Effective Co-parenting & A Checklist To Make It Work

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What Is Co-Parenting And How Does It Work?

Shared parenting or “co-parenting” is an arrangement wherein two parents work as a team for child-rearing even if they’re no longer together.

The child custody battles are difficult and painful in many relationship conflicts, but agreeing to co-parent can help all the family members cope with the situation.

The primary goal of co-parenting is to help your kids deal with difficult changes because of the new arrangement.

Studies show that children living with just one parent (sole child custody) may be more likely to develop emotional, behavioral, and mental health problems than those in intact or co-parenting families. (1)(2)

So, it’s best to provide your children with all the love and support from both parents to maintain a family structure even from separate households.

Co-parenting Vs. Sole Child Custody

Sole Custody

  • One parent has exclusive physical and legal child custody
  • Custodial parent – more control over major parenting decisions (e.g., education choices)
  • Other parent – can have visitation rights but needs to ask the custodial parent or court for permission over major matters (e.g., an overseas trip with their child)

Co-parenting Arrangements

  • Two parents have joint decision-making rights in their child’s life
  • Kids get to spend equal time with each parent
  • Court might determine the days of the week or how many days a month the children spend together with each parent

What Are The Three Types & Examples Of Co-Parenting?

The three types of co-parenting are the following:

  • Separated parents or divorced – for divorced, annulled, or legally separated parents; it’s also a term used for a separated couple who never lived together
  • Elective co-parenting – it’s for parents who don’t want to enter a conventional relationship but still want to have a child or children together
  • Co-parenting by more than two adults – such as grandparents or a group of LGBTQ+ friends sharing custody of one or more kids.

Pros & Cons: Importance Of Co-parenting & Effective Communication

Pros: Benefits For Your Children

  • Feeling secured
  • Can maintain a healthy relationship
  • Mentally and emotionally healthier
  • Life pattern and healthy example to follow
  • Consistency
  • Developing problem-solving skills


  • The new parenting arrangement can confuse your children, especially young ones.
  • Both parents might want to spend more time with their children.
  • Some parents aren’t ready to take care of their children on their own, even for just a few days at a time.
  • One parent might not want to see their child. This can be a problem, especially when the kids are too young to care for themselves when staying with this parent.
  • Practical issues need to be addressed, especially if the parents live far away from each other or one doesn’t have a safe place to raise the kids.

Successful Co-parenting: How To Make It Work

Prioritize Your Children’s Needs

Always put your child’s well-being first, no matter how much it hurts to face your ex.

Remember that even if your marriage or relationship didn’t work, your kids still need two parents.

Change Mindset: Think Of Parenting As A Job

It can be difficult to talk to your ex, especially right after the breakup. So, think of parenting as a job with a coworker you don’t like. You can still get the job done right even if you don’t like your coworkers.

Stick To Your Plan & Parenting Schedule

Create a parenting schedule, including drop-off times, activities, and other important matters. It’s also important for you both to agree on this schedule and other terms of your co-parenting relationship.

You can use the checklist we prepared below to create your parenting plan. It might be better to prepare it together or have a lawyer help you out.

This can be a formal legal document or an informal plan, but the two parents should agree to follow it.

Parenting Plan Checklist

  • Parent time and schedule with the child
  • Policy for re-arranging parenting time
  • Child care
  • Consistency between households
  • Communicating with each other
  • Information to be exchanged between parents
  • Involvement with other adults
  • Supporting the other parent
  • Controlling conflict
  • Transportation
  • Medical decisions
  • Medical costs/insurance
  • Kids’ medical and mental health treatment
  • Telephone calls
  • Religious upbringing
  • Moving to a new home (especially if it’s geographically far)
  • Education choices (e.g., school choice, summer camp, tutorials, or classes for gifted children)
  • Sports/clubs/extracurricular activities
  • Community activities
  • College savings
  • Finances
  • Items to have in both households
  • Items to be shared across households
  • Grandparent visits
  • Child support
  • Holidays and birthdays
  • Vacations
  • Traveling to other countries (who holds the child’s passport)
  • Pets
  • Privacy (e.g., a private phone line)
  • Designating a “home base”
  • Back-up arrangements for emergencies or other situations
  • Residential or physical custody*

*State and federal statutes require a designation of custody. One parent is named the child’s custodian, but that shouldn’t affect your rights and responsibilities. Often, the parent with whom the kid lives most of the time is picked as the custodian.

If you can’t sort out the co-parenting plan together, seek help from a family dispute resolution practitioner or relationship counselor.

Dealing With Special Celebrations & Activities When You’re Co-Parenting

Plan if there are celebrations and activities, so there won’t be any schedule conflict.

Also, you can agree on doing one party together. But if that doesn’t work out, you can also throw different parties.

