Deciding to Co-Parent instead of Fight

Deciding to Co-Parent instead of Fight

When a couple divorces, the partners’ old relationship ends.  But because both will continue to have individual relationships with the children they need to work towards a new cooperative relationship with each other.

While a new cooperative relationship is the goal in most families, there are some exceptions. In cases of abused, neglected, or deserted children, there is a need to protect the children from one of the parents. An alliance with the harmful parent is not in the best interest of the children.

In a situation where the parents work towards a cooperative constructive relationship, the children can and usually adjust to the divorce more quickly with fewer long-term problems.  The greater the cooperation between the parents, the better the adjustment for the children overall.

Being cooperative parents does not necessarily mean that parents are the best of friends.  They may not even like each other much, but they are able to cooperate and compromise for the sake of the children.  Even if they disagree over things like finances or child-rearing techniques, they manage to keep the conflicts under control and not involve the children in their differences.  Custody and visitation arrangements are formally set but remain flexible enough to meet the needs of the children and the parents.  Cooperative parents strive to share some of the decision making and child rearing tasks and participate in major life events. They understand and accept their responsibilities as parents and their priority is to do what is best for the children.  They will help each other in times of crisis.  This kind of co-parenting allows children to maintain a relationship with both parents, thus helping to reduce the stress of divorce on the children.


These guidelines can help create the successful parenting partnership that is so vital for children of divorce.  The intention is to establish a cooperative relationship for the purpose of raising healthy children. Ask yourself, which of the below points you need to work on with your children’s other parent.

  • Your mutual concern is your children. Make a decision to create a successful partnership for continuing to be parents despite the ending of the marriage.
  • Respect your children’s relationship with your child’s parent. Your children did not divorce either parent.  Encourage them to get over any feelings of estrangement from the other parent.

Ask your child’s parent to adopt these guidelines with you for working together as parents.  If your child’s parent refuses, use these guidelines yourself as much as possible.  Accept that you cannot control your child’s parent’s thoughts, feelings, behaviors.  You can only control your own.

  • Be businesslike with your former spouse. Test your own behavior by asking:  Was I businesslike?  Did I follow these guidelines: Did I keep the conversation limited to the children?
  • Measure your child’s parent’s behavior NOT by how you feel, but by the same standard: was his/her behavior businesslike?
  • Make appointments to talk about the children. Except for emergencies, call only during agreed upon times.  When calling ask if the time is convenient; if not, make a new appointment for a time that works.
  • Be polite. Do not use bad language or name-calling.  Do not discuss issues while under the influence of alcohol or other drugs.  If you feel yourself getting un-businesslike, stop and agree to talk at a later time.
  • Use “I” statements, not “you” statements.
  • Do not assume anything based on past experience. Give your ex the benefit of the doubt as to behavior, as you would a stranger. There may be new and current reasons for your child’s parent’s behavior, thoughts, feelings, and decisions.
  • Do not expect approval from your child’s parent. Have your personal and emotional needs fulfilled elsewhere and with others.
  • If you are able to say something positive about your child’s parent’s parenting, do not withhold it. Express appreciation, no matter how small, to contribute to the greater success of the parenting partnership.
  • Do not discuss matters not related to the children unless your partner agrees to do so. Respect your ex’s privacy; do not seek the details of his/her life.  Do not intrude on his/her territory.
  • Make all agreements clear and follow-up with written confirmation when possible (make your own written agreement). Be clear and complete in your communication; include time, place, whether the children will be fed or not, what clothes they need, etc. DO NOT ask the children to do your business; communicate with the other parent directly or through a neutral party (again not the children).  If unable to find a neutral party to exchange information, try written communications. Again this is a business working relationship, so keep that in mind when communicating and negotiating obstacles.
  • Before making decisions, consult your partner and the children so that the most workable decision can be made.
  • Don’t insist on what does not work. Be flexible; commit yourself as much as you are able to and experiment to see what does work.  Remember children’s needs change as they get older.
  • Accept that you cannot control your child’s parent’s thoughts, feelings, behaviors. You can only control your own.
  • Promote good will in the partnership. Think of the importance of your investment and expected returns.  The investment is what you will do for your children’s happiness and success in life.  The returns are comfort and security for your children, and the children knowing their parents care enough to work together for them. A good working relationship with your former spouse will help make a better life for you and your children.
  • Share information about the children so you both can appreciate and celebrate their unique characteristics.


*Article adapted from The Ohio State University August, 2007-3476 visit Ohio State University Extension’s website “Ohioline” at