divorced parents meeting with a teacher, happily working together and successfully co-parenting

For separated parents or those contemplating separation, the festive season is a good time to consider what life might look like when co-parenting in two households.

While reflecting on the past year and thinking ahead to New Year’s Resolutions, contemplated changes may be seeking a healthy lifestyle, taking up a new hobby or giving up what is perceived to be a bad habit. For separated parents, however, it’s an opportunity to address how the future might look when co-parenting. This article shares some advice on how to navigate the challenges.

Tips for co-parenting

CAFCASS (the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service) has provided a helpful guide on its website setting out 25 top tips for separated parents.

Resolution has also produced a guide for parents going through separation, and a video outlining ‘five great ways to put children first’. In summary, their top tips are to:

  1. Communicate what’s happening and what it means, appropriately for the child
  2. Provide a united front and help them understand the situation together
  3. Address their anger and help them deal with their emotions in healthy ways
  4. Help them by helping yourself – take care of yourself and get support if needed
  5. Don’t make the child choose between you after separation, let them love you both

Some of these may seem obvious, yet it is surprising how many of those points may be missed in the heat of the emotional turmoil of a relationship breakdown.

The tips in the CAFCASS guide have been produced by the Family Justice Young People’s Board (FJYPB) – a group of over 50 children and young people aged between 7 and 25. It is a very helpful starting point and considers matters from the perspective of the child concerned.

Tellingly, the first tip on that list is that a child has the right to have a relationship with both parents where it is safe to do so. It is important to remember that although the adult relationship has ended, the children’s relationship with you both remains.

Communication is key to successful co-parenting

Many difficulties arise from poor communication, whether relating to school choices, dividing holidays or a parent arriving late to collect the children and failing to inform the other parent.

A lack of communication can lead to mistrust and start a downward spiral in which actions are viewed with suspicion. The best starting point is to always consider what you would need to know if you were in the shoes of the other parent.

Communication tools

Direct communication can be difficult, especially when emotions are heightened. You don’t always need to meet in person. There are a number of tools available to try to help parents. They can range from the low tech (but proven to be useful) contact book to Apps.

A contact book is a journal that passes between parents and sets out key information relating to the child or children. It can include information such as any medication given to your child when in the other parent’s care or if there have been any accidents / concerns raised, such as the child being worried about a friendship group in school.

This allows the other parent to be aware and help your child. It should not be an opportunity to seek to belittle the other parent or to try to develop a written record to be used in legal proceedings. Rather, the contact book is a way to share clear information that relates to your child and avoid unnecessary confrontation.

There are also number of Apps available that allow separated parents to communicate and can be used to plan and keep track of contact times. Helpfully they keep a record of discussions and decisions in the event of any disagreement at a later stage but more than that, they facilitate communication and seek to promote agreed arrangements.

Take a step back

Even with the best of intentions and resources, problems can still happen.

In those circumstances, try to take a step back before making any decisions you may later come to regret. It is difficult to do in the moment, but do not think in the event of a disagreement you need to give your views “there and then”. Time to reflect may offer a solution and a measured response that gets to the heart of the issue.

Other options

When problems occur, there may be other solutions available.

If the other parent for example works away part of the time, think about Apps that allow bedtime stories to be read which allow a relationship between the child and their other parent in circumstances where finding a particular time each week in person is difficult.

In reality, a parent may well ask for some flexibility and that will inevitably need to be reciprocated at some point. It is not always possible to solve every problem but the tips above are a good starting point, as is obtaining legal advice early. Taking legal advice does not commit you to starting Court proceedings, it enables you to explore all the options available and consider what works best for you and your children.

If you would like to discuss co-parenting or have a conversation about the best options for your particular family, please get in touch.