However, it might be good to ask your child how they feel about having one or separate parties for their special event.

Set Aside Your Own Emotions & Feelings

Don’t let your own emotions stop you from communicating with your ex. If you need to talk, don’t waste your time opening up old arguments. It will just add to your stress.

Talk to your ex like it’s business. Go directly to the point.

Don’t Put Kids In The Middle

  • Don’t use kids as messengers.
  • Don’t make kids ask for money or other support from the other parent.
  • Don’t manipulate your kids or control their allegiance.

Don’t Badmouth Your Co-Parent

It’s human to feel pain and anger towards your ex, but remember that they’re your child’s other parent. Your kid also needs to love and respect them as a parent.

So, keep your issues and feelings to yourself.

Empathy First: Don’t Let Feelings Dictate Your Behavior

  • Focus on your kids and their feelings. They can feel abandoned and blame themselves for the breakup.
  • Don’t tell your kids you aren’t receiving child support. This will only increase their feeling of abandonment.
  • Vent somewhere else or get help from other adults or professionals. Let your kids be kids.

Remember: What you say to your kids about the family split-up can impact their memories and future. It’s also an emotional moment for your child, not just for you.

Co-parent As A Team

Agree to co-parent as a team and make decisions together, especially for major matters. It’s important for both of you to understand this arrangement in your co-parenting relationship.

Talk To Your Kids Together

Be honest about what’s happening, such as the breakup and how you’re now going to live in different homes. But keep certain details to yourself, especially issues about cheating.

Assure the kids they didn’t cause the split. They’ll need to hear this over and over again.

Let your kids know you both love them, but things just didn’t work out.

Understand that your kids might need counseling from a professional to help them deal with this issue.

Make Important Decisions Together

  • Financial issues
  • Education – Try your best to keep your kids in the same neighborhood and school to be around their friends.
  • Medical needs

Set Up Rules

Set up a list of rules for kids and parents to be followed at both houses.

The kid rules can include:

  • Curfew
  • Chores
  • Screen time
  • Reward systems

Parent rules can include:

  • What clothes go back and forth
  • Who washes the kids’ clothes
  • Respecting the other parent
  • No fighting in front of the kids

Be Consistent

  • Discipline
  • Create a predetermined schedule (routine) and stick to it

Let Your Child Pick A Home Base

Support your kids’ need to have a “home base” if they want one. Even if they spend equal time with both parents, some kids need to feel that they have a “home base.”

Don’t feel bad if your child doesn’t pick your home.

Resolve Disagreements & Make An Effort To Be Positive

  • Keep it civil: Agree or compromise
  • Respect
  • Communicate
  • Don’t sweat the small stuff
  • Learn to be flexible
  • Get along
  • Attend events without fighting or tension
  • Recognize each parent’s purpose
  • Deal with conflict

Set Clear Boundaries & Expectations, But Don’t Control Each Other

  • Set clear dating or relationship boundaries
  • Establish the rule that you both can’t control who the other person dates or whether they choose to introduce your kids to them

Co-parenting Communication & Staying Civil

Methods: How Do You Communicate With A Co-Parent?

  • Listen
  • Make requests, not demands
  • Neutral or business-like tone
  • Write an email, send letters, or use text messaging if a face-to-face talk is difficult
  • Keep conversations focused on the kids
  • Show restraint
  • Schedule your talk time
  • Regular communication

Talking & Improving Communication

  • Apologize
  • Ask for their opinion.
  • Double-check what kids say – Sometimes, kids in this situation say things that may not be true about the other parent or what happens in that home. Open communication with your ex will help you determine whether these things are true or not.

Be Flexible & Accept Other Parenting Styles

Accept that you aren’t your child’s only parent and that the other one might have other parenting styles.

As long as they aren’t hurting your child (physically, mentally, or emotionally), you just have to accept their way. But make sure to discuss with them if you’re worried about something they’re doing.

Should Co-Parents Spend Time Together?

You don’t have to hang out and have fun together, but you have to regularly talk about your children, especially when you need to make important decisions.

Incorporate these into your co-parenting schedule.

Can Co-Parents Live Together?

Some former couples decide to live together even if they’re no longer romantically involved. It can also be good for the kids if that works for you because they don’t have to split their time between the houses.

However, this can be tricky, especially if you eventually enter into a new relationship. Make sure to weigh your options and talk this through with your ex.

Should Co-Parents Talk Every Day?

It depends on your situation, but communication is important in a co-parenting relationship to coordinate your schedules and discuss your kids’ needs.

You don’t have to talk every day, but you should agree to inform each other about important concerns.

Can You Vacation Together?

Many divorced parents are able to vacation together. It’s important to do this only when you’re sure that you’ve both moved on and agree to enjoy the trip instead of arguing.

