Co-parenting Do’s and Don’ts

What exactly is co parenting? How do you successfully co-parent? Is co parenting a relationship? What co parenting should not do? Co- parenting plan, Co parenting agreements, Inappropriate co parenting, co-parenting worksheets, Co parenting with no communication, Co parenting while in a relationship, Co parenting rules and dating.


Like it or not, if you have children, your relationship with your ex-spouse will continue even after the divorce, requiring regular interaction and communication regarding the children.  For some people, the thought of co-parenting with their ex-spouse may seem overwhelming.  While you need to accept that challenges will likely arise, there are some tips to help divorced parents co-parent their children more effectively.

Create a Detailed Parenting Plan Perfect for You.

What exactly is co parenting? Co parenting agreements, Co-parenting worksheets and Co-parenting plans.

What exactly is co parenting? Co parenting agreements, Co-parenting worksheets and Co-parenting plans.

Upon separation, the first and most important thing that you and your ex-spouse should do is agree to a parenting plan and visitation schedule that works for your family.  The written parenting plan should set out the parenting and visitation schedule, including where the children will live during the week and weekends and which parent will be responsible for dropping off and picking them up from school and other activities on certain days.  Be sure to make the children aware of the parenting plan schedule and post it in a prominent place in both parental homes.

Think logistics.  Driving to school and practices.  Exchanges.  Special education needs and opportunities.  Summer camps.  Details matter.  Your experienced family law attorney should be able to give you options to consider.  The best parenting plans are tailored to your specific lifestyle, values, and needs.  Never settle for what a form, web site, or video says you need.  Keep in mind, perfection with parenting never exists.  Over time, you will learn what works best for you and your children.  Sometimes, good enough has to be good enough.  The more thought and effort you put in now will pay off later.

A parenting plan and visitation schedule is very important for maintaining stability and continuity in your children’s lives, as well as reducing the likelihood of problems stemming from confusion about parental responsibilities.   You can nip potential conflicts in the bud by openly communicating with the other parent about any changes in the parenting plan or visitation schedule.

However, try not to become too rigidly attached to the plan, since the children’s circumstances will change as they get older, requiring both parents to be flexible enough to make parenting plan adjustments.  Devising a detailed but flexible parenting plan where each parent equally participates in the children’s extracurricular activities, helps with schoolwork, etc. will ultimately make life easier for the kids.

Be Cooperative with the Other Parent

Tennessee Child Custody Factors

How do you successfully co-parent?

How do you successfully co-parent?

While it may be easier said than done, you should do your best to be as courteous and cooperative as possible when communicating with your ex-spouse about the children.  Treat your ex-spouse as you would a business acquaintance by being professional and responsible in your interactions.  If you are going to miss a visit with your children or are going to be late picking up or dropping off your child for visitation, notify the other parent in advance.

Take responsibility for your feelings and behavior and don’t blame the other parent for all of your children’s problems.  If you have resentment towards your ex-spouse and find that you just cannot let it go, or if you have conflicts with your ex-spouse regarding the children that you cannot seem to resolve, you may want to consider getting some kind of professional assistance such as individual counseling or mediation.

Your ability and willingness to cooperate with your ex-spouse for the sake of the children is the single strongest predictor of a successful co-parenting relationship.  Regardless of your feelings towards your ex-spouse, it’s always important to remember that the best interests of your children are more important than your personal resentments and conflicts. For more discussion, see Mindful Co-parenting Guide: Helping Children Cope with Divorce.

Promote Healthy Family Relationships

Is co parenting a relationship? Co parenting with no communication.

Children need healthy relationships with both parents, so do your best to foster open communication among all family members.  Give your child permission to love their other parent by facilitating and supporting that relationship.

It is not unusual for children to complain about or refuse visitation with their other parent for a variety of reasons.  While you should listen and try to empathize with your child, children should also be encouraged to resolve relationship problems themselves by openly communicating their grievances to their parent, and then attempting to find a solution or compromise.

Be careful not to put the children in the middle of conflicts between you and your ex-spouse, which will only make your children feel that they are expected to take sides.  If you have an issue with your ex-spouse, politely communicate directly with him/her and don’t use your children to relay messages and don’t interrogate your children for information about your ex.

You should especially refrain from making derogatory remarks about your ex-spouse in front of the children.  Taking a respectful attitude towards your ex is one of the most influential things you can do to support a healthy relationship between your children and their other parent.

Focus on Parenting Values, Needs, and Priorities

Parental Alienation: Changing Legal and Physical Custody

What co parenting should not do?

