Ways to Make Co-Parenting and Shared Joint Custody Work

There are few relationships more complex than those between co-parents. You divorced this person for a reason, yet they are still part of your life because of the child or children you share. You ended your partnership but are still partners in raising your children.

How well you navigate co-parenting and joint custody will have a massive impact on your children’s lives and how well they adapt to the change in their family circumstances. You should strive to be an outstanding co-parent, not for the sake of your ex, but for the sake of the children you parent together. Establishing a healthy co-parenting relationship is rarely easy, but you can take steps to guide the situation to a healthy place. Here are some things you can try to make your co-parenting and joint custody situation work:

Brief and Informative

Unless you have a friendly relationship with your ex, keep communication brief, informative, and focused.

If you need to relay a change in a drop-off location, stick with only that information. Say what needs to be said, and end it there. The more you let the conversation wander, the more likely it is to end up in dangerous territory. Someone will misunderstand something and take offense. Or a casual comment will open the door to discussing painful, unresolved issues from your relationship. If you aren’t talking about your child and a specific piece of information, consider whether you should be talking at all.

Coworkers in Raising Your Child

Treat your ex like a colleague. Speak to them in a neutral, professional manner and leave it at that. Your work together is raising your child in a healthy, stable environment. You don’t need to be friends. You shouldn’t try to solve or address the issues that lead to the divorce. That was part of your romantic relationship, which is over. Now, your relationship is that of coworkers tasked with caring for your shared child.

In most cases, we are professional and polite with coworkers. We don’t miss appointments or show up hours late and leave them waiting. We don’t scream or call names. Those things would probably get you fired from most jobs. While you can’t be fired from being a co-parent, keeping those same behavior expectations in mind can prevent tension, fights, and attempts at tit-for-tat revenge.

Set Up a Specific Plan

The more specific your co-parenting plan, the less there is room for misunderstandings. Your divorce attorney can work with you to ensure your custody agreement addresses many of the necessary details. When you aren’t clear and specific, you are more likely to have problems.

Imagine your agreement says your ex will have your child back to you on Sunday after a weekend visit. How would you feel if they rang your doorbell at 11:55 pm Sunday night? Even before you consider what this might do to your child’s bedtime and their ability to get up and go to school the next day, you will likely feel disrespected. Your plan only said “Sunday,” which was too general. If it says, “by 7:00 pm on Sunday” then everyone knows what to expect. Specifics matter. They prevent misunderstandings and disagreements. Whenever discussing plans, be as specific as possible.

Default to “Yes”

If you have the 7:00 pm Sunday agreement we discussed above, your ex may ask for an exception at some point. Perhaps they want to take your child to a sporting event that ends at 7:30 pm, and then it takes half an hour to get to your home. If they ask if they can extend until 8:15 pm, you are within your rights to say no and demand they stick to the schedule. But what will that do? It will disappoint your child because they can’t go to the event. It will anger your ex, making future communication more difficult. And it will mean that if you request grace in the future, your ex will likely respond with the same level of flexibility you offered them: none.

If a request is problematic, harmful to the child, or otherwise creates difficulties, it’s okay to say that you cannot accommodate the change. But you should resist the urge to say “no” simply because you can. Without a good reason, consider defaulting to “yes.” That’s probably best for your child. It also prevents friction with your co-parent and makes it more likely that when you need to request a change, you’ll hear a “yes,” too.

Compromise

If a request causes an issue, discuss that with your co-parent. Is there a compromise?

Let’s see what that might look like in our Sunday drop-off example. If you have a special call with Grandma planned for 8:00 pm, your co-parent and child can still attend the event if they leave early enough for an 8:00 pm drop-off. If you can’t say “yes” to 8:15 pm, can you say “yes” to 8:00 pm? That will show your co-parent that you are genuinely trying to work with them and that you are acting in the child’s best interest rather than using the shared custody as a weapon against your ex.

Don’t Get Too Caught Up in “Fair”

Remember that shared custody and co-parenting is all about your child. It is about what is best for them, not what feels fair or equal for you compared to the other parent. If your parenting agreement says that you have custody during your child’s upcoming birthday, could you invite the co-parent to at least part of the party, even if that means them encroaching on “your time”? Better still, can you remind yourself to stop looking at it as “your time” and start framing it as your child’s time?

Maybe extending that Sunday visit until 8:15 pm doesn’t feel fair. They get an extra hour, and you get nothing. Actually, you get a happy child and a step toward building trust and a healthy working relationship with your ex. Sure, you can tell them that if they get the extra time this weekend, they must drop off earlier next weekend, but what does that accomplish? It may feel like a victory or a step to take things back to being “fair.” But it will feel to the other parent like you are being difficult. It can help to remember that how you treat them gives them an excuse to treat you the same way.

Ask Your Child

You need to be mindful not to put your child into a situation where they feel like they have to choose one parent over the other. However, in some cases, it makes sense to ask them about their preferences. Do they want to go to the Sunday evening event? Even if it means missing this week’s call with grandparents? Or if it requires rushing bedtime? Empowering your child to have age-appropriate agency over their life gives them a sense of security.

Watch What You Say

Never speak badly about your co-parent in front of your child. Never. Resist the urge to recruit them to your side. Don’t try to make them see your ex like you do or show them what you see as the truth about your co-parent’s character.

Let them love their other parent. If there are ugly truths for them to see, they will discover them eventually, on their own. Speaking badly about your ex damages the relationship and creates a tremendous amount of stress for your child.

If Nothing is Working

If you have significant issues, you may need to work with your Salt Lake divorce case lawyer to modify your custody plan. You may need to involve the court if your co-parent doesn’t follow your agreement. The legal system should be the last resort. Try to resolve your issues outside the court system whenever possible.

Start Building a Foundation

Following these tips won’t give you a perfect co-parenting relationship. It won’t make shared and joint custody effortless and flawless. But it will help you create a strong foundation that can lead to a healthy co-parenting situation in which your child will thrive.

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Ways to Make Co-Parenting and Shared Joint Custody Work

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