Coparenting for Beginners

by | 10 Dec 2020

If you’re separating or divorcing and have children, coparenting will be on your mind. 

Regardless of separation or divorce, children’s welfare and wellbeing is of paramount importance. Your coparenting relationship centres on this while also being central to this. In this blog I have outlined key issues to consider and given suggestions for consideration.

I’m not naïve about coparenting. But in some cases, I’d go so far as to say I am optimistic. Coparenting can be a huge success for your children and has the potential to be far more beneficial that attempting to live unhappily together in one house.  Subjecting your children to stress and conflict is known to be damaging: an effective coparenting relationship has the potential to mitigate this.

This article is not comprehensive – that would take a book – but it is an introduction to common issues and questions.

If you’re looking for tailored support, don’t hesitate to get in touch to find out how I can help you with coparenting.

Section One
Introduction

Section Two
Coparenting: What you need to do

Section Three
Do I need a court order?

Section Four
Debunking Coparenting Myths

Section Five
When to seek further help 

Section Six
Links and further resources

SECTION ONE: Introduction
Coparenting. It’s not an official word, nor a legally defined one, but it describes an approach which includes both parents in their children’s upbringing.

Other terms you may hear include ‘shared parenting’, ‘parallel parenting’ and, in the case of a high-conflict situation, you will occasionally hear the term ‘counter parenting’.

In concept, coparenting is about working the other parent – your ex –  to bring your children up together, but in two homes. 

When it goes well, coparenting is also about being able to trust your coparent. It’s about recognising that children can readily accept different rules in different homes. It is also about respecting the fact that children’s needs change and grow, and that families do too. 

You do not need the same parenting style, but there are areas where you will need a shared approach and an ability to make joint decisions.

A successful coparenting relationship is based on trust and respect. It is not about critiquing the other parent (though there may be times this is called for) nor is about fearing the judgement of your ex. 

Coparenting is not about being a Disney Dad (or Mum) or trying to win Best Parent Award: it’s about remaining part of a parenting partnership despite divorce. 

Your ex may be a terrible spouse but this does not mean they are a terrible parent. And even if they are a terrible spouse you still need to find a way to coparent with them. This can be really hard (yes, really hard) yet really worthwhile for your children.

All coparenting decisions should centre on the best interests of the children, and ideally parents will work together to establish this.  If this is not achievable, legal advice or other forms of professional support such as mediation can help. 

Divorce is an adult decision that has a big impact on children. This does not need to be negative – it is widely understood that it’s conflict, not divorce that has a detrimental impact on children. 

SECTION TWO – What you need to do
Your may find it helpful to know that the legal process of divorce places makes no assumptions about arrangements for your children. 

There is no expectation of a 50/50 arrangement nor is that expected (it is different in some other countries) but there is an expectation of joint parental involvement.

In a nutshell, you need to agree where and when the children will spend their time. 

Coparenting is of course more involved than this, and there is a document called a Parenting Plan which is a helpful starting point for some families. 

I didn’t hear the phrase, ‘Parenting Plan’ until after I separated but my first thought was they could be helpful to ALL parents, not only divorcing ones. 

A Parenting Plan (sometimes referred to as a Parenting Agreement) is a document where you set out plans for your children. It’s not legally binding and you can personalise it as necessary. I have linked to sample Parenting Plans in the Resources section below.

Should you go to court regarding Child Arrangements, a judge will usually look kindly on an agreed parenting plan. Courts really want parents to put their differences aside and find a way to make decisions together, even though this can be challenging.

Good Parenting Plans are personal parenting plans: flexible and containing enough detail, not every detail. 

You are not drafting the Magna Carta. You don’t need to mine the small details, unless the small details are relevant to your children. An agreed approach to potty training (for example) might be worthy of inclusion. How you deal with teenage bedtime in your house may not be.  

Call me Captain Obvious, but children’s needs grow and change over the years and any parenting plan should anticipate future change. The relationship between you and your ex will influence how you approach this: you could schedule in review dates for the first year or so but retain optimism that a ‘new normal’ will emerge and a Parenting Plan can take a back seat. Depending on age and circumstance, your children will have a view on some issues too. 

