Why do parents WANT to co-parent after divorce? In most cases they don’t… but they don’t have a choice!
The truth is that many would prefer not, but that’s not realistic. When parents separate or divorce, usually both parents want to care for their children. Both parents are typically aware that it is preferable for their kids to have both of their parents. The research on divorce tells us that kids of divorce do better when they have real relationships with both parents, (and they don’t have a lot of conflict…. but I’ll get to that). This is a major decision every divorcing couple must face. When parents were both very involved with their children prior to separation, it is usually an easy decision to co-parent. When they haven’t been, it’s generally more difficult.
Co-parenting can mean any sharing of the children from 30/70 to 50/50. The kind of parenting plan that parents develop usually takes in consideration the age of the children and the relationships they have with both of their parents. It is also important to consider the parent’s work schedules and needs so they are available when the children need them. I often hear from moms who have been the primary care givers, that they do not want to share their children. From the dads, I hear that they feel it is their right to have the children half the time. Increasingly, judges are awarding joint custody to parents, changing the priority of a mother’s right to sole custody and entertaining father’s rights in an equal manner. Many women are opposed to this, particularly with young children to whom they are very attached. There is no question that it is very hard to not be with your children for half of the time. It is also very hard for children to not see their other parent. And most important, it is very difficult for children to go through divorce.
So, what is of primary importance is to help the children adjust in the best way possible, and usually that means some form of joint custody and co-parenting. If there is major conflict between the parents, rather than joint custody, couples sometimes agree to “spheres of influence”. What that means is that each parent has decision-making power over specific areas, i.e. one parent has medical and the other has education. When parents cannot agree easily and fear they will not be able to reach a joint decision, sometimes this is a better solution.
The spouse who initiates the separation is relevant in the feelings about joint custody. What I see in my work is that the person who wants to leave the marital relationship is usually more open to sharing the children than the person who would have rather stayed married. The loss of marriage is great, and the loss of children is greater! The emotional issues impact the decisions that are made. What is most important, however, is how the children feel and what is best for them. I urge parents to consider the children’s best interests.
When parents do not get along when they are married, how are they supposed to get along as co-parents when they are separated? I’m often asked that question. The answer is not simple. While it is true that the relationship is fractured and difficult, it also becomes easier to co-parent after the divorce settlement happens and each person settles into their own new lives. The expectations from each other change and there are clearer rules of how to behave with one another. This can make parenting easier. If both parents really put their children front and center and work to help them have a good life, it can usually work. If the parents need help in getting there, it is advisable to enlist a parent coordinator to assist them and iron out their issues.