Co-Parenting and Joint Custody Tips for Divorced Parents

By: Angel Berbarie

Father greeting children at ex wife's house
Happy father arriving home and greeting his children with a hug and big smile.

It’s not always easy to co-parent after a divorce, but no matter what is going on between you and your ex, it’s important to put your children first. This means making sure your children are safe, comfortable, and not only adjusting to their new family dynamic, but thriving in it. To achieve this, you and your ex will need to work together to ensure your children maintain a close and loving relationship with both parents.

What Is Co-Parenting?

Co-parenting involves both parents playing a role in their children’s lives on a day-to-day basis. This is a much easier task if you and your ex were able to finalize your divorce by agreement and part amicably. Successful co-parenting leads to you both being active in your children’s lives, discussing their needs and making decisions together that are in your children’s best interest. While it may sometimes be difficult to work with your ex, it’s possible to develop a good co-parenting relationship. A good relationship will result in less stress when dealing with your ex, respect for what you each have to offer your children, and a more consistent and nurturing environment for your children in both your homes.

Making Co-Parenting Work

Even though your marriage is over, your family is not, so it’s important to act in your children’s best interest. Your relationship with your ex is a completely different one now, one that is not about either of you. It is about working together to co-parent to make sure your children’s needs are being met and that they are well-adjusted, healthy, and happy children.

Benefits for Your Children

After your marriage ends, it’s more important than ever that your children understand how much their parents care about them. They should know that they are more important than whatever ended your marriage. Parents who are cooperating with one another help their children:

  • Feel secure so they adjust to new situations faster
  • Get the consistency they need by having both homes have similar rules and rewards, so kids always know what is expected from them
  • Gain new problem-solving techniques because they’re able to watch their parents work together to solve problems
  • Witness a healthy relationship that will establish a pattern of what your child will expect from their loved ones in the future
  • Be emotionally and mentally healthy. Watching good co-parenting means children are statistically less likely to have ADHD, depression, or anxiety.

Co-Parenting Tip #1: Set Hurt and Anger Aside

Successful co-parenting involves putting your anger, hurt, or resentment aside in favor of your children’s well-being. This case be a difficult task, especially in the early days after a divorce, but working cooperatively is important and potentially the most vital part of co-parenting.

Working Through Negative Feelings

It’s okay, and even normal, to feel hurt and anger about the divorce, but you cannot share those feelings with your children. If you need to talk about your feelings, consider calling a friend, making an appointment with a therapist, or venting to your pet. If you don’t want to talk it out, work it out; exercise can be a healthy way to work through painful emotions. Your children should never be a sounding board for any negative feelings you have about your ex or the divorce.

Don’t Put Your Children in the Middle

Putting your hurt feelings aside for your children’s well-being doesn’t mean those feelings aren’t there. In fact, you may never fully resolve your pain, but it’s important that even as the children get older, they are shielded from issues between you and your ex. Children should not be used as messengers; this puts them in the center of your conflict, when they should be as far removed from this as possible. You also shouldn’t make negative comments about your ex in front of your children. Again, this puts them in the center of your issues and pressures them to choose between the two of you when your children deserve to have a healthy relationship with both parents.

Co-Parenting Tip #2: Improve Communication With Your Co-Parent

Being focused, cooperative and respectful in your communications will lead to successful co-parenting. Good communication starts with a healthy mindset. Start with the assumption that you and your co-parent both want what’s best for your children and try not to assume negative inferences in communications you receive from your ex. If possible, discuss big decisions in person or on the phone, even if you later confirm what was discussed in writing to be sure you’re on the same page. If verbal discussions tend to lead to conflict, communicate in writing by text, email, or an online application available for co-parents. If you have any doubt about how your words could be construed negatively, don’t say them or hit send on that message. Consider how your comments could lead to conflict and potentially hurt your child and take a moment to consider another way of phrasing your thoughts so as not to invoke a negative reaction. If you find that you and your co-parent consistently end up in conflict-ridden communications, consider consulting with a parenting coach or mental health professional who may be able to help you improve communications with the other parent.  

Co-Parenting Communication Methods

To keep you and your ex focused on effective and purposeful communication:

  • Commit to talking and meeting up consistently

  • Keep the conversations about the kids

  • Listen

  • Make requests, not demands

  • Practice techniques designed to help you relieve stress

  • Set a business-like tone

  • Show restraint

Co-Parenting Tip #3: Co-Parent as a Team

As a parent, there are plenty of decisions you and your ex will have to make for your children. Good communication and teamwork make the process easier for everyone involved. If you aim for consistency and geniality, the details should come more easily.

Aim for Co-Parenting Consistency

Having consistency in both homes, such as similar rules and expectations, avoids confusion for children and helps them thrive in both environments. The rules don’t have to be exactly the same, but you and your co-parent should have consistent guidelines on significant issues, such as for example, academic expectations, curfews, and off-limit activities. It can be very confusing for children if the rules and expectations are extremely lax with one parent and overly strict with their other parent. If possible, try to aim for a consistent schedule as well. Not everything can line up perfectly, but doing homework, mealtime, and bedtime at similar times can make the adjustment between homes easier on your children.

Making Important Decisions as Co-Parents

You should both be open to making big decisions as a team. To do so, you need to be honest about your preferences, straight to the point, and open to hearing their side. This includes deciding which parent is in charge of talking to medical professionals, keeping both of you involved in your kids’ class schedules and after-school activities, and setting a budget you can both stick to along with a record of shared expenses.

Co-Parenting Tip #4: Make Transitions and Visitations Easier

Transitioning from one home to another can be difficult for children. After all, resuming time with one parent means separating from the other. This is unavoidable, but there are ways you can make the transitions easier for everyone involved.

When Your Child Leaves

When your kids are preparing to leave, be positive and help them feel confident about the transition by:

  • Let your children know it’s okay to love their other parent.
  • Set the expectation that they’re going to enjoy their time with their other parent.
  • Make sure they know you’re okay and there’s no reason for them to feel guilty about spending time with their other party. Try to avoid telling them you’ll miss them.
  • Help your children gather any items they need to take with them in advance so nothing is forgotten.
  • Make sure exchanges take place on time, and if a time needs to be changed, communicate that in advance.
  • Be friendly and respectful to your co-parent at exchanges so the transition is not tense or uncomfortable.

When Your Child Returns

It can be an adjustment when your children come back to your home, too. They may need some time to get back into the swing of things at your home. You can help your children feel more comfortable with the transition by:

  • Make sure your children have all the basics to feel comfortable at your home.
  • Give your children a space of their own in your home.
  • Allow your children time to relax rather than having a big activity planned as soon as they arrive back home.
  • Do not interrogate your children about what they did with their other parent.
  • Be open to listening to your children if they want to tell you about their time with their other parent, and make sure they know you are happy they enjoyed their time.
  • Give them lots of love.

Dealing With Visitation Refusal

Sometimes in co-parenting situations, children don’t want to leave one parent to see another. This can be stressful for everyone. If this happens to you:

  • Find the cause of the issue and talk to your child about why they are refusing to see you or their other parent.
  • If you can’t find the reason for refusal, it’s possible the situation may blow over in a few days or weeks.
  • Have a conversation with your co-parent to figure out the problem. This is a discussion that touches on a difficult subject, so keep in mind that you should be understanding and sensitive to their needs as well as your own and your child’s needs.
  • Consider seeking help from an expert, such as a therapist experienced in this area or a parenting coach.
  • In some cases where the issue is not resolved, parents may need to seek legal advice from a family law attorney.

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