Before the trip, lay down the rules, especially about finances and sleeping arrangements.

Transitions & Visitations

Understand The Legalities

  • Know your custody, access, and visitation rights or schedules.
  • Ask for a lawyer’s assistance for access (joint custody) or visitation rights. It’s usually handled by the Association Of Family And Conciliation Courts.
  • Safety first – Seek help if necessary, especially if your ex is hurting your child or doing unsafe parenting (e.g., leaving them alone or bringing them to dangerous places)
  • Develop a visitation schedule that allows your kids to spend as much time as possible with each parent.
  • Stick to the agreed-upon visitation schedule.
  • Don’t change the visitation schedule without consultation with the other parent.
  • Plan your kids’ schedules into the visitation schedule to continue to do all the activities they enjoy.
  • As your kids grow and situations change (e.g., remarrying and moving into a new house), you’ll need to re-visit the rules and make changes or decisions together.

IMPORTANT: If you’re ordered to pay child support, paying sends a strong message to your kids that you’re committed to caring for them.

What To Do When Your Child Leaves

  • Let them know their schedule.
  • Help them anticipate in advance, such as telling them the day before that you’re packing up so you can bring them to their other parent’s house the following day.
  • Assure them it’s alright to spend time with their other parent. Your kids need to know it’s okay to love and see both parents because they might try to protect your feelings.
  • Pack in advance or have essentials such as toothbrushes, underwear, and pajamas in both homes.
  • You can agree to drop off instead of pick up.

What To Do When Your Child Arrives

  • Establish a routine.
  • Give your child space if they don’t want to talk.
  • Keep things low-key.
  • Don’t ask about what happened unless they’re willing to open up.
  • Don’t jump to conclusions or make assumptions. If your child seems moody after visiting your ex, don’t assume the visit was bad or the other parent was badmouthing you. If your child mentions problems or things that concern you, speak with the other parent to verify.

Tips For Dealing With Visitation Refusal

Don’t get angry, feel insulted, or panic if your kids cry and ask for the other parent when they’re with you. It’s definitely not good to be furious at them for feeling that way.

They don’t hate you. Sometimes, kids just want to make sure their two parents are still there, especially young children.

If they refuse to stay with you or be with the other parent, you can try these:

  • Talk to your child and find the cause.
  • Prioritize your kid’s feelings and go with the flow.
  • Talk to your ex so you can find a middle ground.

Be Prepared For Some Negative Feelings

Many kids might feel angry, confused, or rebellious against their parents after a breakup. If they don’t listen to you, ask someone they trust to talk to them.

Self-care Is Important

Find Forgiveness

Hating your ex doesn’t change the fact that they’re your child’s other parent. It’s difficult but finding forgiveness helps you find closure and make you feel better.

Instead of focusing on hate, do a gratitude check to stay positive.

Learn To Cope

Practice a quick stress-relief method, especially if talking to your ex makes you feel angry at all times.

Be Smart About New Partners

Although your well-being matters, it’s important to consider your kids when finding or accepting new partners. We can’t dictate your heart but try to determine whether your new partner is willing to accept and love your kids.

Your new partner shouldn’t interfere with your co-parenting relationship.

IMPORTANT: Don’t send your new spouse, boyfriend, or girlfriend to pick the kids up or leave them in charge of your kids for long periods. This can lead to tension with your ex, who might use this information in your new relationship to seek sole child custody.

Allow Your Ex To Learn The Ropes

If you’ve been taking care of your kids, your ex might now be struggling to deal with them.

Don’t step in and do things for them. Let them learn the ropes and bond with your kids on their own.

Learning How To Deal With Co-parenting

Therapy Sessions

Going through relationship problems can lead to mental health concerns. Studies show that these are among the leading causes of postpartum depression, anxiety, and rage.

Don’t be afraid to seek help from a mental health professional.

Benefits of Co-Parenting Classes

  • Helps you create a co-parenting plan
  • Helps with character building
  • Teaches child-rearing methods while dealing with emotional and personal issues

Using Co-parenting Apps

Some people find co-parenting apps useful. Examples can include:

  • OurFamilyWizard
  • 2Houses
  • WeParent
  • Coparently
  • Parentship
  • Custody Connection

What’s Poor Co-Parenting? Things You Shouldn’t Do

Poor co-parenting can include:

  • Inflexibility
  • Making major decisions without consultation
  • Shutting your ex out of your child’s life
  • Putting kids in the middle
  • Making your kids your sounding board
  • Badmouthing the other parent
  • Using profanities and derogatory names
  • Sabotaging your child’s relationship with their other parent (such as intruding in their schedule, making frequent calls to check on your child, or “spying” on their activities)
  • Failing to drop off your child on time
  • Serious parenting conflicts, especially fighting in front of the kids
  • Withholding important information

Conflict With The Other Parent

Don’t let personal and relationship issues interfere with co-parenting. Try to be civil even if you hate each other, and try not to fight, especially in front of the kids.

