Co-Parenting: Collaborate With Your Child's Other Parent

You and your ex may no longer be together, but you'll always have a bond through your child. For this reason — and for the good of the child — many parents choose to collaborate on raising their child after separation rather than do it separately.

Co-parenting allows you to maintain a parenting dynamic like what existed before your separation. Both parents take a hands-on approach to raising their child and keep their household rules similar to maintain consistency.

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Before beginning your co-parenting journey, you must understand the respect, trust and teamwork required to maintain a co-parenting relationship. You should also know the alternatives.

What is co-parenting?

Co-parenting (also called cooperative parenting) is when parents work together to raise their child after their relationship ends. While you may not necessarily get along personally (and you might even find yourself co-parenting with a narcissist), you set aside those differences for the sake of your child.

Typically, these arrangements include joint physical custody and joint legal custody, giving parents near-equal time with their child and equal say in decisions regarding the child's school, medical care, religion, etc.

Benefits of co-parenting

Co-parenting can benefit your child's mental and emotional well-being for many reasons.

  • It's less jarring than transitioning to parallel parenting or single parenting (more below).
  • It's healthier and more productive than counterparenting.
  • Both parents maintain a similar level of involvement in their child's life so the child doesn't feel like they're missing out on time with one.
  • Parents are often present within the same spaces (e.g., the child's sporting events), showing the child a strong support system.
  • Each household operates similarly, and the co-parenting calendar helps the child settle into a routine that reduces stress and discomfort.

Parents are their children's first role models. Co-parenting shows your child the importance of teamwork and maintaining relationships even after they change — valuable lessons your child will need for school and later when they enter the workforce.

Co-parenting benefits parents as well.

Parents who get along typically negotiate a co-parenting agreement, saving them time and legal fees, and giving them the freedom to choose their own arrangement rather than leave it up to a judge.

Another benefit is fairness in the parenting dynamic. Parents are equally responsible for their child's well-being so one isn't left to do all the heavy lifting. It's also reassuring to know that you have someone who understands the exact situation you're going through to help with the challenges of parenting.

How to jump-start your co-parenting journey

Shortly after deciding to end your relationship, you should start discussing how you'll approach parenting.

If you're married, you'll have to address issues of custody and visitation when you file for divorce or separation with the court. Unmarried parents have to address these issues as part of a standalone custody case or in conjunction with determining the child's paternity.

Generally, those who are willing to co-parent reach some form of a custody agreement (also called a parenting plan). You and the other parent can negotiate a plan one-on-one or, if you choose an alternative dispute resolution method, with the help of a professional.

Consider using a co-parenting app like Custody X Change to organize your selected parenting provisions and schedules into a court-ready document you can submit to the court. With a judge's approval, this becomes the official guide for parenting your child.

Once you have a custody order, start following your parenting plan. Things may be a bit rocky at first, but everyone will eventually settle into a routine. If you're using an app, you could set reminders about upcoming custody exchanges and the child's activities.

Co-parenting tips

Here are some "do's" and "don'ts" to help you along your co-parenting journey.

DO talk to your child about the transition to co-parenting

Co-parenting is as big of a change for the child as it is for parents. Try to broach the subject in an age-appropriate manner. Reassure them that they'll still see both parents and that you'll be as involved and loving as before.

Emphasize anything that the child will see as a positive. For example, the child will now have two homes where they can play and two bedrooms to decorate.

The biggest change will be the visitation schedule. You could address this simply by telling your child which days they'll be with each parent.

If the child still seems uneasy or emotional, consider seeking out a child therapist.

DO prioritize the needs of your child

Compromising with the other parent can be difficult. You may not want them to get their way, or you may feel that by capitulating you're giving up power.

One way to surpass these feelings is to focus on what would benefit your child. If the other parent's way suits the child's best interest, go with that. If your way is better, explain to the other parent why that is.

Think of how the co-parenting relationship benefits your child whenever you begin to feel frustrated, and always think before you speak. Your words could permanently impair your relationship with the other parent.

DO keep rules and discipline consistent between households

It's important that you put up a united front in terms of rules and discipline so the child knows they should take the word of both parents seriously. If the child has lost phone privileges in one home, they should not be allowed to use their phone in the other parent's home. Otherwise, it may undermine the parent's decision.

DO allow your child to keep clothing, toys, etc. in both households

This will make packing up to leave less stressful, help the child feel more at home in both houses, and help each space feel like familiar territory so transitions between households are more comfortable.

DO keep an open line of communication with the other parent

Communication is key to an effective co-parenting relationship. Specify how you can get in touch with one another to discuss child-related issues, and set aside time to speak in person when the child is not present.

Approach communications in a professional manner. Listen to the other parent's viewpoint, then state your position to try to find a compromise. When proposing something, phrase it as a request instead of a demand. For example, "Would you mind picking up the kids from school on Friday at 3 p.m.?"

DO stay flexible

Although you'll want to follow your routine, you should always be flexible, as family schedules are subject to change. Provide one another with advance notice if you're going to be late or miss a visit. You can use a co-parenting app to keep track of any deviations from the regular schedule and see how they impact each parent's time with the child. Set aside a time to speak if you think long-term changes are necessary.

