While most parents resent being micromanaged by their ex, when a couple sits down at the mediation table ideally they have already discussed ideas on how to co-parent in unique and specific ways to their family’s dynamic and in the best interest of their children. Starting out on the same page typically helps bolster a positive co-parenting relationship for the adults and the children.
Actress and entrepreneur Gwyneth Paltrow shared her thoughts on co-parenting with her former husband, Coldplay frontman Chris Martin in a 2020 article in Billboard, “While the ultimate goal is minimizing trauma for their two children, Apple and Moses, Paltrow admitted that at times it’s harder than it looks. ‘Some days, you really don’t want to be with the person you’re getting divorced from, but if you’re committed to having a family dinner, then you do it. You take a deep breath, and you look the person in the eye and remember your pact, and you smile and hug and you make a joke and you just recommit to this new relationship that you’re trying to foster. You’re ending a marriage, but you’re still in a family,’ she concluded.”¹
Consistency is King
When we think of a co-parenting agreement, the obvious things that are addressed are time sharing schedules and parental rights and responsibilities. Beyond these basics there are a myriad of decisions parents can contemplate to provide continuity in their parenting style to help ease the children through the transition into two households. For example, I have drafted parenting plans that take into account the following provisions:
- While married, if one or both parents prioritized attending religious services on a regular basis with the children, they commit to continuing this practice. Further, the parent or both parents, depending on who previously undertook this responsibility, commit to being responsible for continuing religious studies if the child is working towards their bar or bat mitzvah, confirmation, planning a quinceañera and other religious rites of passage. Parameters for celebrations related to these religious activities should be included in the plan, such as the size of the party, a total budget and how much each parent will contribute.
- The parents agree to attend a number of family therapy sessions and/or individual therapy for the kids during the transition of the divorce. If both parents agree it is more likely they will keep appointments and actively be involved in the therapy process.
Having both parents remain consistent in two households is easier said than done. However, there are behaviors and actions co-parents can take to help ensure as much consistency as possible. These include:
- Modeling resiliency
- Quickly getting a handle on things when they don’t go as planned
- Building trust and comfort in two households
- Accepting blame and giving a genuine apology
- Not involving the kids in any of the legal matters
- Not having the kids be messengers between their parents
- Not hesitating to call the co-parent for advice or to discuss a gray area
- Compromising when in the best interest of the children
Introducing a New Partner
While transparency is usually the best policy, some parents like to agree on the specifics related to when a new partner enters the picture. I’ve had many couples request that provisions be put into the parenting plan, including:
- The children are not to be introduced to a significant other until the new couple has been together for at least six months (or a year). Some parents also include a stipulation pertaining to the age of the children.
- A new partner is introduced to the ex before being introduced to the kids. It’s only natural for a parent to want to know the new person who will be spending time with their children.
- The new significant other is not to sleep over (in the same bed) until the couple is engaged or has made a commitment to live together full time.
Set Limits and Expectations
As a best practice, parents should think about their children’s needs now and in the future and be as specific as they are comfortable with when writing the co-parenting agreement. A major topic that should be included in the agreement is about what the kids can and can’t do. No parent wants to hear, “well Dad / Mom said I can.” To avoid this, parents should establish guidelines and enforce them in both households.
Examples of agreeing to what the kids can or cannot do include: playing contact sports, getting a piercing or a tattoo, watching movies that are above their age rating, going skydiving, bungee jumping or horseback riding, being left alone with friends at the mall, going to high school parties, being allowed to ride their bike alone outside of the neighborhood, etc. Another hot topic is agreeing to how much screen and gaming time the children may have.
There are other limits and expectations that are discussed and commitments made in good faith during mediation but may not be included in the formal plan. While these verbal agreements are not enforceable, they often help shape the direction of future parenting. Examples include:
- Allowance – How much, how often and whether or not the child needs to earn the allowance or if it is just given to them.
- Pricey purchases – A parent should have no expectation of the other parent chipping in on the cost of a pricey purchase unless an agreement, preferably in writing, is made.
- Diet – If both parents placed emphasis on an overall healthy diet when the family was living together under one roof, i.e., minimal chips, candy, soda, trips through the drive-thru, etc. it should be discussed if they are both committed to maintaining a healthy diet in their separate households. While trying to curry favor with the kids by offering them junk food may seem like a good tactic to one or both parents, it may not be in the best interest of the kids.
- Curfews and keeping in touch – For the sake of consistency, both parents should enforce the same curfew. Also, if one parent sets an expectation that their child should touch base every so many hours while they are out with friends, riding their bike, at the water park etc., the other should require the same.
Changes in the Future
If co-parents find themselves at odds and a custody agreement needs to be revisited, mediation is an efficient and timely option. Attorneys and clients can count on my nine years of exclusively practicing family mediations following my 18-year career in litigation to work through the nuances of everyday life co-parenting challenges along with addressing the big, life changing decisions. With my combined experience and expertise, outcomes are achieved in a non-combative and agreeable manner.