Parenting is a lot of work, even under the best circumstances. When parents are separated or divorced, additional challenges present themselves. Co-parenting isn't a contest. Rather, co-parenting is a team exercise and it requires both parents to use some essential teamwork skills, including timely and respectful communications, flexibility, responsibility, and accountability.
It takes more than the above characteristics to become a successful co-parent. The most important factor is to remember to focus on what is best for the children. Many parents living apart do not co-parent, and have little interaction regarding the children. Some even require the services of a parenting coordinator. When parents can cooperate, stress levels are reduced and the children benefit.
Developing a parenting plan helps parents start off on the right foot. If you're recently divorced or considering a divorce you'll want to develop a parenting plan that serves as a framework for scheduling, decision -making, and other factors. Frequently, working with a professional, such as a divorce mediator, will help guide the process so your plan includes enough detail and information to be helpful.
Finally, you will notice that the term “visitation” is not used throughout this guide. As parents, we parent and love our children – we don't visit them. Visitation is a disfavored word, and a term that the Massachusetts courts prefer to avoid.
As you develop your plan, you may want to also consider these excellent resources that follow to assist in thinking about the many moving parts involved in this process.
General Co-Parenting Tips
As you venture into the land of co-parenting, there are a couple of things you'll want to keep in mind before even beginning to develop a plan with your ex. The following articles offer great advice for you to consider with the goal of supporting your child or children together as caring parents – not enemy combatants.
- 11 Co-Parenting Ground Rules: It's imperative to make co-parenting work for you, your ex, and your child. The 11 ground rules outlined by Care.org will help you avoid fighting to become the best co-parent you could possibly be.
- The Do's and Don'ts of Co-Parenting Well: Co-parenting is a difficult process and if done incorrectly, it can cause developmental problems for your child. To avoid development issues and create a healthy co-parenting environment. You'll want to consider these Do's and Don'ts.
- Co-Parenting Guide To Good Communication: Regular and ongoing communication between both parents is essential for successful co-parenting. Communication best practices from the Arizona Family and Conciliation Courts will help you and your ex become an effective co-parenting team.
- Helping Your Child Deal With Divorce: No matter how well you plan out your co-parenting approach, your child will still struggle to cope with the divorce. Every child deals with divorce differently, but there are a few things you can do to ensure the transition is easier for them. Family health counselor, Marina Williams, shares excellent tips for helping your child deal with your divorce.
- 8 Apps That Make Divorced Parenting Easier: Co-parenting isn't easy, but it can be made easier thanks to technology. The Huffington Post outlines 8 apps that help to alleviate some of the struggles of being a divorced co-parent.
Developing a Residential and Visitation Schedule
Deciding where your child will live and when he or she will be with either parent is one of the most difficult tasks when getting a divorce. No longer being able to be with your child all the time can be a hard reality to digest.
It can be equally stressing on your child to no longer have both parents around. Fortunately, this stress can be relieved with a well-thought out parenting schedule. As you work with the other parent to develop a schedule, consider the following tips and resources.
Pre-School Aged Children (3-5 years old)
- Plan Design Tip : Children in their pre-school years experience a tremendous number of developmental changes. It's important to take these changes into account and design a co-parenting plan for pre-schoolers with the following tips in mind.
- Successful Plan Schedules: Younger, pre-school aged children have a strong attachment to both parents and should get frequent involvement from both parents to accommodate a healthy development. The residential and visitation plans listed have proven to be extremely successful for pre-school aged children.
School Aged Children (6-18 years old)
- Successful Plan Schedules: Children of different age groups will require different levels of attention from each parent. Renowned family psychologist, Dr. Robert Emery, discusses various residential and parenting plans that work for school aged children of every age group.
Considering Holiday Co-Parenting Schedules
Deciding how your child will spend holidays and with who is a part of developing your parenting schedule. However, holidays will likely deviate from your regular schedule and there are a few considerations that need to be thought through.
When thinking about holidays, consider if the holiday schedule stays the same each year? What holidays are important to each of you? These are all questions you'll have to consider and work through together as you develop your co-parenting plan. What if you cannot agree? The get ready to incur more legal fees and end up with a complete stranger making decisions about your parenting plan – the Judge. The following resources offer excellent help in developing your child's holiday schedule.
- Guide To Creating a Holiday Schedule: Holiday scheduling for your child will require serious thought and discussion between co-parents. This guide from CustodyXChange discusses important questions to address, options to divide holidays, and holidays to consider.
- Holiday Planning Do's and Don'ts: The only thing that could possibly be more stressful than the holidays is trying to get through them as a divorced or separated parent. In order to reduce holiday stress and eliminate holiday conflict, the do's and don'ts discussed by The Mercury should be considered.
- 10 Ways to Blend the Holidays With Divorce: The holidays can be especially difficult to get through during the first few years after a divorce. Certified divorce coach, Debra Block, shares tips from her divorce experience to help you and your child enjoy the holidays.
Agreeing On Parent-Child Communication and Decision Making
It can't be stressed enough that co-parenting requires teamwork and communication. At the end of the day you're both equal parents of your child. Think about how your child can contact you when you aren't with him or her, and how the decisions will be made.
Can kids phone the other parent at any time? What about making day-to-day decisions? What about major decisions, such as surgery or choice of college? All of these situations require attention.