Co-parenting With A Narcissist


  • Changing expectations and ideas
  • Broken promises
  • Acting like their involvement is a choice, but the other parent’s is mandatory
  • Gaslighting
  • Badmouthing the other parent to the child
  • Reducing the child’s trust in the other parent
  • Competing with the other parent for the child’s love and attention using extravagant gifts or promises
  • Putting the child between the parents

Tips To Make It Work

  • Focus on your child’s best interests.
  • Focus on being consistent.
  • Set clear boundaries.
  • Document everything.
  • Slow your reaction.
  • Try to balance out the narcissist’s parenting style.
  • Seek expert assistance.

Concern: Is Narcissism Genetic?

Its causes are unknown, but genetics might cause narcissistic personality disorder. (3)

If Things Don’t Work Out

Talk to your ex about it. But if the situation doesn’t change or becomes abusive and affects your child, you can ask for help from Child Protective Services and seek sole custody.

Can I Refuse To Co-Parent?

Yes, but your refusal can lead to a lengthy custody battle in court.

When Should You Not Co-Parent?

  • Domestic violence
  • Child abuse
  • Anything that affects your child’s well-being (such as your ex being jobless and homeless)

How Co-parenting Might Affect Children At Different Ages

Feelings your children may have:

  • Anger
  • Fear of abandonment
  • Guilt
  • Loneliness
  • Sadness

They might do the following:

  • Angry outbursts
  • Poor school performance
  • Side with one parent
  • Try to make their parents get back together

Kids can also react differently according to their age:

Zero to One Year

How They Feel:

  • Babies don’t understand what’s happening, but they’re beginning to form attachments.

Signs Of Distress:

  • Excessive crying
  • Feeding problems
  • Sleeping problems

What You Can Do:

  • Let them spend enough time with both parents so they can form attachments with both.

One to Three Years

How They Feel:

  • Kids this age can be sensitive to separation.
  • They need consistency and might be confused about their parent’s separation.

Signs of distress:

  • Mood changes
  • Nightmares
  • Bedwetting

What you can do:

  • Be consistent and follow your co-parenting plan.

Three to Five Years

How They Feel:

  • They might feel guilty because they think they’re responsible for their parent’s split.

Signs Of Distress:

  • Sleeping problems
  • Bedwetting or toileting problems

What You Can Do:

  • Assure them they’re not the reason for the split.

Five to Ten Years

How They Feel:

  • They’re forming relationships outside the family but might show intense anger or try to reunite their parents.

Signs Of Distress:

  • Sleep problems
  • Poor school performance
  • Expressions of anger

What You Can Do:

  • Be consistent.
  • Support their friendships and extracurricular activities.

Ten to Twelve Years

How They Feel:

  • They might take one parent’s side.

Signs Of Distress:

  • Isolation or depression
  • Loss of interest in friends
  • Becoming a perfectionist

What You Can Do:

  • Encourage your child to love both parents.
  • Support them in school and extracurricular activities.

Thirteen to Fifteen Years

How They Feel:

  • They can be rebellious and want to spend more time with friends.

Signs Of Distress:

  • Alcohol and drug use
  • Problems in school or with peers
  • Excessive isolation, anger, or depression

What You Can Do:

  • Be firm but fair.
  • Ask if they want to be included in creating the co-parenting plan.

Sixteen to Eighteen Years

How They Feel:

  • They’re learning to be independent but can also feel rebellious.

Signs Of Distress:

  • Alcohol and drug use
  • Sexual acting out
  • Poor school performance

What You Can Do:

  • Try to include them in creating the co-parenting plan.
  • Talk to them.

Helping Your Child Cope

Talk To Your Child

  • Spend quality time with your child.
  • Always assure them they aren’t the reason for the split.
  • Listen to their thoughts but don’t give them false hopes.

Help Your Children Connect With The Other Parent

  • Your child needs to feel that they don’t have to choose sides.

Parallel Parenting

It happens when the separated parents want to be active in their children’s lives but limit interaction with each other.

You’ll need a more detailed parenting plan, with clear instructions, rules, and boundaries, especially about finances and who makes major decisions.

Collaborative Divorce & Co-Parenting

It’s the divorce process wherein the couple agrees to legally end their marriage without litigation.

Ask Professional Help From A Lawyer

You’ll still need to work with your lawyers, especially on:

  • Dividing assets
  • Child support
  • Co-parenting

Benefits Of Collaborative Divorce

  • Avoid going to court
  • Save time and money on litigation
  • Easier to maintain civilized relationships
  • Lessen the divorce impact, especially on children





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