When parents separate or divorce, a co-parenting agreement is necessary to outline how they will share parental responsibilities. The agreement will include information on how parents will handle routine activities, specifics of the actual parenting time schedules, residential arrangements, and daily and major decision-making. Negotiating these details is a stressful process and it doesn’t end with a signed agreement since the parties have to continue to make it work into the future. To help ensure a successful plan, the parties should take these steps both during negotiations and after the agreement is in effect:
- Maintain open communication. Parents must share information about their children openly and consistently. When in doubt, the golden rule should apply – that is, give your co-parent the same information you would expect him/her to provide to you.
- Be courteous. Even if there are custody and support issues that must still be resolved, the effects of criticism, name calling or other inappropriate comments or conduct are detrimental to children. It’s best to be polite and cordial in both verbal and written communications.
- Develop specific communication plans. How will you communicate with each other? Specify whether it will be by email, text, or phone. What times are best to reach each other? What are the joint expectations for responding to messages, giving advance notice or other issues? Agreeing ahead of time can avoid conflicts later.
- Have a shared calendar. The calendar should identify each parent’s and the child’s relevant schedules (parenting time, work, school, children’s activities, vacation, etc.).
- Keep it consistent and stable. It’s best for parents and children to maintain a routine schedule and meet expectations about who will handle which responsibilities. The parties can also plan in advance for how to handle a change in routine (ex. during vacations). This helps ensure predictability and avoids confusion over each parent’s responsibilities.
- Be specific. The agreement may not be able to address every issue, but it is important to work out as many details as possible in advance.
- Address making changes to the agreement. The co-parenting plan should be in the best interests of the child and that means taking into consideration the age and needs of the child. A toddler has a different schedule, interests, and developmental needs than a teenager.
- Pick your battles. Everything is not equally important to you or your spouse. Be willing to compromise on those issues that are less meaningful to you. For example, one parent may feel strongly about religious activities, while another may be more focused on sports or school.
- Bring in experts. Legal, mental health and family experts can help the parties effectively negotiate parenting issues with the best interests of their children in mind.
- Consider collaborative divorce. The collaborative divorce process is particularly beneficial when children are involved. That is because it uses a team approach bringing in attorneys, financial experts as well as family specialists. The family specialists are mental health professionals who help the parties communicate more effectively, address negative emotions, and develop an appropriate co-parenting plan tailored to the needs of the children. These discussions also enable parents to find a way to communicate going forward.
Sharing parenting responsibilities with someone you may still have hostile feelings toward can be one of the most difficult aspects of divorce. However, for the sake of your children, you must come to an agreement with your spouse. The more cooperative you can be, the better for your family and your future.
If you are considering separation or divorce, contact me to discuss your options.