Co-parenting is when you and your former partner share in raising your children after a divorce or breakup. It means both parents have a hands-on role in increasing the kids. When both parents cooperate and share responsibilities, kids do best.
It’s usually best for your child if your co-parenting arrangements keep you both involved in your child’s life. But it’s not always easy to create new parenting arrangements when a relationship breaks down.
For example, you and your former partner might both want as much time as possible with your child, or your former partner might not want to see your child. You might see equal time as a fair solution – but this might not be possible, and it might not be the best option for your child.
There are practical issues to sort through, too, like where you both live. Children generally do better when their parents live near each other, but this isn’t an option for all separated families.
Whatever your situation, you and your former partner need to make clear decisions about how you’ll parent your child now and in future.
It’ll be easier if you can both keep open minds and try to step into your child’s shoes as you work out your co-parenting arrangements.
To meet everyone’s needs, you might have to make some compromises.
Developing a Co-Parenting Plan
A co-parenting plan is a valuable way to set out the details of your new relationship.
To create one, you and your former partner need to discuss your rights and responsibilities about your child and set up a way to work out disputes.
A co-parenting plan should address:
- a contact or visitation schedule
- children’s medical needs or concerns
- holidays and special events
- decision-making guidelines.
The plan should include backup arrangements if your child needs to stay home from child care or school.
That might mean talking to your former partner about how they can help out. You might be able to discuss this in person, on the phone or via email.
Once your co-parenting plan is in place and working, you need to agree on what happens if one of you needs to change the program or change circumstances in the future.
You might be able to sort out a co-parenting plan together. If you can’t, you can get help from a family dispute resolution practitioner, mediator or relationship counsellor.
What the Law Says About Co-Parenting
Australia’s Family Law Act says both parents are responsible for the care and welfare of children up to the age of 18.
The law presumes it’s best for most children if both parents cooperate and share equal parental responsibility.
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Tips for Successful Co-Parenting
Here are some tips for co-parenting successfully with your former partner.
Aim to Be Flexible
It benefits everyone to be a little bit flexible. For example, if your former partner is sometimes late for pick-ups, it might help to be ready with alternative plans.
Try to keep in mind that getting upset about a change your former partner makes might make it tricky the next time you need to change things.
Your plans will also need to adapt as your child grows up and his needs and circumstances change – for example when he starts school or takes up a new sport.
Try to Accept Different Parenting Styles
Your former partner’s parenting style might change without you around. It might take some getting used to, especially if your former partner has different values or beliefs.
One way to deal with this is to work out whether you don’t like your former partner’s style because of your preferences or because of severe essential requirements. For example:
- Choice: ‘I don’t like our child eating so many lollies at your place’.
- Basic requirement: ‘Our child must have an insulin injection every day.
If you don’t like something because of your preferences, you might be able to let it slide. Then you can concentrate on things that affect your child’s health and safety.
As long as your child is safe and secure, different parenting approaches and styles can help your child learn that different rules apply in different situations.
Help Your Child Feel Connected to Her Other Parent
If it’s not upsetting for you, you could keep a framed photo of your family that includes your former partner.
You could also try to be optimistic about what your child is doing when he’s at his other parent’s house – for example, ‘Wow, that looks like a great cubby house. What a fun weekend you’ve had!’
Please encourage your child to send messages or emails to her other parents when she’s with you. Even if your child’s other parent lives far away, it’s good for your child to send and receive regular emails, phone calls, text messages and letters.
Keep Your Former Partner up to Date
Your child will benefit when his other parent knows what’s going on for him. You and your former partner could keep each other up to date by using a shared online calendar or app that lists your child’s weekly schedule, plus any special events.
Contact your child’s school to make sure your former partner gets duplicates of school records and newsletters.
Plan Ahead for Tasks, Activities and Events
You might want your former partner to be involved in or take responsibility for tasks like child and family health visits or school outings.
If you’re on good terms, you could plan to go to activities like parent-teacher interviews or school concerts together.
If you’re not able to go together, you’ll need to plan who’s going to which event or how you’ll handle it if you’re both there.
Give Your Former Partner Some Time to Learn the Ropes
If you did most of the caring for your children before your separation, your former partner might take a little time to learn about the practical side of caring for children.
It can be tempting to criticise, but pointing out the positives is much better for everyone.
Be Prepared for Some Negative Feelings
When your child is with her other parent, you might feel a sense of loss, loneliness and disappointment.
It can help if you try to look at the positive side. For example, time apart from your child can give you a chance to rest, relax and pursue relationships, hobbies or interests.
Planning can help you cope when your child is away. You could arrange to do some exercise, see friends for a meal, visit family or see a movie.
If possible, agree in advance on the kind of contact you’ll have with your child while he’s with his other parent.
For example, you might have brief phone calls, emails or text messages. Try to put on a happy face for your child – this will help with the transition.
Healthy Co-Parenting After Divorce
Going through a divorce or separation is a difficult transition. It will often become more complex when you have kids.
If your relationship with your partner has broken down, divorce gives you both the opportunity to be happier apart from each other.
If the two of you are happier separately, this helps you maintain healthy and positive relationships with your children, as well as assisting you with co-parenting positively and collaboratively.
You will need to handle many legal matters during the divorce process, including children’s matters and property settlement, and you’ll need expert legal advice along the way.
Read on to learn our straightforward advice for positive co-parenting after divorce.