What co parenting should not do?

Raising children is not always easy, but after a divorce, parenting can become even more difficult.  Guilt about the divorce and limited time with the children can motivate some parents to overcompensate or compete with their children’s other parent.

In spite of whatever emotions you may have resulting from your divorce, if you have children, you need to remain focused on being a good parent to them.  Your children need you to be their parent, not their ‘friend’, and they need parental discipline that is fair and consistent.  Don’t feel that you need to fill all the time you spend with your kids with special or fun activities.  Time spent at home with you engaged in ordinary ‘real life’ activities is more important.  Rules, chores and limits create much needed security in the lives of your children.

Whether or not you have primary residential custody of the children, make sure your home is child oriented and safe with adequate room and privacy for your kids. You should also become familiar with your child’s medical history, doctors names and health insurance information in case of emergencies.

Put the effort into spending time alone with each of your children to let them know they are special, and to learn about what is going on in their lives.  Make the most of the limited time you spend with your kids by making a special effort to get involved in your children’s lives by showing an interest in their school activities, extracurricular activities, sports, clubs, friends, and hobbies.  If your children’s school has your children’s grades, activities and school events calendar online, make sure you know the login and password.  Check it regularly for notices.  Do your best to keep up with what’s going on, show up to events, and be polite to your children’s other parent.

It also may be helpful to continue to educate yourself on divorce, childhood development and parenting to learn how to deal with the unique challenges that divorced parents face.  Remember that visitation or parenting time is supposed to be for the benefit of the children, not the parents.

Find Effective Coping Strategies

Dealing with Inappropriate co parenting, Co parenting while in a relationship, Co parenting rules and dating

Dealing with Inappropriate co parenting, Co parenting while in a relationship and Co parenting rules and dating.

You know the emotional toll your divorce has taken on you, so you can assume that your children have also been emotionally affected, even though some children may be good at hiding it.  Parents and children will need to learn healthy strategies to cope with the emotional aftermath of divorce.

You should accept the fact that your children will be upset about the divorce, so they should be encouraged and allowed to talk openly about their feelings.  Be empathetic to your children’s feelings, but try not to get overly emotional when they express their distress about the divorce and how it has affected them.  Be on the lookout for warning signs of depression or other psychological problems in your children such as social withdrawal, poor academic performance or increased aggression which indicates a need for counseling.

While you should do your best to not put down your ex-spouse, if there were serious problems in the marriage such as addiction or domestic violence, there may be times when you will need to provide your children with a realistic view of their other parent.  Be honest and realistic with your children about the divorce, but don’t discuss adult issues such as finances or divorce litigation with the children.

All family members are likely to feel vulnerable and stressed after a divorce, making emotional support from other people even more essential.  Don’t feel like you have to be ‘strong’ and bear the burden of your emotions privately.  Doing so will only increase your stress and likely worsen your problems.

However, don’t burden your children by inappropriately turning them into your confidants.  Instead, put the effort into finding a good support system for yourself and your kids, such as support groups for divorced parents and their children.   You also may want to consider counseling for your children, yourself or the whole family.

From an Emotional Perspective, Don’t Rush Things but Find Your Best Routine

Accept the fact that it is going to take time for both your children and yourself to readjust to life after a divorce, even under the best of circumstances.  Sudden change is very difficult for children to cope with, and too much change in a short period of time can be overwhelming, so keep that in mind when making decisions that will affect the kids.  The quicker you find the best routine for your children, the better.  That becomes the status quo.  Discuss the importance of timely establishing a healthy and productive parenting schedule with your experienced family lawyer.

Try to avoid relocating for a year after the divorce.  Parental dating or remarriage is another source of stress for children, so take your time to gradually introduce new relationships to your children.  If you can, see if you can reach an agreement with your ex on how to handle new relationships and set some ground rules both parents can live with.  If you are going to get remarried, tell the children well in advance, since new step-relatives will definitely impact their lives.

Successful co-parenting after a divorce will not likely happen automatically.  Both parents must make their best attempt to cooperate with one another and put the best interests and well being of their children ahead of themselves.  However, divorced parents can take heart in knowing that they are not alone in their struggles, and it is possible to raise healthy, happy, and productive children with their ex-spouse even after a painful divorce.


To learn more, see Child Custody Laws in Tennessee.

See also Tennessee Parenting Plans and Child Support Worksheets: Building a Constructive Future for Your Family featuring examples of parenting plans and child support worksheets from real cases available on


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