SECTION THREE: Do I need a Court Order?
A Child Arrangements Order (CAO) is essentially piece of personalised law that sets out where and when the children spend their time, as well as specific details about parenting such as may otherwise be included in a Parenting Plan. Such orders are made by the Family Court.

I firmly believe that a child-centred divorce should not see parents in a courtroom. Court should be a last resort, not a first option (with some exceptions, e.g. abuse).

There are several excellent services available to you if you find yourself in conflict with your coparent and it is in your best interests – and your children’s – to explore all options before filing for a Child Arrangements Order.  

Going to court is immensely stressful and can be a slow process which often exacerbates conflict which will in turn impact on your coparenting relationship. 

That said, if you need a court order, you need a court order!

It can help to remember that making decisions can be incredibly difficult but the heat often goes out of the debate once agreements have been made. You will both need to compromise and remember that some decisions are arbitrary (even if they don’t feel that way once you start arguing about them).

SECTION FOUR – Debunking Coparenting Myths
Parental responsibility is legally defined (one of the few terms that is).

Divorce does not affect your parental responsibility – nor that of your co-parent. This remains unchanged regardless of how much time children spend with each parent and in each home. 

In England and Wales, the law favours ‘joint parental involvement’. This does not have to mean a 50/50 arrangement: your children’s best interests should dictate the plans made for them post-divorce. 

You may hear people referring to ‘custody’, which is no longer used in the Family Court in England and Wales in Family Law cases (only in care/adoption cases), so dismiss any notion of getting ‘full custody’ and stop worrying that spending less than half the time with your children will affect your ‘custody’. Coparenting centres on a maintaing a relationship with your children, and ensuring their wellbeing.

Other outdated terms include ‘contact’ and ‘residence’.

‘Primary carer’, ‘shared parenting’ and even ‘coparenting’ is not official terminology but is commonly used.     

Coparenting and Money
If you have a 50/50 shared care arrangement, no child maintenance is payable. If the children spend more nights with one parent than the other, the parent who has the children more claim Child Maintenance. 

Further information and a Child Maintenance Calculator can be found on the government website.

Child Benefit, where applicable, is typically paid to the parent with whom the child lives. 

Single parenting is not a protected characteristic, though there are moves to change this. Read more about a current campaign to reduce single parenting discrimination here.

SECTION FIVE – When to seek further help
It is normal for it to take a while to fine-tune your coparenting arrangements, and it’s a great idea to ask for help. An objective viewpoint can help with emotionally-laden decisions. Coparenting help is a core part of my work as a divorce coach, but help can come from a variety of sources.  

Some children benefit from therapy or counselling which can be accessed through your GP or, in some cases, your child’s school as well as privately. Divorce can be a painful adjustment for children and anything that can be done to ease the process should be considered. An important factor of good mental health is the ability to seek help and support, whether from your immediate community or professional sources.

There are companies who offer workshops on coparenting and can help you with specific issues, even if one parent refuses to engage. A family solicitor can give you legal advice you if you have are able to resolve conflict.

Abuse, abduction and parental alienation are beyond the scope of this article but sadly are big issues for some families. Expert, specialist help is available from your family solicitor or other specialist agencies, including your GP.

As a coach I can help you with many aspects of your coparenting relationship. I can help you with a parenting plan, I can help you prepare for a court hearing. I can teach you Emotional Cooperation, my strategy for communicating with a tricky ex – whether you’re just starting divorce or have been separated for some time. If you’d like to find out more, please book a Clarity Call here today. 

SECTION SIX – Links and resources

Legal definition of Parental Responsibility

Cafcass Parenting Plan

Rafan House – psychotherapy for children and families 

Divorce Surgery – ‘Living Apart and Parenting Together’  Fixed-fee, professional support from a barrister and family mediator 

Parenting Agreement template

Child Maintenance Calculator

Kids Come First – Separated Parents Support Workshops

The Welfare Principle from the Children Act 1989

Families need Fathers

Books

Co-parenting with a Toxic Ex: What to Do When Your Ex-Spouse Tries to Turn the Kids Against You by Amy JL Baker & Paul R Fine

When Parents Part: How Mothers and Fathers Can Help Their Children with Separation and Divorce – Penelope Leach The Book you Wish Your Parents Had Read – Philippa Perry 

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