co-parenting after divorce

Guide to Successful Co-Parenting After Divorce

Raising a child is a huge, decades-long project. It’s intense, time-consuming, and expensive. Two people co-parenting separately requires a great deal of collaboration. But how do you collaborate with someone with whom you have a history—a not-so-happy history, in some cases?

In this article, we explore what co-parenting is, how to create a co-parenting plan, and resources you can use to succeed at co-parenting even if you don’t love (or, sometimes, like) your parenting partner.

What is co-parenting?

In a co-parenting situation, two parties who are not romantically involved share in the upbringing of a child. The term most often applies to parents who are separated or divorced. (Co-parenting should not be confused with parallel parenting, which is a much more “distanced” approach to raising a child.)

In co-parenting, separated or divorced parents join forces to make sure the child’s needs are met and their best interests are kept at the forefront. As a co-parent, you can expect to establish co-parenting rules with your ex and make many large and small decisions together, from where the child will attend school to which video games they’re allowed to play.

How to create a co-parenting plan

A primary goal of co-parenting is to provide the child with stability and security while preserving the integrity of their relationships with both parents. 

To co-parent successfully, both parents must be on the same page when it comes to myriad issues. In a sense, this “page” where your minds meet could be thought of as your co-parenting plan. You could also think of it as a highly detailed collection of agreed-upon rules for how you will parent the child. You can create your own rules using our co-parenting plan worksheet.

It’s a good idea to capture your co-parenting plan in writing. This may include establishing co-parenting rules and setting co-parenting boundaries that help both of you feel comfortable. 

But before you do that, it helps to understand the basic human needs typically addressed in a co-parenting plan. 

A child’s basic physical and emotional needs

Psychologist Abraham Maslow conceptualized human needs as a pyramid. The base of the pyramid is the foundation of a person’s well-being. It represents the most basic physical needs: shelter, food and water, healthcare, security, and safety.

Once these foundational needs are met, Maslow theorized that a human’s emotional needs can be addressed: the need for love, intimacy, friendship, and self-esteem.

As you craft your co-parenting plan, keep your child’s basic needs (and how you and your ex will meet them) at the forefront of your mind.

Crafting your plan 

Agreeing with your ex on a huge set of parenting rules may sound like a daunting task, but fortunately, you share something in common: your love for your child.

Both of you are likely to agree with Maslow that your child’s physical and emotional needs are paramount when it comes to custody and living arrangements.

Here are some questions to ask (and answer) when crafting your co-parenting plan:
Shelter
  • Where will your child spend each day and night of the week? How will you establish this schedule with your co-parent and communicate it to the child? 
  • How will the child be transported from one location to the other? 
  • In what ways may this schedule impact each parent’s work schedule? 
Food and water
  • With whom will the child eat each meal? Who will pay for the food served at each meal? If the child needs lunch money for school, who will provide that? 
  • Are there certain dietary issues both parents should be aware of (food allergies, religious considerations, etc.)?
Healthcare
  • Who is the child’s physician? Who will make doctor’s appointments? Who will accompany the child to their appointments?
  • What type of health insurance plan will cover the child, and who will pay for that?
  • Where will the child’s medical records be stored?
Security and safety
  • What can each of you do to keep the child’s schedule as consistent as possible? For example, will bedtimes and mealtimes be the same at each house? 
  • Where will the child go after school each day (babysitter, aftercare, or someone’s home)? 
  • Will the child have a phone, and if so, which parent will pay the phone bill? 
Friendship
  • What is your agreed-upon policy for your child’s social life? Which friends can come over for playdates? Can they spend the night at a friend’s house on the weekend? 
  • Which extracurricular activities will your child participate in? Who will transport the child to and from those activities? Who will pay the fees for these activities?
Self-esteem
  • What steps can each of you take to encourage your child’s personal growth (sports teams, music lessons, dance class, school club memberships, etc.)? 
  • What are your shared expectations for homework and grades, and how will you communicate and enforce these expectations? 
  • How can you keep rules and discipline as consistent as possible between your child’s two homes? 
Love
  • How will you model your post-divorce relationship to your child?
  • Through the turmoil of divorce, how will the two of you communicate to your child that they remain your number-one priority?

Resources for successful co-parenting

Although you and your ex are no longer romantic partners, you are still parenting partners. And the fact is, the quality of your co-parenting relationship will impact your child’s well-being and quality of life.

That may feel like a heavy load on your shoulders, but know this: You are not the only person to feel stressed or apprehensive about co-parenting. In fact, a wealth of resources exist to help you.

Co-parenting counseling and co-parenting therapy are both options, as are co-parenting classes. Those endeavors can help with common co-parenting problems, but they take a little planning.

You can also do something right now to start your co-parenting journey on sure footing: Check out our curated list of helpful co-parenting websites, apps, and other resources.

Co-parenting apps

Fayr: Fayr founder Michael Daniels created his easy-to-use record-keeping app because he wanted to keep things, well, fair in his own co-parenting relationship. With Fayr, you eliminate many of the “he said, she said” arguments that distress co-parenting relationships. The app stands out for its ability to track geographical check-ins, thus removing doubt about whether parents were “where they said they were.” It also helps co-parents track receipts, daily logs, and other paperwork.

Custody Junction: The beauty of our digital age is that much of your communication with your ex doesn’t have to be face-to-face. Don’t want to hash out scheduling or financial issues in person? Check out Custody Junction, an app for your phone to help you track your child’s schedule, expenses, support payments. It’s free for the first 30 days, and if you like it, the yearly cost (under $50) is a modest one. 

Supportpay.com: If you want an app that focuses solely on the financial side of things, we suggest taking a look at supportpay.com. Use this app to upload financial documents, broach the subject of payment disputes, and figure out who owes what money. 

Co-parenting templates

Custody sharing: Want to see what a custody schedule looks like in black and white? This article by Dr. Robert Emery provides examples for co-parenting kids of all ages, from birth to 18 years old. 

Consistency plan: Consistency is key to your child’s well-being, but consistency can be hard to maintain when you share custody of a child. We like this cooperation and consistent parenting plan template from Boystown.org. The Boys Town organization provides a wealth of child and family services to people in need and has done so for over 100 years.

Comprehensive co-parenting worksheet: Hello Divorce offers a free downloadable co-parenting worksheet that covers all the bases, from timeshare ratios to holiday schedules to child tax exemptions.

Co-parenting books

Sometimes, you need a little more in-depth information. Maybe you’re co-parenting with a narcissist or problematic ex. Perhaps your spouse has failed to follow your co-parenting plan. Or maybe you just want an extended read about this new life venture—a friendly narrative to remind you that you got this.

Check out this Hello Divorce article for a list of some of our favorite books about co-parenting and divorce.

Tips from a co-parenting veteran

For even more inspiration, check out this quick read by Hello Divorce contributor Emma Johnson. Emma shares 26 hard-won tips on how to win at co-parenting, even when the relationship with your ex is contentious.

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