DO set boundaries

Don't feel pressured to spend time with the other parent outside of events and special occasions that involve the child. It's up to you whether you want a friendship to be part of your co-parenting relationship.

Understand that your ex has their own life outside of parenting and, unless their actions affect your child, you have no say in what they do. However, you do have a right to know whom your child will be around.

DO consult with a neutral third party before going to court

Consider assigning a "tie-breaker" for when you're unable to come to a mutual decision. This could be an impartial friend, a mediator or a parenting coordinator. Taking these issues to court might seem like an act of aggression and can impair the co-parenting dynamic. Allowing a judge to decide matters should be the last resort.

DO use a co-parenting app

Using an app like Custody X Change can simplify parenting.

You can link accounts with the other parent to propose schedule changes, exchange messages and keep track of expenses, among other things.

DON'T use your child as a bargaining chip

Some parents are tempted to withhold visits to punish the other parent. This is a sign of inappropriate co-parenting and can negatively impact your child. Instead, talk through your differences without bringing the child into it.

DON'T involve the child in your affairs

If you need to tell the other parent something, tell them yourself. Giving the child that responsibility puts unnecessary pressure on them. Moreover, if it's news that frustrates the other parent, the child may have to bear the brunt of their angry reaction.

DON'T speak ill of the other parent in front of the child

Children internalize what they see and hear. Something that may seem innocuous to you can change your child's perspective. If they hear negative things about the other parent, they may feel the need to choose sides.

Turn to a friend, family member or mental health professional to talk through your problems. This gives you a space to vent so you can keep negative emotions away from your child.

DON'T disobey your co-parenting agreement

Unless you discuss changes with the other parent, always follow your agreement.

If you need to decide a non-emergency issue, speak with the other parent first. If you won't be on time to pick up or drop off the child, inform the other parent as soon as possible. Not doing so may cause tension.

If the other parent is not following your agreement, there are ways to handle an uncooperative co-parent.

Co-parenting while in a relationship

It's common for parents to enter new relationships after they split. When this happens, ease into the situation. Don't tell your ex about a relationship, introduce a new partner to your child or live with a new partner until you know the person will be part of your life long-term.

Depending on your co-parenting agreement, you may be able to introduce your new partner to your child without the other parent's permission. Still, as a show of goodwill, talk with the other parent beforehand. This will help abate any uneasiness the other parent may have about the partner, and it may encourage the other parent to check with you before bringing people into your child's life.

Afterward, set ground rules for how your new partner may interact with your child. You can put an exact plan for handling these situations in your co-parenting agreement. Can they discipline the child? Pick out their clothing?

If you have a contentious relationship with your ex, keep the information about your new partner to a minimum. You may want to hold off on bringing your partner to events where your ex will also be. If you do decide to bring your partner, give your ex a heads up.

If you have a close relationship with your ex, you may have to set some boundaries. It's fine to attend child-related events together, but your partner may feel uncomfortable if you have frequent one-on-one dinners with your ex, for example.

If you and your partner decide to marry, they will become your child's stepparent, which comes with new responsibilities and changes the parenting dynamic. Make sure your partner mulls over important considerations before marrying into a stepparent role.

When co-parenting doesn't work

Co-parenting isn't for everyone. These alternatives may work better for you. As long as you keep your child's well-being at the forefront, you shouldn't feel bad for remaining independent of their other parent.

Parallel parenting

Choosing not to interact is better than subjecting your children to verbal spats. Parallel parenting allows parents to remain integral parts of their child's life without escalating hostilities. Parents have little to no interaction with one another and run their households as they see fit. They consult with a mediator, parenting coordinator or the court when they're strongly at odds about something that needs cooperation.

This arrangement is suitable for high conflict cases, however, it is not recommended for cases involving domestic violence issues.

Parallel parenting requires a detailed parenting plan to cover decision-making, the visitation schedule, transportation and other important matters. For example, you might implement supervised exchanges to keep things civil when the child goes from one parent to the other. You'll meet in a neutral location or have a third party there to monitor.

In these cases, a co-parenting app is essential. Parents can message one another without having to give their email address or phone number, propose changes without interacting in person, and more.

In time, some parents are able to switch to a standard co-parenting arrangement as tensions settle.

Single parenting

Single parenting is when only one parent plays a major role in the child's life. The parent typically has sole physical custody and sole legal custody.

This arrangement can work for cases involving domestic violence issues.

Either the other parent isn't involved at all, or they have some interaction with the child. In the latter case, there's usually a parenting plan.

Single parents can do an effective job of raising well-adjusted and emotionally stable children. However, single parents take on twice the responsibility, so you may have to turn to friends, family members and mental health professionals for support when needed.

The easiest way to make a co-parenting agreement

A solid written agreement is a must when you're co-parenting. But creating one on your own can feel overwhelming. You have to use airtight legal language and can't omit any required information.

Use technology to take the guesswork out of the equation. The Custody X Change app walks you through each step of creating a comprehensive custody agreement.

The result is a professional document that demonstrates your competence as a parent and secures your child's future.

The easiest and most reliable way to make a co-parenting agreement is with Custody X Change.

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