Co-parenting offers a way for divorced parents to both retain an active role in the lives of their children - and share the burden and joys that come too. Having shared parental duties with his ex-wife for more than a decade, divorced Dad Toby now shares his insight into how to make it truly work well
In most divorces involving kids, the custody arrangements that emerge mean that nobody gets to live life as they'd choose. Typically, one parent loses the majority of their contact with the children, missing out on the responsibilities and rewards of parenting. The other becomes a full-time single parent with little ongoing assistance and nobody to share the burden or the joy with.
There is an alternative, made possible if both parents are keen to retain an active role in their kids' lives, and are each able to put aside or manage their differences; shared or co-parenting.
This is the arrangement that my ex-wife and I put in place after divorcing in 2007, and since then we've raised our daughters on a 50-50 basis, switching custody between us for alternate weeks, for over ten years now.
Below are some of the most significant lessons that have emerged for us over time.
Everything must be driven by what is in the best interests of the children. With this as the guiding principle, it helps in evaluating options, making decisions that affect their upbringing as well as in ensuring that both parents are equally committed to and responsible for the set-up.
Considerations regarding housing, schooling, discipline and reward, holidays, hobbies, attendance at school meetings and everything else should be evaluated in the context of what's best for the kids first and foremost. This helps to prevent any discord or inequity between the parents since both are acting with the kids' interests at the forefront rather than being guided by their own needs and desires.
Strive to share and split everything on a 50/50 basis (or as close as possible) - most divorces will feature a financial settlement to redistribute wealth or account for differences of income. For the purposes of co-parenting it makes life a lot easier if you strive for an equal split of child-related expenses but also of time, discipline, reward, punishment and responsibility between both parents.
This promotes fairness and limits resentment since the parents don't end up cast in roles such as 'the disciplinarian' or 'the fun-one'. It ensures that both parents get an equal share of the responsibility and the reward from being actively involved in the raising of their kids.
There will always be matters differing in seriousness and complexity that require joint input from both parents. An effective channel for communication to discuss these is essential to manage them fairly and equitably and to minimise disruption for the kids. Whether you have an informal ten-minute chat once per week when the kids are transitioning between you, or a more formal monthly catch up by phone or over a coffee, it needs to happen.
It's important to earmark time when topics such as forthcoming school trips and meetings, health care matters, behavioural concerns, hobbies, holidays and everything else can be discussed. A side-effect of this is that you demonstrate to your kids that their parents are sensible adults who communicate fairly and openly in a respectful fashion over matters regarding their upbringing.
There will be others who may criticise the arrangement. Future partners may be sceptical or jealous of the contact you have with your ex. Your family, friends or work colleagues may find the arrangement confusing and be concerned for the wellbeing of your kids. As long as you're acting with the kids' best interests at heart, then you can feel assured of what you are doing. The arrangement and all that it entails should be accepted and respected by those around you.
Maintain joint standards and principles but don't sweat the small stuff - you and your ex may have inherent differences about the practical aspects of parenting such as whether you get your kids to help around the house, whether you enforce bedtimes, limit screen-time or sit around the table at mealtimes or not. The kids will adapt to different sets of rules between homes provided that the same basic ethos, principles and core values are consistent between both parents.
As long as you are unified in expectations of behaviour, diligence over schoolwork, manners and so-on, the minor differences will pale into insignificance. The kids will be glad to have input from both their parents and their resilience will ensure that the minor differences in rules are accommodated.
Once the kids' interests and needs are met, there's nothing wrong with you benefiting from the arrangement too. The times when you don't have the kids, are yours to catch up on work, socialising or rest and to rebuild your life! In my experience, this free time has helped me to build a better and happier life after divorce, which makes me a better parent when I have the kids. Take this benefit without guilt.
These lessons are really just the 'tip of the iceberg' but they've proven invaluable in making our arrangement work for us all for over eleven years. If you're interested in co-parenting then give some thought to how these principles could be applied in your separated family; it will be a useful starting point in figuring out if it could work for you, your kids and your ex too.
Toby Hazlewood is a writer, parent, husband, project manager and in his spare time, a cycling enthusiast. He is passionate about helping others to overcome the challenges he's overcome, by sharing the things he's learned along the way
Discover the books he has written on parenting and life after divorce on Toby's Amazon page