As painful as you and your spouse’s divorce may be, you will likely want to find ways to minimize its impact on your children. You two may have trouble getting along with each other. Yet, you may both be devoted parents who are on the same page – or similar pages – about your children’s upbringing. By considering a co-parenting arrangement with your soon-to-be-ex, you could give your children the stability and security they need to thrive.

Understanding co-parenting

If you and your spouse adopt a co-parenting arrangement, you will have equal responsibility in your children’s upbringing. Co-parenting does not necessarily mean that you will have equal shares of custody. What it does mean is that you and your spouse will both remain active participants in your children’s lives. You will have to make decisions about your children together – with their best interests in mind – and treat each other with respect while doing so.

Many divorcing and divorced couples can co-parent with reasonable success – even those who don’t particularly like each other. Yet, co-parenting does not make sense in every situation. If you or your spouse are unable to prioritize your children’s needs over your feelings, you will likely have a difficult time co-parenting. And if either of you have a history of substance abuse, domestic violence or neglect, a co-parenting arrangement will be neither viable nor safe.

How co-parenting benefits children of divorce

Children who witness contentious divorces often emerge from their parents’ battles with psychological scars. Hearing parents berate one another gives children an unhealthy model for communication and problem-solving. Being used as a pawn in custody disputes can also make children feel that they must remain loyal to one parent over the other.

By co-parenting, you and your spouse can set an example of what civility, communication and cooperation look like. Acting with respect toward each other will likely preserve your children’s sense of security. It will also show them what healthy conflict resolution looks like. And it will allow them to feel that they can have strong relationships with both you and your spouse, rather than having to pick sides in your divorce.

For your co-parenting arrangement to succeed, you will need to outline in your parenting plan how you and your spouse will handle scheduling, exchanges, communication and conflicts. You will also want to consult a legal professional, who can make sure your arrangement is workable and reflects your family’s circumstances.