Pros and Cons of Co-Parenting:
Two Healthy Homes

Divorcing parents are faced with many decisions. They include decisions about financial support, child support, and division of property and assets. Perhaps the most important of these decisions are those related to parenting decisions and how they are going to continue raising their children now that their relationship is ending. Family law presents many custody options and parenting plans to choose from, depending upon the family’s dynamics and unique needs. Some of these options include sole custody, joint or shared custody, co-parenting, and parallel parenting. Given that co-parenting is one of the most frequently chosen options, the remainder of this article will focus on the pros and cons of this plan for parenting your children post separation or divorce.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Co-Parenting

Before delving into co-parenting pros and cons, it is important to start by defining what the term means. Co-parenting is defined as two parents who no longer live together working collaboratively to raise their children. It does not require that the parents were previously married, but in most cases this parenting relationship is the result of a separation of divorce. While it can take many forms, with many different parenting plans, the goal is to create a relationship where both parents are playing an active role in all aspects of their children’s lives. It does not require an equal 50/50 division of time between parents, only that each parent is actively and regularly spending time with the children.

The ability to effectively co-parent requires that neither parent poses a physical or emotional risk to their children. Such an arrangement becomes difficult, if not impossible, when there is a history of domestic violence, or one parent has a history of serious mental illness or significant substance abuse. In those situations, alternatives to co-parenting need to be utilized.

Research clearly shows that, when these conditions have been met, it is in the children’s best interest to have a relationship with both parents following a separation or divorce. Living in two healthy homes, with two loving parents, will give them the best chance of a positive adjustment to their new life. Continuing to be exposed to warring parents who are unable to work together on their behalf will only serve to cause more emotional damage and interfere with their healthy development.

Exploring the Positives and Negatives of Co-Parenting

Now let’s explore the specific co-parenting pros and cons, both from the perspective of the parents as well as the children. The extent to which the parents are engaging in successful co-parenting behavior will impact the relative pros and cons of co-parenting for each family. Specifically, a negative co-parenting relationship will result in there being more disadvantages while a positive and effective co-parenting relationship will result in more advantages to this arrangement.

Advantages of co-parenting for the parents

  • They will not be alone in raising their children but will have the assistance of their co-parent to share child rearing responsibilities
  • There will be another concerned adult to consult with about child-related decisions and issues
  • There will always be a back-up for child-care so both parents can have adult time separate from their children
  • They are providing their children with the greatest chance of a healthy post-divorce adjustment

Advantages of co-parenting for the children

  • Children will have regular and frequent contact with both parents
  • Children will continue to feel that they have two loving parents who are committed to caring for and raising them
  • Consistency and stability will be maintained as much as possible
  • Children will not be put in a parentified role to replace the missing parent
  • Children will witness their parents working together on their behalf

Disadvantages of co-parenting for the parents

  • Being an effective co-parent takes time, effort, and commitment that can be difficult to maintain
  • Parents will be faced with the challenge of regular contact with their former partner that may be emotionally draining
  • Parents will need to give up their freedom to be available for their scheduled visitation times
  • Parents will need to transport children between two homes
  • Their ability to move away will be significantly limited
  • Parents will be challenged with conflicts and disputes that will need to be resolved

Disadvantages of co-parenting for the children

  • Children will need to be constantly moving back and forth between their two homes
  • Children can be exposed to many negative consequences if parents do not create a healthy co-parenting relationship. These include:
    1. being exposed to ongoing parental conflict
    2. having to deal with very different rules and parenting styles in their two homes
    3. being used as messengers or secret keepers
    4. dealing with stressful transitions between their two homes

Many of the disadvantages of co-parenting can be minimized by creating a healthy working relationship. This is not an easy task given all the negative emotional history that divorcing parents share. But it is possible given the right tools, strategies, and guidelines coupled with a commitment to make it work.

Many parents struggle with what this relationship should look like. Let’s start with what it does NOT need to look like. You do not need to be best friends with your former partner to be the best co-parents for your children. A more realistic and useful goal is to strive to view your relationship with them as a business partnership where the joint venture is raising your children.

Try to think of it like this…. We have all had co-workers that we don’t get along with or don’t particularly like. But, despite this, we go into work each day, focus on the work at hand, and treat that person with an appropriate level of courtesy and respect. That is the framework that you need to embrace with your former partner and that will give you the greatest chance of having a peaceful and effective co-parenting relationship with them.

It will be essential to commit to the three components of a business relationship that I refer to as the KFCs. They are:

  • Keep your emotions in check so things don’t escalate
  • Focus on your shared goal, which is successfully raising your children, so you don’t get distracted by your conflicts with each other
  • Communicate professionally and refrain from inappropriate language or behavior so you can respectfully negotiate all the necessary child-rearing decisions

One other piece of advice. Work hard to not always assume malicious intent on the part of your former spouse. Yes, there might be times that their intent is less than pure. But try to give them the benefit of the doubt, and don’t automatically jump to the conclusion that they are doing something hurtful or manipulative. This will go a long way toward reducing unnecessary conflict between the two of you.

There is one other thing that has the potential to de-rail your co-parenting relationship, and that is the Court system. While there are clearly some divorces and post-divorce conflicts that require the assistance of the Court, there are many that end up there for the wrong reasons. These include “wanting to hurt them like they hurt you, wanting to take them for everything they are worth, wanting to make it so they never see their kids again”. These emotionally based motivations are often misguided and will inevitably take a huge toll on all of you.

Going to court costs more than you think, both financially and emotionally. It will not only drain your bank account but will essentially destroy any possibility of a healthy, cooperative co-parenting relationship with your former spouse. By resolving matters outside of the courtroom, (through Mediation, Collaborative Divorce, Co-Parenting Counseling), you will save tens of thousands of dollars, protect your co-parenting relationship, and save your children the pain of being dragged into the middle of your conflict.

Another key to being effective co-parents is for you and your former partner to rise above your own issues with each other, on your children’s behalf, and to work together as a team to provide them with the love, guidance, and support that they will need from both of you. You must always remember that their needs are paramount, and this should guide every decision and action that you take pertaining to them.

What follows are several guidelines to follow as you venture into the role of co-parents:

  • Give children permission to love and have a relationship with both parents
  • Keep children out of the middle of adult business
  • Minimize the amount of conflict that the children are exposed to
  • Avoid asking the kids to keep secrets
  • Never bad mouth the other parent
  • Respect boundaries and privacy
  • Communicate directly with the other parent and do not use children as messengers
  • Create peaceful transitions between the two homes
  • Minimize differences between the two homes to maximize consistency for the children
  • Maintain consistent schedules for the children

There are obviously many benefits and challenges of sharing parenting responsibilities after separation or divorce. Many of the disadvantages of co-parenting can be eliminated by following the suggestions detailed above and creating a healthy co-parenting relationship. Dr. Erica Ellis has been helping parents accomplish that goal for 30+ years in her clinical practice specializing in children of divorce and co-parenting. She created Two Healthy Homes to provide parents with a unparalleled resource for how to best protect themselves and their children following a separation or divorce.