Co-parenting can be defined as separated, divorced, or unmarried parents working together as a team to raise children, even if there is no romantic relationship between them. As simple as this explanation may be, parenting in general is no easy feat. Add a separation or divorce to the mix, and there are sure to be some added obstacles.
Whitehurst, Blackburn & Warren family law paralegals, Leslie Akridge and Krista Shiver, have seen their fair share of co-parenting attempts as they help families navigate divorce proceedings. With valuable insight gathered over the years, they’ve narrowed down their experiences and are sharing the dos and don’ts for successful co-parenting.
Before diving into co-parenting, Akridge and Shiver unearthed a few misconceptions that they typically see involving divorcing parents – all thee relating to custody.
As you can imagine, custody terms are unique for every family law case. “When both parents do not agree on terms of custody, it becomes the most complicated in the court proceedings,” says Akridge. “But we do try really hard to encourage everyone to think about what is in the best interest of the children.”
One of biggest misconceptions involves the terms surrounding custody.
“Joint custody does not refer to the amount of time that the child spends with each parent,” Akridge explains. “Instead, it is considered as both parents having an equal legal right to the child and their records.”
The terminology which more accurately portrays custody relationships is really “primary parent” and “noncustodial parent.”
“The primary parent has the physical custody of the child more than the noncustodial parent,” Akridge says. “But noncustodial doesn’t mean they never see the child.”
Often times, noncustodial parents are still financially responsible for their children and can visit their children freely or on a schedule agreed upon in the custody arrangement.
“Another type of custody is what most people think of when they think of joint custody, which is shared or split custody,” Akridge explains. “Shared custody means that the child is with each parent 50% of the time.”
The most uncommon custody term is sole custody. This scenario occurs when one parent has terminated legal rights to the child. “Sole custody is rare because the courts often feel that having both parents, at least in some capacity, is better than having only one,” she says.
A second misconception surrounding custody is that the courts favor mothers over fathers.
“That is very untrue,” Akridge says. “Those days are long gone.”
Paralegal Krista Shiver adds, “There is a shift in the court system regarding co-parenting and which parent deserves to be the primary custodial parent. They are realizing that what is in the best interest of the child is not always with the mother.”
The last misconception, while not as common as the other two, is that if both parents agree on the custody terms than the divorce is uncontested. “Parents tend to forget about the ins and outs of money and other matters in the divorce. Just because they agree on custody does not mean it’s an uncontested divorce,” Akridge explains.
Tips for Successful Co-Parenting
Even before the divorce is final, parents can begin to lay the foundation for a successful co-parenting relationship. Here are a few tips to help you get started:
Do: Set hurt and anger aside and make decisions based on what is best for the child.
Do: Use your documentation as a guide for decision-making when necessary.
“You can work together to agree to solve the problems at hand without referring back to your divorce decree,” Shiver says. “The papers are there for you to fall back on when you don’t agree.”
Do not: Withhold your child from communicating or spending time with the other parent.
Do not: Use your child as a messenger.
If you don’t feel comfortable communicating directly with your ex yet, employ another tool. Mobile -friendly co-parenting apps can assist you with tasks such as streamlining communication and schedules. (For a list of helpful co-parenting apps, see our previous post Co-Parenting: What are your Legal Rights as an Unmarried Parent?)
Effective co-parenting helps lower your child’s stress and anxiety levels. Successful co-parenting is not a foreign language. The family law team at WBW has a wealth of knowledge when it comes to co-parenting successfully. In addition to the tips listed above, we recommend attending co-parenting counseling, as well as finding a good family therapist.
For legal support, call and schedule a free consultation with the Whitehurst, Blackburn & Warren team at 229-226-2161.