scroll top

What is co-parenting? Find out with all the resources you need

We get commissions for purchases made through links in this post. Here's more on how we make money.

If you have children and are considering divorce — or if you recently divorced your spouse — you may be in the midst of figuring out custody schedules and determining how you’ll raise your children in separate households.

If you and your ex-spouse will each actively parent your children, you’ll be co-parenting, regardless of whether you get along well or never want to be in the same room again. In either scenario, studies find that children fare best when both parents are involved — as equally as possible.

“The benefits of co-parenting are that each parent can still have an active role in their child’s life, and have the ability to communicate their concerns and work together with the other parent to compromise,” says Dr. Jaclyn Gulotta, a licensed mental health counselor and qualified mental health supervisor.

How much or how little you collaborate with your ex-spouse depends on how civil your relationship is and whether you agree on how to raise your kids. 

Gulotta says having a positive co-parenting relationship allows children to observe their parents modeling healthy relationship dynamics, including positive communication and respectful problem resolution.

In this post, I’ll give you all the resources and information you need to figure out a co-parenting plan that works for you and your family:

What is co-parenting?

The definition of co-parenting is the practice of two parents working together to parent the kids. While married or coupled parents can and should certainly co-parent collaboratively, the term is usually used when navigating divorced and separated families where parents live apart.

So, what does co-parenting mean? Ideally, co-parenting moms and dads work together in the raising of children, including big decisions like medical and religious practices, as well as daily routines, discipline, schedules and values. 

Co-parenting and shared parenting are separate, but closely related terms.

Shared parenting is the term used for time-sharing in the event of separation or divorce in which the kids split the hours and days approximately equally between both parents’ homes.

Other terms include shared physical custody, equally shared parenting time, equal co-parenting, and equally shared parenting responsibility.  

A review of 60 peer-reviewed and published studies on shared parenting found that children fare better when separated, and divorced co-parents share parenting time and decisions approximately equally (courts and academics consider at least 40 percent time with each parent to be considered shared parenting, a.k.a. equal co-parenting).

This is also true for co-parenting in high-conflict situations.

What does co-parenting mean?

Ideally, both parents are actively involved in the child’s day-to-day life, communicate amicably (though you don’t have to be friends to be good co-parents), share the physical, financial, logistical and emotional responsibilities and joys of parenting, and encourage your children to have a warm relationship with the other parent, and their extended family and friends. 

Co-parenting also requires that the parents communicate respectfully when challenges arise, and work together in the best interest of the child. Co-parenting mothers and fathers should allow each parent to express their own rules and parenting style when spending time with the child.

What are the types of co-parenting?

There is no one-size-fits-all co-parenting plan. Depending on how well you and your ex get along, you can choose a co-parenting plan with as much or as little interaction/communication as you can manage. These are a few of the different types of co-parenting:

Parallel parenting

Parallel parenting involves co-parenting your children with minimal collaboration and communication. Each parent in a parallel parenting agreement raises their children how they choose when the children are in their custody. 

Parallel parenting is usually used in high-conflict divorce cases where the parents simply can’t agree on how to raise their children and want to avoid communicating with one another. 

Learn more about parallel parenting here.

Conflicted co-parenting

If you are attempting to co-parent with an ex but can’t agree on how to raise your kids — or you’re dealing with a narcissistic ex — conflicts can arise. One parent may try to persuade the other parent that their way of parenting is best, and the children may be confused about which set of rules they should follow. 

“Co-parenting with an ex who does not respect boundaries and is not acting in a child's best interest is absolutely terrible for the child and parents,” says Jenifer Foley, co-founder of Alter, Wolff & Foley LLP, a New York-based law firm that specializes in family legal services. 

Cooperative co-parenting

If you and your ex have a low-conflict relationship, you can attempt cooperative co-parenting, meaning you make decisions together in the best interests of your children. 

