How to Make the Choice to Co-Parent

child covering ears as parents yell at each other

Co-parents and their childGoing through a divorce can be stressful. From dividing property to determining spousal support, there is a lot to consider when a couple ends their marriage. Outside of the financial aspects couples face, they will also have to make plans for their children.

Depending on the situation, parents can have a hard time deciding how they want to raise their child.

Sometimes parents believe their child is better off with just them. On the other hand, co-parenting allows the child to continue building a relationship with both parents, which is important for a child’s development. However, it can be harmful to have both parents involved in the child’s life. If a parent is contemplating whether or not they want to co-parent, they need to understand how it will impact their child’s life.

What Does Co-parent Mean?

Co-parenting is an agreement between parents that allows them to live separate lives from each other, while also letting them raise their child together. Essentially, the parents decide that no matter what has gone on between them, they don’t want their child or children’s lives to be disrupted by the split. When parents share custody, they both get to see their child work together to make decisions about the child’s welfare.

In Pennsylvania, courts recognize that parental contact and support is important for a child’s development. Therefore, they will try to grant at least some visitation rights to the non-custodial parent. However, just because the court orders partial custody or visitation, it does not mean the parent will want to be in the child’s life.

Pros and Cons of Co-parenting

When parents make important decisions about their child, they need to make sure the choice will be in the child’s best interest. Examining the pros and cons of co-parenting can help parents decide if it is the best choice for them.

Benefits of Co-Parenting

  • When parents decide to co-parent, they are putting their children’s needs first. Sadly, a lot of children believe that remaining together as a family is how you have a happy life. It’s all they’ve ever really known, which makes it hard for them to understand why their parents are splitting up. Therefore, co-parenting allows both parents to make it clear to their child that they still love them very much, and shows they can focus on the child instead of what’s broken between them.

  • Children can see their parents working together. Parents have to be a team when it comes to co-parenting their children. One parent may have moved on to a new relationship or marriage, but it doesn’t mean they are not working as a team. This is beneficial for the child to experience because they can see that even though their parent’s marriage didn’t work out, that it doesn’t mean that they work things out between the two of them.

  • Children can learn how to communicate better. When co-parenting fairly, the parents have to do a lot of communicating to know what the kids have coming up as far as appointments, sports, different classes, school projects, or school plays. The parents have to make the schedule together so that their children get to where they need to go and so that one parent is always there for the child.

  • A child can build a better relationship with a parent they weren’t close to. A lot of times, a child will gravitate to one parent over the other one. It could be that one parent was always there for their sports tryouts and games, or they helped with homework every night and made them feel special. Spending time with the parent the child isn’t close to will help that child to feel a connection to them and feel less of a division in their relationship.

  • When done well, this situation can reduce the stress of dealing with their parents not being together. So many children take on the burden of ‘it’s my fault’ when it comes to a divorce, even though it’s not their fault. When parents are equally showing up for their children and equally showing their love for the children after a breakup or divorce, then those children will feel the love and release themselves of any guilt or stress of being a reason their parents aren’t together.

Risks of Co-Parenting

  • Someone in this situation may think it will fix the broken relationship. So often children or one of the parents end up thinking the co-parenting process could bring the couple back together. This could work in some relationships, but co-parenting is supposed to be about the children and not the parents. Even if the children want the relationship fixed, some couples are better at being separated parents than they were as a couple.

  • Children can end up being stuck in the middle or as a go-between. Sadly a lot of divorced or broken up parents don’t want to talk to each other, and their children begin to receive and relay messages from each parent to the other. This is unfair to the children because they should not have to give their parents messages from the other. This is could also mean one parent is always displaying their anger or frustration about the other parent at their children.

  • Who gets the child or children for holidays? This can be hard for parents that feel they should always have their child with them for winter holidays and fun summer trips. However, it has to be fair for the child, which means spending equal amounts of time with both parents.

  • Parents not being on the same page with parenting the children. In a lot of situations, parents can differ in how they want to approach certain situations with their children. One parent may only want the children to think they are fun, and therefore, that parent may be very lax when it comes to punishment. Then when the children go back to their other parent, they view them as too harsh because they are solely the disciplinarian.

  • Parents not getting the scheduling synced perfectly. Oftentimes, people can’t be with their children when it’s their scheduled time, and they pass their child off to a babysitter or a family member. Other times, parents will say they are going to pick their child up, but never show up. This can be incredibly painful for the child. It makes them feel like their parent doesn’t love or care for them. If one parent cannot consistently be there to pick their child up, it can harm the child more than if the parent wasn’t involved at all.

How to Co-Parent

Below are a few tips on how to co-parents successfully:

  • Communicate: problems will arise, but it's important that you work through them as a team.
  • Watch what you say: no matter how angry you may be, it's important that you don't badmouth your ex.
  • Be flexible: while it's important for your child's life to be consistent, being flexible can foster goodwill with your child's other parent.

How to Decide if it is the Best Choice in Your Situation

Co-parenting can be the perfect solution in some families, but it may not work for everyone. Parents need to think about their situation and determine if the benefits outweigh the risks. Always remember to think about how this choice will affect your child. If you and your ex aren’t committed to making sure your child’s needs come first, then it won’t be beneficial for your child. However, if there is a chance that you can both make it work, you should at least try to co-parent.

Whether you decide to co-parent or seek sole custody in your divorce, the family law attorneys at O'Malley Law Office, LLC are here to protect you and your child’s best interest. Contact our custody attorneys for representation throughout Lackawanna County.

Contact us now for help with your child custody case.