Divorced Parents Share Their Best Co-Parenting Advice Based on Years of Experience
Making the tough decision to end a marriage is never easy, but when children are involved, it adds an extra layer of complexity to the mix. In these situations, it is crucial for both parents to find ways to effectively co-parent even after their partnership has ended. If you are a separated or divorced parent looking for advice on how to successfully co-parent your children across two homes, then look no further!
After years of representing divorcing parents, as well as being a divorced (and now re-married) parent myself, I have gathered some of the best co-parenting advice from those who have learned from years of experience what works and what doesn’t. Continue reading to discover real-life, actionable advice to help you navigate this new chapter of your and your children’s lives.
Communication is Key
Creating open lines of communication is the foundation for any successful co-parenting relationship. It is essential for both parents to remain approachable and respectful when discussing matters pertaining to their children. Establishing a safe, professional space to communicate – whether it be via email, phone, or in person – allows both parties to address concerns or changes in a timely manner. Developing healthy communication habits can prevent unnecessary conflict and confusion, ultimately providing stability for your children.
Be advised that this takes some time to develop. Initially, it will feel weird to come together to discuss only the issues pertaining to your children, especially if there are still unresolved feelings about the past romantic/marital relationship still festering just beneath the surface. However, it’s imperative to find a way to put the past aside and regularly share information about your children. With very young children, both parents should be regularly updated (at a bare minimum) on things like bathroom habits, sleep routines, allergies, illnesses, babysitters, and educational milestones. The more information that is shared, the easier it is to maintain consistency in the child’s life in both homes.
With older children, it can be a bit more difficult since these discussions may not always include “positive” reports. As a child gets older, he or she will likely want to test the boundaries at each home. Older children, especially teenagers, will be more apt to bend and skirt rules about what’s right and wrong, as well as blow off parental expectations when transitioning between two homes. Therefore, it becomes critical to share detailed information about schedules, friends of the teenager, access to social media and internet use, electronic device and/or video game monitoring, as well as both parents be aware of any school attendance and performance issues to ensure the child is safe, making good decisions, and respecting authority figures while in both homes.
Focus on the Children
At the heart of successful co-parenting is the ability to remain child-focused as much of the time as possible. This doesn’t mean that parents should make their children believe the universe revolves around them. Instead, it means prioritizing the needs and well-being of your children above all else, even when they don’t have a clue that’s what you’re doing.
It also means putting their needs above your dislike of their other parent, no matter how awful you think their other parent is at this point. It is essential to separate any lingering negative feelings towards your ex-partner from what is best for your children. If you cannot do so, you will doom all of you (your child, your ex, yourself, and even any potential new partner you may have in your life) to a very hard road ahead.
By keeping the focus on your children’s happiness, security, safety, education, growth, and health, you will find it much easier to work together with your co-parent, and any other supportive family members, to create a healthy and nurturing environment that will help your children thrive in every way.
Strive for Consistency
Study after study continually shows that children benefit most from consistency and predictability in their most formative years. Both of which can be challenging to achieve post-divorce when two people who did not get along well enough to remain married to each other and living under one roof now must try to provide these things under two rooves and likely living different lives and keeping different schedules.
To create a stable environment, some parents have found that aiming to establish consistent routines, rules, and expectations across both households for the child is the best way to handle this. For example, coordinating bedtimes is a great place to start. If little Johnny knows that 8:00 p.m. is his bedtime on school nights regardless of which home he’s in, he will not be surprised when either parent starts the winding-down process for him around 7:30 each school night. It also means that setting homework completion expectations should be easier to keep consistent as well, since the homework needs to be finished before bath time and bedtime are upon you.
Another great example is setting consistent disciplinary practices in each home. This is a great way to make sure children feel more secure in their transitions between homes, as they know there are certain expectations for behavior in each home and the consequences for not adhering to those expectations are clear and come as no surprise.
