Co-parenting is becoming an increasingly-popular choice for spouses with minor children. Unlike a traditional custody and visitation arrangement which requires the children to spend time with each parent independently, in a co-parenting relationship, the parents jointly interact with their children on an ongoing basis.
For obvious reasons, co-parenting is not right for everyone. If you and your spouse have never seen eye-to-eye on how to raise your children, this is not likely to change after your divorce. But, co-parenting works more often than you might think; and, when it does, it can be the best option for everyone involved.
If you and your spouse intend to co-parent after your divorce, you will need to develop a comprehensive co-parenting plan. Even if you are both fully on board with working together to raise your children after your marriage is over, generally speaking, you will still want to leave as little room for disagreement as possible. With a co-parenting plan, you and your spouse can make many decisions now; and, for those issues that will need to be addressed if and when they arise, you can include provisions for making future decisions in your children’s best interests.
Here are some examples of the types of issues parents will typically want to address when preparing to co-parent after their divorce:
Even if the parenting time component of your plan calls for your children to spend roughly equal time at both parents’ homes, it may still be good to designate one home as your children’s “home base.” This can give your children a sense of permanency, and it can also serve the practical purpose of letting everyone know where they can find your kids’ stuff.
Good communication is critical to a successful co-parenting arrangement. Spouses intending to co-parent should agree on the best methods of communication, and it may also be helpful to establish ground rules for communicating both in the presence of and away from your children.
Although your children’s schedules will almost certainly change over time, having a routine is important. This is often particularly true during the adjustment period following a divorce. Who will take your children to school? Who will pick them up? Who will drive your children if both parents are attending a game, match or recital? Getting down to this level of detail can help you avoid confusion and uncomfortable disagreements as you transition into co-parenting.
Staying on the subject of routine, divorced spouses who are co-parenting will often find it beneficial to enforce the same rules and restrictions at their respective homes. When is bed time or curfew? How late can your children play video games or stay online? Are they allowed to have phones, laptops and tablets in their rooms? When can friends visit, and when does the homework need to get done first? Not only can consistency help both parents when it comes to enforcement, but it can also help avoid the issue of children choosing a side or playing one parent off of the other.
Which parent will provide health insurance for your children? Who will pay coinsurance and deductibles? Will both parents attend doctors’ visits (or alternate visits)? What if one parent is not happy with the quality of care provided? With regard to routine visits to the doctor and dentist, answering these types of questions now can help prevent disagreements down the line.
Regarding emergency medical care, how will you and your former spouse communicate in the event of an emergency? Will both of you have the right to be present and make decisions? What if one of you is away traveling on business? Once again, the more potential issues you can foresee now, the less actual issues you are likely to face as you co-parent your children.
While child support covers routine education-related expenses, you and your former spouse may find that you need to cover costs that fall outside of the realm of child support. Who will pay if your child needs tutoring or would benefit from enrolling in a private school? Who will cover the costs of extracurricular activities, youth sports and related travel? What factors will you consider when deciding whether or not to enroll a child in a particular activity? Who will chauffeur, and who will attend games or other events?
If you do not have pets already, your children may want to adopt pets in the future. Here too, you and your co-parent need to be prepared to make joint decisions. Will you allow pets? If so, how many and what type(s)? Will your children’s pets travel with them, or will pets live primarily at one parent’s home?
Privacy is another issue with regard to which it is generally best for both parents to enforce consistent rules. In today’s world, parents must carefully balance their children’s privacy rights with the risks of unsupervised online activity.
Will you and your former spouse attend any local outings together? If so, what rules and guidelines will you have in place (if any) to ensure that the day goes as smoothly as possible? What conditions and restrictions will you place on each parent’s ability to take vacations with your children?
Finally, how will you address the introduction of new partners and spouses? This is often a sensitive issue for everyone involved. While some co-parents are able to integrate new family members seamlessly, others may struggle to adapt to having stepparents involved in their children’s activities.
If you are preparing for a divorce and have questions about co-parenting, we encourage you to contact us for a free initial consultation. To discuss your options with Carmel divorce attorney Joshua R. Hains in confidence, please call (317) 688-1305 or request an appointment online today.