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Remember What’s Important
If you’re going through a divorce, remember that the wellbeing of your child or children is the essential part of the equation.
You may have disputes with your former partner, leading to hurt feelings on both sides. But working to maintain positive communication will help to create a happy and healthy environment for your children.
You can do this by focusing on the primary job of parenting and cooperating with your former partner.
Co-Parenting After a Divorce and Avoiding Conflict
Children do well when they have good relationships with their parents and when their parents are both stable and supportive, but parents do not need to be in a relationship or living together to provide this.
Studies have shown that marriage isn’t what’s most important to a child’s wellbeing. The important thing is having a loving relationship with parents who aren’t constantly in conflict.
According to a study published by the Australian Institute of Family Studies(AIFS), an effective method for avoiding conflict with your former partner is to focus on the interests and preferences of your children when a potential dispute arises
The most common way parents said they dealt with potential disputes was by focusing on cooperation and recognising the importance of compromise, flexibility, and good communication.
The study states that focusing on cooperation was an effective way for parents to deal with potential disputes.
A less positive way of avoiding disputes is for parents to have little or no contact with each other, a solution called ‘parallel parenting’, which divorced parents should try to move beyond.
The Divorce Process
If you’re currently considering or going through a divorce, the process can be quite lengthy and confusing. Here is a brief overview of the divorce process:
- To get a divorce, you need to be separated from your partner for at least 12 months before you can apply for a divorce. You can also be separated and still living in the same home.
- Once you apply for a divorce, it typically takes about three months for the divorce to be finalised.
- Deciding on children’s matters and the property settlement is separate from the divorce process itself, and these issues are typically settled before the divorce is finalised.
- If one partner has made the divorce application on their own, not jointly with both partners, and you have children under 18, then you will need to attend a divorce hearing at Court. This is to ensure proper living arrangements have been made for the children.
Settling Children’s Matters During the Divorce Process
Coming to an amicable agreement with your former partner is the best way to handle parenting after separation and divorce.
In this scenario, both parents will have equal shared parental responsibility after a separation. This means both parents will be consulting each other for decisions that have long-term impacts.
If you can agree on co-parenting after separation and divorce, then you could enter into a Parenting Plan or Consent Order outlining the agreement.
Can’t agree with your former partner? Depending on your circumstances, you can attend mediation. If you still cannot agree after mediation, you will need to apply to the Court to obtain Parenting Orders.
The Court will always consider what is in the best interests of the children, including:
- The need to protect children from violence
- The right of children to know and be cared for by both parents
- The right of children to spend time and communicate with both parents
More specifically, the Court can make several decisions directly related to the care of children, including:
- Who children will primarily live with
- The number of time children will spend with each parent
- Whether one or both parents are responsible for critical decision making
- Whether or not relocating the children is appropriate
- Talk to us for advice
Going through a separation or divorce is complicated, but you don’t have to do it alone.
Writing a Parenting Plan or Consent Order
For co-parenting at work, it’s best to write a parenting plan. This is an agreement made between you and your former partner. It doesn’t involve going to Court.
The parenting plan details:
- how you will share parenting responsibilities
- who the kids will live with
- the amount of time to be spent with each parent
- holidays and special events
- decision-making guidelines
- health care
- financial care
A parenting plan is not legally enforceable. If you want a legally binding document, you and your former partner can prepare a written consent order. This is similar to a parenting plan. It covers parenting and financial arrangements for your kids, but it’s enforceable by the Courts.
A consent order needs to be approved by the Court, but neither parent needs to attend Court.
Contact the Family Law National Enquiry Centre on 1300 352 000 (apart from WA) or email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
Child Support Payments
A binding child support agreement is an agreement between both parents about child support payments.
It can be made for any amount that both parents agree on. It might include cash payments or non-cash payments such as school fees.
Each parent will need to get legal advice before entering the agreement.
You can also apply for a child support assessment. This tells you how much child support you should pay or receive. It’s based on both parents’ incomes and family circumstances.
If you can’t agree on a parenting plan, you can get help from a:
- family relationship centre
- relationship or family counsellor
- dispute resolution service
These options are cheaper, more accessible and less stressful than going to Court. Call the Family Relationship Advice Line on 1800 050 321 for information.
The next step is seeking legal advice and getting a ‘court parenting order’ or a ‘financial order’. This is a plan made for you by the courts.
You will probably need to go to family dispute resolution or mediation before applying for a parenting order.
The central courts dealing with parenting orders or financial orders are the Family Court of Australia, the Family Court of Western Australia and, in rural areas, magistrates’ courts.
You can go straight to the Family Court for a parenting order (without first trying dispute resolution) if:
- your former partner might abuse your child
- your former partner might physically harm your child
- the matter is very urgent
- the issue can’t be solved (for example, your former partner refuses to negotiate)
Dealing With Special Celebrations When You’re Co-Parenting
Sometimes the biggest days of the year – for example, unique religious festivals or holidays – are the most challenging times to work out parenting plans that suit everyone.
Being alone on a momentous day without your child is difficult for many separated parents.
Some parents split special days in half. For others, it works better to alternate parenting on special days every year.
You can also hold celebrations before or after the special day. If you can, hold on to some traditions you previously shared, like opening presents in bed in the morning or sharing a special dessert.
It can also help talk with your child in advance about the arrangements for her birthday and other special days.
Try to share information with your former partner about the more significant gifts you might buy for a special occasion to avoid doubling up.
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