But this process requires communication. If you find yourself in a situation where the two of you are unable to communicate well enough to set these guidelines, consider working with a child therapist, social worker, or even a family court mediator in your area who can help the two of you by guiding the discussion for you and documenting your agreements in written form to be kept and followed at both homes. By working together to create a united front that is visibly apparent to the children, parents can nurture their children’s emotional and mental well-being during this period of adjustment.
Though consistency is important, it is also important to remember that life is, and always will be, unpredictable. It is imperative that you always try to be open to changes and willing to reassess or adapt your co-parenting plan, as needed. A good rule to keep in mind is that neither parent was given a crystal ball when you decided to separate. No matter what you thought the future might hold for either of you, nine times out of ten, you’re likely to be proven wrong at least once or twice before your children graduate high school and co-parenting is no longer a daily part of your life.
Changes are almost inevitable, whether it be one parent’s work schedule or major career change, family emergencies that require immediate travel or time-intensive recoveries, or just an unplanned temporary scheduling conflict. When you approach these situations, try to remember that responding with grace and understanding will contribute to a stronger, more sustainable co-parenting dynamic overall. The best practice is to always extend the type of treatment or response you would like to be extended if the tables were turned. Being prepared to make compromises and adapt quickly to the unexpected will ultimately serve the best interest of your children, now and long into the future.
Successfully co-parenting your children after a divorce, especially an emotionally contentious one, may seem intimidating and maybe even impossible. That’s a perfectly normal response to the situation. After all, you’ve likely just finished a separation and divorce process with someone you’ve discovered is not the person you once thought you knew so well. But when you had children with this person, you made a commitment to those children to always be there for them and to always do what’s best for them. If you can find a way to focus on that promise you made to your children in their first hours or days after birth, you’ll know it is possible to do what’s necessary to make co-parenting work.
A successful co-parenting relationship is achievable if you remember to maintain open communication with your co-parent, keep your children’s best interests first and foremost in your mind, and do what you can to create and preserve consistency in both homes while remaining flexible when life’s unexpected twists and turns arrive. By implementing this great advice shared by other experienced divorced parents, you will be laying the foundation for a more peaceful and cooperative co-parenting journey. Ultimately, this will foster a healthy and nurturing post-divorce environment in which your children stand a much better chance of thriving happily in the long run.
If you and your spouse are considering divorce and are working on your parenting plan for post-separation or post-divorce, your agreement for custody and visitation will only be approved by the family court if it is in line with your state’s laws. If you’re in South Carolina, it’s important to contact an experienced family court attorney like J. Benjamin Stevens today to discuss your desired post-divorce parenting plan outcomes. Even if you aren’t in South Carolina, Mr. Stevens is happy to offer referrals to a well-qualified attorney located in your state.
Ben Stevens is a Fellow in the prestigious American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers and the International Academy of Family Lawyers, and he is a Board-Certified Family Trial Advocate by the National Board of Trial Advocacy. He has represented parents in child custody and other Family Court cases all across South Carolina for over twenty-five years. If you or someone you know is facing a child custody, visitation, divorce, or other family law issues, contact our office at (864) 598-9172 or SCFamilyLaw@offitkurman.com to schedule a consultation.
Related Articles by Mr. Stevens:
Contact our office at (864) 598-9172 or SCFamilyLaw@offitkurman.com to schedule an initial consultation.
Subscribe to our newsletters!
What Matters Most | Family Law Attorney Connection
ABOUT J. BENJAMIN STEVENS
Ben.Stevens@offitkurman.com | 864.598.9172
Aggressive, creative, and compassionate are words Ben Stevens' colleagues freely use to describe him as a divorce and family law attorney. Mr. Stevens is a Fellow in the prestigious American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, the International Academy of Family Lawyers, and is a Board Certified Family Trial Advocate by the National Board of Trial Advocacy. He is one of only two attorneys in South Carolina with those simultaneous distinctions. He has held numerous leadership positions in the AAML, and he currently serves as one of its National Vice Presidents. Mr. Stevens has a statewide practice and regularly appears all across South Carolina. His practice is focused on complex divorce and child custody cases.
Click here to learn more about Ben »»