When minor children are involved in a divorce, a divorce-reality that is difficult for many people to understand and accept is the concept of shared parental responsibility. Parental responsibility refers to the authority of a parent to make decisions regarding their child’s education, health care, religion, and any other responsibilities that the court finds unique to a particular family.
More often than not, a court will order that the parents share parental responsibility so that both parents retain full decision making responsibility. Accordingly, the parents are required to co-parent by conferring and acting jointly when making major decisions affecting the welfare of the minor child; the parents are expected to work together. Co-parenting is almost always in the best interest of the child involved because, when done effectively, it allows both parents to be a significant part of the child’s life without compromising the child’s relationship with either parent.
Co-parenting requires the parents to effectively communicate with each other in regards to their children. This can be difficult especially since communication breakdowns between a husband and wife are almost always one of the culprits behind a divorce. Studies show that children of divorced parents who can successfully co-parent are able to deal with their parents’ divorce more successfully than those children whose parents are unable to cooperatively co-parent.
The basic legal principles behind shared parental responsibility and co-parenting are the same for parents who were never married. Some useful co-parenting strategies that we suggest are:
1. Treat co-parenting like a business relationship. Make a list of what needs to be discussed to keep you on track during the conversation.
2. Focus on your children. Don’t allow yourself to get drawn into past or current marital issues and disputes; reserve those for your therapist.
3. Do not use your children to send messages to the other parent. – They are your kids, not a messenger service. Your children do not deserve to be put in the middle of your problems with the other parent.
4. Refrain from using language that you would not use in conversation with a priest.
5. Be reasonable and willing to compromise. It can’t be your way all the time. Believe it or not, the other parent might not be acting purely out of spite and might actually have some good ideas.