Cooperative co-parenting is based on mutual respect and trust that the other parent will raise your kids with the same values and expectations you agreed upon. 

What do you do when you can’t or don’t want to co-parent?

Not all separated or divorced parents can co-parent amicably. When you’re in a high-conflict situation, sometimes it’s best for each parent to set their own rules and expectations.

Foley says most parents want to do what is best for their children, they just disagree on what is “best.” 

“A neutral expert telling both parents that this inconsistency is not healthy and/or that it is creating stress/anxiety for a child is often received in a more productive manner,” Foley says.

What is the difference between co-parenting compared to joint custody?

Co-parenting can technically describe any parents who work together collaboratively, and peacefully raise children together.

Joint custody, on the other hand, is a legal term that can describe one of two things:

Joint legal custody means both parents have equal rights to make major decisions that affect their children, including health care, education, religion, and where the kids live.

Joint physical custody refers to equal time sharing, which is also called 50/50 parenting, or equally shared parenting.

Parents who cannot communicate well, or have extremely toxic and high-conflict relationships can parallel parent, which means they have a time-sharing arrangement, but each parents in their own way without input from the other parent during their time with the kids.

In a co-parenting relationship, a mother and father (or two dads, or two moms, etc.) are able to mostly overcome their differences and communicate and agree on most matters involving the children. Whether you can agree or not, you may benefit from a co-parenting app.

Aren’t women naturally better parents?

No. Science proves kids need both parents equally.

According to research published in the Review of General Psychology, having a loving and nurturing father is as crucial to a child’s well-being and success as having a loving and nurturing mother. 

Yale psychiatrist Kyle Pruett asserts in his book Fatherneed that a father’s more active play style and slower response to child frustration allows children to learn problem-solving skills and independence. 

Understand more about why a father would walk out on his children.

What are examples of co-parenting?

Some examples of co-parenting include: 

  • Making medical, religious, and education decisions for your children
  • Attending a child’s parent-teacher conference with your ex
  • Going to your child’s soccer game together
  • Sharing milestones with your ex on a co-parenting app
  • Going on family vacations — even if you stay in different accommodations
  • Having minimal contact with your ex but keeping interactions civil for the sake of your children

What are the benefits of co-parenting?

Dr. Sarah Kendrick, a Licensed Clinical Psychologist with Thriveworks in San Francisco, says there are several benefits of a co-parenting relationship:

Co-parenting benefits for parents

Parents who co-parent successfully may experience less stress since they can rely on the other parent to uphold the same parenting expectations.

Check out our list of 31 tips to co-parent successfully.

Co-parenting benefits for children

For children, co-parenting provides stability, since they often have a consistent schedule and experience the same set of rules/parenting style from both parents.

Co-parenting FAQs

What co-parenting apps are there?

There are numerous co-parenting apps to help parents with communication, schedules, activities, and more. 

Our Family Wizard ranked at the top of our list of best co-parenting apps for 2022 because: 

  • A+ Better Business Bureau rating for Avirat, its parent company 
  • Widely recognized and recommended by courts  
  • Superior technology, with a great user experience and glitch-free (or close to it) interface
  • Competitive cost, with military discount, financial assistance, and money-back guarantee / 30-day free trial

Also check out: 

What is a 50-50 custody schedule?

A 50-50 custody schedule is where both parents split the time they spend with their children equally. One of the simplest 50-50 custody schedules is an alternating weeks schedule, where the parents each take the children for a week at a time and switch off every other week. This custody arrangement also reduces the amount of time the parents have to interact. 

Gulotta says choosing a custody schedule really depends on what works best for each individual family. She says some other parents have a 2-2-3 schedule, where each parent has two days in a row and then every other weekend.

Is it difficult co-parenting with your ex?

Kendrick says that depends on the relationship between the parents and how much they’re willing to cooperate with one another.  

“You’re in control of your decisions and deciding what your life is, and even if something is not a direct and immediate choice for you, you can choose how you react,” she says.

