Divorce: Understanding Co-parenting and Developing the Parenting Plan

Parenting can be tough enough as it is, but matters are often further complicated when parents are separated or divorced. For those who intend to co-parent well, cooperation is of the utmost necessity. Parents are usually no longer living under the same roof and the children now have two homes. Successful, purposeful co-parenting focuses on doing what is best for children and respecting that both parents will maintain vitally important roles.

It all starts with both parties working together to form a Parenting Plan.

How to Form a Successful Co-Parenting Relationship

The Parenting Plan establishes the framework for successful co-parenting, and it must be agreed upon by both parents involved or, if the parents cannot agree, then the Court will order a Parenting Plan. In most circumstances, this plan has three components:

Conservatorship

Think of “conservatorship” as “decision-making” and “conservator” as “decision-maker.” In Texas, parents must establish the method in which certain decisions regarding the children are made. These decisions include, among others, how will elective, invasive medical, dental, and surgical decisions be made; how will psychological and psychiatric decisions be made; how will certain educational decisions be made.

While parents in Texas are not required to agree on the non-legal decisions such as bed times, screen time, clothing and haircuts, extracurricular activities, etc., two-household families often function better when there is consistency for the child across both houses; that is an aspirational goal. In many cases, parents can work together to a point where they do not feel the need to check in with one another on each of these items, while in others, a check-in and discussion may be helpful.

Possession & Access Schedule

While Texas allows parents to follow whatever schedule they mutually agree on, almost all family courts in Texas require that the final order or decree regarding the child include a possession and access schedule in the Parenting Plan. Parents, or the Court if the parents cannot reach an agreement, must form a schedule for established possession/access time between each parent and the child.

Children's Financial Needs

All children have financial needs, and in many Texas Parenting Plans, these are addressed with child support and medical support. Sometimes, parents agree to a sharing of certain expenses in lieu of or in addition to child support. What the children’s needs are and how exactly they will be met will need to be agreed upon by both parents or a judge will make the determination.

Other

When forming a parenting plan, parents are legally required to agree on the above three components at a minimum (or the Court will make those orders for them). That said, many parents find it effective to add in other components to their plan as well, in order to prevent further difficulties down the road. For example, if a parents travels internationally and desires to bring the child along on trips, we often include provisions regarding international travel such as exchange of passports and sharing of itineraries. Parents often agree to include other provisions as well.

Co-Parenting - Communication is Key

For successful post-divorce co-parents, respectful communication is crucial. Each parent must be willing to listen to the concerns of the other and work towards understanding and addressing those concerns. Some successful co-parents schedule co-parenting sessions with a co-parenting coach a few times a year to help with communication. Respectful communication and listening are the foundations of a successful co-parenting relationship.

It is important to note that the parenting plan may need to be modified as the child gets older. It can be difficult to determine at the time of divorce when and if a modification will be necessary but maintaining open and respectful communication will assist in making minor corrections and tweaks as the child ages and can significantly reduce future legal costs.

A good co-parenting relationship is about putting the children’s needs – one of which is for there to be no palpable conflict between their parents – ahead of any animosity, frustration, or anger you have with their other parent.

One of the benefits of the Collaborative Divorce process is that the first step in the process is identifying the interests of each parent and the children so that throughout the divorce process the needs of the children are addressed first. This helps to model and set the stage for a successful post-divorce co-parenting relationship that will support the children in growing to be happy, healthy, and productive adults.

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