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Co-Parenting 101

View profile for Shelley Wales
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We see many instances where separation and divorce involves children, and with such cases there needs to be a discussion about co-parenting.

When you separate or divorce it’s easy to let your animosity towards each other become all too apparent to your children and unfortunately it can sometimes be the case that the children are used as pawns in this complicated and emotional game of separation chess. Taking a step back from the main event and truly considering your children’s feelings and involvement is difficult but essential.f

Here are our top tips for ensuring that your children are impacted as little as possible throughout this difficult time.

  1. You have to accept your position and move on. If either of you are still hurting from the events then this will likely lead to a combative relationship between you and this will no doubt impact your children. Small joint decisions like whether a child can go on a school trip becomes a whole new battle and the person in the middle of this battle is the child. Trying to accept the situation and acknowledging that you both need to work as one when it comes to co-parenting will make for a cohesive parenting approach which, if done right, will filter through to a great childhood for your children.
  1. Team work makes the dream work. So you’ve separated but you still have one thing in common: your children. Working as a team, even when there are disagreements, will foster a mutual respect between everyone involved. Productive debate in front of the children can be a great lesson for them, but do avoid such debate turning sour. If you feel the debate turning into something other than healthy debate then call time on it and re-convene at a more appropriate time and place.
  1. Be flexible and be fair. In isolation, giving up your Saturday with your child may seem unfair, but this will likely be to your child’s advantage. Perhaps they have an opportunity to visit friends, relatives or attend a special event. View your co-parenting relationship as a holistic one and, although it may pain you to do so, be flexible when it comes to swapping days or tweaking arrangements. If you have no reason to say ‘no’, then don’t say ‘no’ just to be difficult. Be prepared to ask for swaps yourself and remember, your flexibility will hopefully be met in kind.
  1. Be accessible. You may want to avoid all contact with your ex, and in many situations this would be advantageous. But when co-parenting, that communication link between you must remain in-tact. You must agree with your co-parenting partner that all communications must be in relation to your children and with that agreement in place, you should keep lines open. Respond promptly and politely to messages and answer the phone if convenient. When your children see you communicating in a kind, polite and respectful way they will feel more comfortable with the situation, and will learn valuable life-lessons in how to treat others. Be prepared to re-visit the agreement if things go off track and communications divert to non-children related matters.
  1. Show public respect to your ex and speak positively but honestly of them. No matter how angry you are with your ex, or indeed how much you dislike them, you must remember that they are a critical, valuable and essential part of your child’s life. Depending on your children’s age, you may open up a little and have honest conversations with them, but by and large, positivity wins. When you speak negatively of their parent you plant a seed of doubt, you risk alienating them and perhaps also, as they grow and mature, you risk losing their respect for you. In all cases, be the best parent you can be, and that includes teaching your children the value of respect.
  1. Don’t ignore special occasions or note-worthy events. It’s easy to dislike the fact that your ex has taken your children for their first ever swimming lesson or concert and understandable that you feel like you missed out on this ‘first’. Ignoring this is likely the wrong thing to do, worst still is speaking negatively of it. Such a note-worthy occasion will be high on the list of things your children want to shout about so let them, encourage them, and speak positively about the experience. Ignoring it or speaking ill of it will tarnish their enjoyment and memories of the experience and worst still, may prevent them from sharing their life experiences with you in future.

Finally, it goes without saying they you want the best for your children. When you are separating or divorcing then one thing you can give them is a co-parenting experience that they look back on favourably.

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If you are separating then a useful tool is the Parenting Plan.  A Parenting Plan can help you work out arrangements for your child after you separate. A Parenting Plan helps you to put the interests of your child first and sets out a shared commitment to your children. The plan will help you work out the practical decisions about your children’s care in areas such as living arrangements, education, health care and emotional well-being. You can download a Parenting Plan and access more information here.

If you feel that you cannot work things out without professional help then the Separating Parents Information Programme may be an option for you. This is a course which helps you understand how to put your children first while you are separating. The course helps parents learn the fundamental principles of how to manage conflict and difficulties. You will not attend the same session as your ex and it can be a useful way of making positive progress in respect of co-parenting.

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We have fully trained family lawyers here at Thornton Jones. I specialise in family mediation where children are involved and can help you see your way to an agreement on how you co-parent. We offer a free initial consultation so if you feel you need advice then call us to make an appointment.