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        • Socials:

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How to Co-Parent Effectively After Separation or Divorce

Published on August 18, 2022

    Taylor Reardon Team Member Picture.

    About the Author

    Taylor Reardon

    Taylor joined the family law and litigation team at Unified Lawyers in 2019. Taylor has completed a Bachelor of Laws and Bachelor of Arts in Communication (Social and Political Science) at the University of Technology Sydney and holds a Graduate Diploma of Professional Legal Practice.

    Taylor joined the family law and litigation team at Unified Lawyers in 2019. Taylor has completed a ... Read More

    Taylor Reardon Team Member Picture.

    Taylor Reardon - Family Lawyer

    Taylor joined the family law and litigation team at Unified Lawyers in 2019. Taylor has completed a Bachelor of Laws and Bachelor of Arts in Communication (Social and Political Science) at the University of Technology Sydney and holds a Graduate Diploma of Professional Legal Practice.

    When a relationship ends in separation or divorce, each person will undergo a transition period. Often this transition from the relationship will be difficult and may require a variety of different legal matters to be dealt with, such as the division of assets and property settlement.

    Separation and divorce becomes even more complex when there are children involved.

    If you’ve separated from your partner and you have children under the age of 18, both you and your former partner have parental responsibility for your children. It is important that both parents understand their responsibilities and aim to provide their child with a safe and loving environment, where they can have a meaningful relationship with each parent.

    For a child to have a meaningful relationship with both parents they don’t need for their parents to be married, rather they need their parents to act in their best interests.

    Through co-parenting, it is possible for both parents to not only maintain and nurture their relationships with their child/ren but to also provide a stable and supportive environment for them too.

    However, co-parenting is not always easy, even when you and your former partner are on good terms. It can look different for every relationship, and you will face obstacles along the way. To help you navigate parenting after separation, we’ve put together some information about co-parenting, including what a co-parenting agreement should include, and some tips that may make joint parenting easier for you.

    What is co-parenting?

    Co-parenting involves both parents playing an active role in their child’s lives. This means that the parents work together to make decisions that affect their child/children. From schooling to discipline, to medical needs and living situations, the decisions that are made should be based on what is best for the child and not necessarily the parent.

    Co-parenting allows for your child to maintain their relationship with each parent, which can have a drastic impact on their mental health and well-being.

    There may be circumstances where co-parenting isn’t possible or advisable, for example, if a parent has been abusive or there have been instances of family violence, co-parenting may not be the best course of action.

    While co-parenting gives your child the opportunity to have their needs met, it isn’t always a walk in the park. Making joint parenting decisions can be stressful, exhausting, and very frustrating. You may have concerns over your ex’s parenting style and abilities, you may feel financially insecure, and if the relationship between you and your former partner is a contentious one, you might just be emotionally exhausted from having to interact with someone you would rather not talk to.

    You don’t need to be best friends with your ex-partner to make co-parenting work. However, if you can overcome your differences to make shared decisions for your kids, they will benefit from this greatly. And over time, your relationship with your ex-partner may be a lot easier to manage too.

    What does the law say about co-parenting?

    The Family Law Act 1975 (The Act) works on the presumption that both parents will have equal shared parental responsibility. This means that they will both be involved in making decisions about major and important issues that can affect the future of your child/ren, such as schooling and health concerns.

    The Act focuses heavily on the rights of the child and the responsibilities of the parents to act in the best interest of the child/ren. If it is in the child’s best interest, then the priority is that the child can enjoy a meaningful relationship with each parent and be protected from harm.

    It’s important to note that if there has been family violence or abuse by one of the parents, then the presumption of equal parental responsibility can be rebutted, as it may not be in the best interests of the child.

    Working with a family lawyer who is experienced in child matters can provide you with extensive advice and information about your rights and responsibilities when it comes to the wellbeing of your child.

    Making a co-parenting plan

    If you and your former partner can work together on parenting matters to come up with an amicable agreement, there are a variety of issues and matters that should be addressed to make co-parenting a lot easier.

    What factors do I need to think about when creating a plan for co-parenting?

    Co-parenting will differ from family to family, particularly if you have younger children versus having older children, however, some of the things your plan should address include:

    • Education;
    • Financial responsibilities;
    • Contact and visitation;
    • Medical needs and health concerns; and
    • How decisions should be made.

    How do we formalise a parenting arrangement?

    If you and your child’s other parent have been able to successfully agree on a parenting arrangement, you can formalise this agreement. This ensures that both parents understand the agreement and can help to avoid disputes in the future.

    In accordance with the Family Law Act 1975, your agreement can be documented through either a parenting plan or a consent order.

    Parenting Plan

    parenting plan is an agreement that is jointly agreed upon by both parents. The agreement should set out the parenting arrangements you have agreed upon clearly. It’s best to seek legal advice from a family lawyer to ensure you understand what you are agreeing to. A parenting plan does not require the parents to go to court, however, it is not legally enforceable. Instead, it serves as a record of the agreement which is useful if you need to provide evidence regarding the agreement to a court.

    Consent Order

    An agreement of the parenting arrangements can also be formalised by an application to the court for a parenting order or consent order. The consent order makes the agreement legally binding, and any breaches of the order can have serious consequences.

    What if we can’t agree on a parenting arrangement?

    If you and your child’s other parent cannot agree about parenting arrangements, then you may want to consider working with a mediator to develop a plan or to apply to the Court.

    The focus of the Court is to ensure the best interests of the child/ren are protected, and they may make decisions regarding where your children will live, how much time they may spend with each parent, and who is responsible for decision making for the child (it could be one parent or both).

    Having to go through the Court to make these decisions isn’t always possible to avoid, however, it can be a costly and drawn-out process which can cause a lot of stress for all parties involved.

