orders are not as flexible as parenting plans but may be amended by applying to the Family Court. Once again, the court must be satisfied that the amendments will be in the best interests of the children.

Parenting orders are often sought in high conflict divorce cases, where one parent may not trust the other parent to comply with the terms of their agreement. It also serves as a deterrent to anyone contemplating to disobey it, giving both parents and the children much needed peace of mind.

Deciding which one is best suited to your circumstances can be complicated and it’s best to seek professional family law advice. By law, all divorces where children are involved have to first attempt mediation; your divorce mediator will be the best person to advise you.

Whether you have a parenting plan or order, both parties should stick to the terms, focusing only on the needs of the children, thus avoiding much unnecessary stress and anxiety for the whole family and protecting your children for years to come.

Essential tips for co-parenting

Man and women shaking hands. Essential tips for co-parenting

If you’ve found yourself thrown into co-parenting with your ex, here are 8 top tips on how to make co-parenting work for your family.

1. Parent as a team

Working as a team is the key to successful and stress-free co-parenting. That means you need to continually consult and discuss all parenting matters with your ex, making joint decisions that you both feel comfortable with and are in the best interests of your children too.

Working with your ex may seem strange or difficult to do during the early stages of your divorce, but with time it will become easier. Remember that although you may be legally divorced, you both still have a responsibility to raise your children. You are still one family but just living in two separate homes. Making decisions together drastically reduces the risk of any conflict. 

2. Keep things civil

Keeping things civil is an absolute must and is possibly the hardest thing you’ll have to do, especially if your ex keeps pushing your buttons. Whenever you’re communicating with your ex, always remain calm and focused on what is best for the children. Deal only with the issues at hand.

Treat your relationship with your ex as you would a business partnership. Keep it cordial and polite but firm. Less chit chat and more decision making. This may encourage your ex to respond in a similar fashion, setting the way for a more peaceful existence for everyone.

Sounds easy, but it will take a lot of self-control to suppress your emotions. If you feel your emotions are starting to get the better of you, press the pause button and think before you react; otherwise, the conversation is unlikely to end well. On those occasions, just say you will think things over and get back to them.

3. Be flexible

There will be times when life gets in the way and things don’t go exactly according to plan. Instead of ranting about it, try to be a little flexible and cut your ex and the kids some slack. Is it really worth getting upset if your ex returns the kids a little late, because the movie was longer than expected or the roads were busy? As long as the kids had fun, let it go. Don’t let little things turn into one big outburst.

By being flexible (to a point), it may also encourage your ex to reciprocate when things don’t go to plan for you.

4. Set boundaries

All agreements have terms and conditions and this is no exception. Set boundaries so it’s clear what is expected.

For example:

  • Not to bad mouth each other or argue in front of the children
  • Not discuss your financial matters with the children
  • Not to ask children to “spy” on either of you
  • Not using the children as messengers
  • Be civil to one another

5. Be consistent with rules and routines

Kids thrive with routine so try to be consistent with their rules across both homes, as far as possible. It’s never going to be exactly the same, but do your best to make their lives as easy as possible.

A good idea is to have both parents try to stick to the same rules while you were still together. Homework, dinner times and play times should not vary wildly from one home to the other.

6. Plan ahead

Planning ahead for any particular events such as the Christmas break, school holidays, birthdays or any other significant family tradition, is vital for conflict-free parenting. Everyone can feel calmer when they know what to expect well in advance. Don’t forget to allow for any changes should something crop up unexpectedly.

7. Communicate effectively

It is an art to communicate effectively so the other person fully understands what you’re saying. To achieve that, once again, all emotions must be removed. No anger, no anxiety, nothing but your child’s wellbeing. Remember, communication is not just about uttering words. Body language may be sending a different message to what you’re actually saying. A roll of the eyes or a shrug of the shoulder may trigger off a reaction that could easily be avoided with some self-awareness.

If you’re finding it difficult to communicate clearly with your ex verbally, you can email or text, where you have more time to think more carefully what to say. Whatever method you choose, make sure you are fully understood.

If on the other hand, it is your ex who is finding it difficult to discuss anything with you without it turning into a heated argument, do your utmost not to make them feel uncomfortable. For instance, instead of saying You did this” or “You always want it your way”, try saying “I would prefer if you would . . . ” or “What do you think if we did it this way?” Just as you don’t want them to press your buttons, make sure you don’t press theirs.

If you need a little bit of extra help with communication, there are people and services who specialise in helping separated couples with their co-parenting relationship. This may be something you want to get advice from a family lawyer about.

8. Practice self-care

Going through any divorce can be an exceptionally stressful affair at the best of times, and it’s quite easy to neglect one’s own health. People sometimes eat badly, drink excessively, stop exercising and don’t get enough sleep. All this, over time, can play havoc on our bodies, making it difficult to cope with the usual stresses of life.

Remember, for you to take care of your children, you first need to take good care of yourself. Whatever you do, do not isolate yourself from society.  Remain socially active, pursue whatever sport or hobby you do, and keep close to your family and friends. These are the people who love you the most and you shouldn’t be afraid to depend on them to get you through this phase in your life. It’s all temporary anyway.

If you feel you’re still struggling to cope, don’t hesitate to seek professional help.

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