Gulotta says some of the most difficult parts about co-parenting with an ex are: 

  • Overstepping boundaries
  • Blended family dynamics
  • Coordinating schedules
  • High-conflict parenting relationships

“When co-parenting with your ex, it may be difficult if one partner still has feelings and is not emotionally ready to transition into this new role,” Gulotta says. 

But she says co-parenting does not have to be hard. 

“Parents just need to work together to focus on what is beneficial to their children long term and to work on compromise,” she says. “Parents should remember not to compare what other co-parents do and to focus on what works best in their situation”

How do you co-parent while blending families?

Kendrick says the greatest challenge in blending families is often communication (between the former spouse, new partner, and all children, with each person needing individualized messages). 

“There may be hesitation to communicate with someone, but that’s OK, and it’s better to communicate more frequently than not,” Kendrick says.

She suggests leaving space open for questions from kids and regularly checking in on them to help with the transition.

Check out our post on how to make a blended family work.

What should I do when co-parenting doesn’t work?

Kendrick says to start by focusing on what’s best for your kids. 

“If you are finding that your co-parent is being challenging or resistant, that makes it more challenging for you,” she says. “There may be reasons you don’t know about that are bringing these difficulties up; you’re only in control of how you react.”

Kendrick’s advice?

“Choose to react in the best way that you can, at least for your kids.”

She says if all else fails, focus on your custody agreement and adhere to it.

You can also enroll in an online parenting course like Online Parenting Programs, which offers court-approved programs on:

  • Co-parenting and divorce
  • High-conflict co-parenting
  • Basic parenting skills
  • Thrive class in which parents and children attend together
  • High-risk parenting skills
  • Anger management

Check out our full list of online parenting classes and parenting classes near me.

Bottom line: What is co-parenting? Whatever you make of it.

Co-parenting with an ex can be hard, but ultimately, you are in control of your co-parenting experience. 

If you are struggling to co-parent with an ex, you can utilize apps like Our Family Wizard to improve your communication or enroll in an online parenting class like the ones offered by Online Parenting Programs. 

Get a 30-day free trial of Our Family Wizard >>

Use code WSM20 to get a $20 discount on an Online Parenting Program class >>

What is co-parenting?

The definition of co-parenting is the practice of two parents working together to parent the kids. While married or coupled parents can and should certainly co-parent amicably, and collaboratively, the term is usually used when navigating divorced and separated families where parents live apart.

What does co-parenting mean?

Ideally, both parents are actively involved in the child’s day-to-day life, communicate amicably (though you don’t have to be friends to be good co-parents), share the physical, financial, logistical and emotional responsibilities and joys of parenting, and encourage your children to have a warm relationship with the other parent, and their extended family and friends.

What are the types of co-parenting?

There is no one-size-fits-all co-parenting plan. Depending on how well you and your ex get along, you can choose a co-parenting plan with as much or as little interaction/communication as you can manage. These are a few of the different types of co-parenting: parallel parenting, conflicted co-parenting, and cooperative co-parenting.

What is cooperative co-parenting?

If you and your ex have a low-conflict relationship, you can attempt cooperative co-parenting, meaning you make decisions together in the best interests of your children.

What is the difference between co-parenting compared to joint custody?

Co-parenting can technically describe any parents who work together collaboratively, and peacefully raise children together.

Wealthysinglemommy.com founder Emma Johnson is an award-winning business journalist, activist, author and expert. A former Associated Press reporter and MSN Money columnist, Emma has appeared on CNBC, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, NPR, TIME, The Doctors, Elle, O, The Oprah Magazine. Winner of Parents magazine’s “Best of the Web” and a New York Observer “Most Eligible New Yorker," her #1 bestseller, The Kickass Single Mom (Penguin), was a New York Post Must Read. As an expert on divorce and gender, Emma presented at the United Nations Summit for Gender Equality and multiple state legislature hearings. More about Emma's credentials.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.