    How to make co-parenting after separation easier

    If you’re in the middle of a separation or a divorce, the idea of having to work with your ex-partner to come to agreements about your child/ren may sound like your worst nightmare. It’s certainly easier said than done, but it may not be quite as bad as you anticipate.

    Every parenting arrangement has its challenges and obstacles, and primarily, these obstacles are emotionally driven, especially if your separation has been acrimonious. Not only are your children going through a lot of change, you and your former partner are too.

    However, if you can overcome the personal relationship you once shared and think about your co-parenting relationship as a new one, where your primary goal is to ensure your children are having their needs properly met, then this can have a number of benefits for your child, including:

    1. You can provide them with a consistent approach to parenting;
    2. You can help them to feel secure and stable;
    3. They can benefit from spending time and communicating with both parents;
    4. You can set a great example of how to solve problems and communicate; and
    5. You can reduce the impact your separation/divorce may have on their mental health and wellbeing.

    Tips to make co-parenting easier

    Tip 1: Aim to provide a consistent environment and approach to parenting

    There are so many decisions that you and your child’s other parent will need to make when it comes to parenting – household rules, where they go to school, their schedules – lots of different things will come up along the way.

    It’s important to discuss these aspects together and work as a team to provide consistency for your children’s lives. It’s not easy for them to be living in two different homes, however, if the parents are on the same page, it can make it a lot easier.

    You do need to allow for flexibility as not all elements between the homes will be the same, and exposure to these differences is important for the development of your child, however, to provide some stability and consistency, work with their other parent to come up with some rules, disciplines, rewards and schedules that you can both follow.

    This consistency can make the transition for your child/ren between both of you significantly easier.

    Tip 2: Communicate effectively and clearly

    We’re not saying that you need to talk to your ex all of the time or be buddy-buddy with them, however, ensuring the lines of communication are open will mean that both of you are comfortable to approach one another to discuss issues and decisions that need to be made over time.

    Consistent communication can also set a great example for your children. If they aren’t being used as the messenger between parents and can see you getting along well enough to be able to organise things together, it can make them feel more stable and secure and also make them see that their parents are on the same page.

    When communicating with your child’s other parent, try to keep the communication related to the child/ren, your focus is their best interests, and you don’t want to let other topics or potential conflict influence the outcome of your communication.

    You can communicate with your child’s other parent in person, on the phone, through text message or email – the important thing is to ensure the communication is clear and understood by both parties.

    An important aspect of communicating is also listening, so make sure that you listen to what your child’s other parent has to say too. You may not agree with them, but if they feel like you are listening to them, it will make them feel more comfortable about approaching you too.

    Tip 3: Try to remove the emotional aspect

    We mentioned earlier that many of the obstacles you face in your co-parenting journey will be emotionally driven, which is completely understandable as you are going through a lot of change.

    However, when it comes to parenting and making decisions for your children, it’s best to set aside your emotions and instead, focus on the needs of your child/ren.

    This means, any anger or frustration you may feel towards your former partner should not influence your decision making or behaviour when it comes to parenting.

    If you find yourself feeling frustrated or hurt regularly, it may be best to seek professional help through channels such as counselling and mental health specialists.

    If you are on good terms with your former partner but you find yourself frustrated at their actions, try to have a conversation about this away from the kids. They may not even be aware that something they are doing is causing this frustration for you.

    You don’t want to let your emotions or frustrations influence how your child views their other parent.

    Tip 4: Respect the other parent

    Doing your best to remove emotions from the equation, as per our previous tip can go a long way when it comes to respecting your other child’s parent. It also includes listening to them and working with them to make decisions regarding your child.

    Respect also means actually living by the shared parenting decisions you have made. Of course, you want to strive to be the best parent you can, but don’t aim to do so at the detriment of your child’s relationship with their other parent. Don’t try to make your child/ren play favourites when it comes to their parents and don’t talk poorly about their parent to them or in front of them.

    By listening to their other parent and working with them to make decisions, you are not only showing respect to that parent but you’re presenting a great example for your child too.

    Tip 5: Be proactive and plan ahead as much as possible

    Emergencies, special events, extra-curricular activities and many other events that may interrupt your usual schedule, will come up throughout your shared parenting experience.

    If you know of upcoming events or you suspect that the usual routine you both follow is likely to be interrupted in the future, bring this to the attention of the other parent.

    You do need to allow for flexibility as there are unfortunately many variables that can affect each person in your co-parenting situation, and you’re not always going to be able to plan things out ahead of time. But what you can do is plan how to handle unexpected events – perhaps one parent may finish work earlier than the other and be more flexible in their availability or there may be a third party or other relatives you both agree upon who can help you out when unexpected events arise – working together you may be able to come up with a solution to satisfy both of you.

    Where possible, plan ahead as much as you can, and try to create a plan to plan for the unexpected.

    Is co-parenting right for you?

    Co-parenting is a great option that allows for your child to continue to strengthen their relationship with both parents even when they are no longer together. However, co-parenting isn’t always easy, and it does look different for everyone.

    If you’re thinking about co-parenting, you’ve recently separated from your partner and are working out parenting matters or you’re considering separation, it’s important you understand your rights, obligations and responsibilities. That’s something we can help you out with here at Unified Lawyers.

    We’re experienced in a range of parenting and children matters and our family lawyers can provide you with advice, guidance, support and help you to find the right solution for you and your family. Call us today on 1800 431 519 to talk to us today.

    Taylor Reardon Team Member Picture.

    Taylor Reardon - Family Lawyer

    Taylor joined the family law and litigation team at Unified Lawyers in 2019. Taylor has completed a Bachelor of Laws and Bachelor of Arts in Communication (Social and Political Science) at the University of Technology Sydney and holds a Graduate Diploma of Professional Legal Practice.

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