After a divorce, many couples decide on a co-parenting agreement, where each parent maintains shared responsibility for the child’s upbringing. Although the child may live primarily with one parent, both parents are very actively involved in the child’s daily life.

Co-parenting can be a great solution to the thorny problem of how to ensure that your child grows up with the benefit of two loving parents. Co-parenting also enables each parent to have somewhat equal influence in the child’s life. What many parents don’t realize when entering into a co-parenting agreement, however, is that they will need to be true partners with their ex in some of the most emotionally challenging decisions a person can ever make.

I have seen many couples successfully navigate a co-parenting relationship, to the great benefit of their child or children, while other co-parenting arrangements have faltered, resulting in costly litigation. What made the difference?

Respect for the other person and open, honest communication
That’s a tall order for two people who have decided to split up because either or both attributes were probably lacking in their relationship!

Following are some tips for successful co-parenting:
Treat your ex-spouse like a valued colleague, rather than your ex-spouse – It may hard to take the negative emotion out of your relationship, but it is fundamental to co-parenting. Each parent needs to be respectful of the other and honor his or her commitments. If you said you would be there at 5:00 to pick up Sarah, be sure to arrive on time!

Create a parenting plan – A parenting plan documents the agreements and arrangements that you and your ex will follow in raising your children. It sets out not only which days each of you will be with your child, but also the “house rules.” Will Matthew be able to have his own cell phone? How much time will be spent each evening doing homework? How will social media activity be monitored? Here is where communication is key, because each parent’s values may be different.

Don’t disparage the other parent in front of your child – There is nothing worse than putting your child in the middle of any disagreement that you may be having with your ex. Kids are terribly conflicted if they feel they have to align with one parent or the other. Never make your child a messenger if there is something you need to convey to your ex. Instead, pick up the phone and talk with your ex yourself.

Schedule parenting meetings – Be sure to meet regularly with your ex to talk about how it is going for your child, as well as for each other. Some parents do this as often as monthly. Discuss how your child is doing in school, as well as your observations about other aspects of their life. Find out if there is anything you can do to make co-parenting work better for your ex. Making your ex’s life easier will benefit your child as well.

Be flexible – Co-parenting doesn’t always mean 50/50 time or effort, and what you and your spouse agree to today may need to change. Danny may join a sports team, for instance, where it is more convenient for one of you to always take him to practice. Or, your ex may get a new job with out-of-town travel and want more weekend time with Jill.

If you and your ex take the above into consideration and keep the lines of communication open, your co-parenting arrangement has a very high likelihood of success.

To discuss whether a co-parenting agreement is appropriate in your case, please contact our office for a consultation.

Attorney Christina Sherman is a Marin County CA family law attorney and Certified Family Law Specialist, specializing in divorce, child custody and support, marital contracts and other family law issues.

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