Parenting After Divorce 101: The Guide Every Co-Parent Needs

Creating meaningful steps towards mindful co-parenting.
By:
Diana Spasic
August 12, 2021
F

or many of us, joint physical custody and co-parenting can be challenging, especially initially after the separation. While it’s often difficult for both parents to adjust to a new life, learning new things and rediscovering your independence can also be exciting and uplifting.

Whenever a co-parent seeks advice about helping themselves and their children adjust to the changes, they find instructions about what not to do. Rarely does anyone provide useful ideas about handling life after divorce and creating healthy surroundings that benefit everyone’s well-being.

Although parenting tips and strategies like, “Don’t argue in front of the children” or “Don’t badmouth your former spouse” make sense, the one giving them also assumes the parents start with negative feelings and a bad perspective. They also overlook the parent’s efforts to do the best they can for their kids, given a little guidance and support.

I’ve learned that finding common ground may be tricky, but it’s still possible regardless of any misunderstandings you may have with your ex. While there is no magic formula, the following principles will help you manage the transition with your children’s best interests in mind. Equally important — they will guide you through creating a positive co-parenting relationship with your ex.

How to Co-Parent Successfully

Shared parenting or equal parenting doesn’t mean a precise equal split of the amount of time both parents spend with their kids. It also doesn’t mean an equal split of decision-making or day-to-day responsibilities.

What it actually means in practice is this:

  • Establishing effective communication for the benefit of the child and putting the children’s needs first.
  • Nurturing similar parenting styles that reflect consistency in both households.
  • Respecting the child’s relationship with the other parent, even when they don’t spend equal time with them.
  • Working around each parent’s strengths and weaknesses to provide the best possible care of the child in both households.

All this parenting work may seem easy to talk about but hard to do. However, with the right mindset and strong determination, you too can establish a healthy co-parenting relationship that benefits the mental health of everyone involved.

Help Your Kids Understand What to Expect

Above everything else, your kids need to know that both parents will continue to love and care for them regardless of the separation. They need to know they won’t be abandoned in any way by either parent. If possible, try to reassure them by talking to them together, letting the kids know the two of you will always be their loving parents, although you won’t be living together anymore.

Of course, separate conversations will also work just fine as long as both of you are on the same page and willing to make the transition as smooth as possible for them. Not every separated couple can sit together right after the separation and sound like a synchronized team. No matter how you choose to communicate, it’s important to do it whenever your child needs reassurance.

To prep for this, think about the everyday things both of you do for your kids. For example, the children may be used to one parent taking them to soccer training and then grabbing some ice cream afterward, or one parent helping out with math homework when they get stuck. They may fear they won’t be able to ask for or get all the support they need.

Kids don’t want to lose all the little (and big) things each parent does for or with them. Reassure them they can still rely on each of you for the specific help you provided while you were a union, even if that looks a little different.

You can say something like, “I know we normally do math homework together after school and I’d still love to do that. Since you’ll be with your mom today, can we FaceTime at 3:00 so I can help you with your assignment?”

Or, if a routine needs to shift, try something like, “I really wish I could take you to rehearsal tomorrow like I usually do, but Dad is going to take you this time. I’m so excited that he gets to see behind the scenes of the hard work you’re putting in! I’ll be even more excited to listen to Hamilton on the drive with you when it’s my turn next week.”

Their routine will inevitably change a bit (or a lot!), but with a bit of effort from both parents, it doesn’t have to change for the worse — and you can help them understand this to feel safe.

Knowing they can still rely on you both will lift their self-esteem and assure them that they won’t be losing a safe place.

Document Your Shared Parenting Plan

parenting after divorce: couple with a divorce contract and ring on the desk

When my ex and I got divorced, creating a shared parenting arrangement and agreeing on a parenting schedule was the first major bump on the road. Our working schedules were completely different. In fact, not being able to compromise and sync our schedules was one of the reasons we called it quits.

In this new situation, we were supposed to agree and create an impeccable custody schedule that would work for everyone. Who’s going to pick up the kids from extracurricular activities? When are they going to my ex’s house and how long will they stay? What about the weekends, road trips, and holidays? Parenting after divorce seemed so complicated to me at first.

There was so much to sort out, and I was already confused and overwhelmed by the change, so I had to ask for help.  

My cousin is a family law attorney, so I asked for legal advice when I got to this bump. I learned that, although a parenting plan isn’t legally binding, it’s still a valuable document that holds the pieces together. Many people choose to have a parenting schedule in writing because it feels more committal and makes a bigger impact than a verbal agreement.

The essential thing is to be flexible because circumstances change all the time. Also, understanding what a shared parenting agreement should focus on has helped me let go of the pressure to make everything perfect.

Although it won’t magically sort out every detail, a custody agreement can set out the most important aspects of co-parenting, including:

  • The roles each parent will play in the kids’ upbringing and everyday care
  • How the parents will make important decisions regarding the children
  • How to divide the kids’ time between two parents without disrupting their routine too much
  • Day-to-day problem-solving and issues like doctor’s appointments, school assignments, allowance, playtime, etc.

The basics will change as your child grows and their needs change. You may not achieve a sweet spot right away, but try to agree on the essentials. Put everything on paper, and take it from there.

Sort Out Child Support Payments and Shared Expenses

Money can be a big deal for separated parents. Even with enough funds on both sides, there’s the constant need for communication about shared expenses. At some point, you may need to remind the other parent to make a payment for something or pay you back when you cover a certain expense. Money talk can be challenging, especially if you already have financial misunderstandings with your ex.

However, there’s an app that makes sharing expenses a lot easier. Onward has given me the ability to track every detail surrounding payments to and from my ex without having to call my co-parent to talk about it. It sends reminders to my ex and allows me to propose splitting future expenses like a birthday party or a summer camp fee.

My experience has taught me that half the unpleasant convos between exes disappear when money talk is out of the way, and parenting after divorce becomes much smoother.

Learn to Work With Your Ex

Even the most well-adjusted divorced couples have communication challenges. If you’re in a disagreement, try to change your perspective. That person isn’t your life partner anymore — they’re more like a business partner or a colleague now. You don’t have to be friends — you need to learn how to handle shared custody and solve problems together.

Children thrive when they have healthy relationships with both parents, and both parents are supportive, stable, and on the same page about important things, according to Psychology Today. However, parents don’t need to maintain a close relationship to achieve this. Studies have shown that marriage isn’t the most important aspect of a child’s life and well-being. It’s having supporting and loving relationships with parents who provide their basic needs and more or less get along.

Try to see the best interests of the child as a joint business project and set aside any discontent you may feel for your ex. You’re separated now, and all you need to discuss is joint custody. You don’t have to stay attached to this person any more than you would be attached to a colleague.

Where There’s Will, There’s a Way

As challenging as it may seem at first, parenting with an ex can work for everyone. Changing your perspective isn’t easy, but if you take it one step at a time, you’ll soon discover it leads to a calmer, more fulfilling life for you and the kids.

Sometimes, the relationship between two parents functions a lot better after they’ve separated. Being “happily divorced” isn’t a myth. If you communicate clearly with your kids, write out your parenting plan, utilize apps to sort out the details, and view your ex as simply a partner in parenting, you’ll be on your way to a better spot than you ever imagined was possible.

Although there may be a few bumps on the road, it’s absolutely realistic to work with your ex to keep your kids happy and safe in this new chapter.


Diana Spasic

Diana is a writer who specializes in blogging. She's on a mission to inform and uplift people in complex and confusing life situations she's been through herself. When not working, you'll find her at the seaside or in the mountains.