If you can talk to the other parent about these things, then that will be helpful; but many people find that the experience of a mediator or family law attorney are most helpful. Below are some resources to aid you in planning parent-child communication and decision making.
- Decision Making Options For Co-Parents: Trying to decide who will make important parenting decisions in a co-parenting relationship is a tricky task to accomplish. Family therapist, Dr. Tim Hartnett discusses different decision making options available to divorced parents along with their pros and cons.
- Co-Parenting Child Discipline Tips: When a co-parent disciplines their child, should the other parent uphold the disciplinary action? Who gets to decide which actions deserve punishment and which don't? Divorce coach Christina McGhee offers suggestions for co-parents to make child discipline a smoother process.
- Communication With Kids Post-Divorce: One of the biggest concerns co-parents often have is in regards to communication between their ex and their child. Can your child text, email, or call your ex during your residential time? And how often can they communicate? Family blogger, Valerie DeLoach, shares her helpful insights on communication with kids post-divorce.
Additional Co-Parenting Considerations
In addition to everything above, there will more than likely be a few other components you'll want to work through with your ex in your co-parenting plan. Can the other parent fill in for you if you need coverage? How will contact with extended family members be handled? What if either of you relocates?
You'll want to consider addressing these questions and any others that may arise in your parenting plan. You can use these resources to guide you through these considerations.
- Moving Out Of Massachusetts With Your Child: Should you desire to relocate after a divorce, you'll want to first read over and understand the related laws in the state of Massachusetts.
- Considering the In-Laws: While not typically the first concern in a divorce, a divorce does impact in-laws as well. Divorce mediator, Jennifer Safian, discusses important things to consider to avoid alienating the in-laws in a co-parenting relationship.
Keep in mind that as you work through co-parenting you don't have to do it alone. There are several resources available to you from therapists to educators, and coaches.
- Children's Trust: Raising healthy, happy kids is hard enough. It's far more challenging to do so as a single co-parent. Luckily the Children's Trust supports Massachusetts parents with articles, support groups, and more.
- Debra Block – Certified Divorce Coach: While a divorce therapist will help you overcome your emotional burdens brought on by divorce and co-parenting, a divorce coach will use an educational approach to help you reach your full potential as a co-parent. Debra will assess your parenting goals and work with you to help you push through the burdens of your divorce and achieve your goals.
Other divorce coaches may be found here:
- Massachusetts Collaborative Law Council
- Families First Certified Parenting Programs: Learning to become a good co-parent can be a daunting task. By enrolling in co-parenting workshops, divorced couples can learn more about successful co-parenting than we could ever share in a resource page. Families First Parenting Programs, Inc. is a nonprofit agency that has been helping parents build core parenting skills since 1988.
- Family Services of the Merrimack Valley: Family Services is a nonprofit organization currently helping over 4,000 parents and children within Merrimack Valley. Family Services offers over 20 high quality programs parents and children can enroll in focused on youth development, parent education, and emotional health.
- Family Nurturing Center: Family Nurturing Center offers co-parents a wide variety of excellent parenting workshops all year around. Recent programs have ranged from school registration to child development.
- Divorce Step: Divorce Step offers programs that are not only affordable, but specialized to fit your specific situation. Divorce Step's programs include personal consultation/training, court approved parent education programs, and support groups for children affected by divorce.
- Parenting Journey: Parenting Journey has been helping families build stronger ties since 1982. Since 2007, over 52,000 parents have successfully completed a Parenting Journey program. Parenting Journey offers several different parenting programs, but ever program includes nutritious meals, childcare, group participation, and ongoing support.
- Child and Family Psychological Services, Inc.: The board certified psychologists at Child and Family Psychological Services, Inc. has been providing high quality therapy services for children and parents since 1994. Child and Family Psychological Services, Inc. has several locations in the greater Boston area including Norwood, Weymouth, Abington, Boston, Newton, Holliston, Quincy, Kingston, and Norwell.
Recommended Co-Parenting Books
There is a plethora of reading material available on divorce. However, we've found the following books to be the most helpful in terms of learning how to co-parent, deal with the emotional aspects of divorce, and grip with life after divorce. There are also several books for children that can help them understand divorce and provide some perspective.
Books For Adults About Divorce
- The Truth About Children and Divorce by Robert Emery
- Mom's House, Dad's House by Isolina Ricci
- Parenting Apart by Christina McGhee
- The Co-Parents' Handbook by Karen Bonnell
- Putting Children First by JoAnne Pedro-Carroll
- The Co-Parents' Handbook: Raising Well-Adjusted, Resilient, and Resourceful Kids in a Two-Home Family from Little Ones to Young Adults by Karen Bonnell
- The Parenting Plan Handbook: A Comprehensive Guide to Skillfully Building a Strong, Child-Centered Parenting Plan by Karen Bonnell
- Daughters of Divorce: Overcoming the Legacy of Your Parents' Breakup and Enjoy a Happy, Long-Lasting Relationship by Terry Gaspard
Books For Children About Divorce
- Where Am I Sleeping Tonight?: A Story of Divorce by Massachusetts resident Carol Gordon Ekster
- Was It The Chocolate Pudding?: A Story For Little Kids About Divorce by Sandra Levins and Bryan Langdo
- Dinosaurs Divorce: A Guide For Changing Families by Laurene Krasny Brown and Marc Tolon Brown
- Divorce Happens To The Nicest Kids by Michael Prokop
Do You Need Help with Your Co-Parenting Situation?
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