Resources for Shared Parenting
Family dynamics change when parents separate, but parenting doesn’t end. Co-parenting after a separation can be challenging, as it may be difficult to put the needs of your child ahead of your own intense fears and feelings. However, a collaborative divorce that puts the needs of children first will help to ensure that your child is raised in a happy, healthy, and supportive environment.
What is Shared Parenting?
Shared parenting is a collaborative parenting agreement in divorce or child custody determinations in which each parent has the responsibility and right to be actively involved in raising a child. Sometimes used as a synonym for joint custody, the idea behind shared parenting is that parental responsibilities should be shared by both of the child’s parents. Research over the last decade regarding the impact of divorce and separation on children has identified why shared parenting is so important:
- A child will do best when both of his parents have consistent and meaningful involvement in his life.
- A child should have routine, structured time and unstructured time with each of his parents.
- Each parent will have unique and valuable contributions to make to the development of their child.
- Cooperation and communication between parents are essential in arranging a child’s activities, and consistent rules in both homes can create a better sense of security for a child.
A parenting plan is an important tool in a successful shared parenting arrangement, as this agreement will set out the protocols and schedule of living arrangements for a child with separated parents. Parenting plans should be developed with consideration of the needs of the children involved as well as the circumstances of both parents. This plan will include a schedule that identifies the days and times that a child is in the care of each of his parents. It will identify who cares for the child during school vacations and major holidays. While many families benefit from detailed parenting arrangements with specific schedules, changes should be allowed, as needed, as long as both parents agree.
When designing a parenting plan, you should make specific note of certain activities, such as:
- Who will be driving your child for pick-ups and drop-offs between parents?
- Who will stay home with your child if he is sick and unable to attend school?
- Who will be responsible for scheduling dental and medical appointments?
- How will you share responsibilities for celebrating your child’s birthday?
Even if you have an amicable relationship with your child’s other parent and feel that you’ll be able to work these issues out as they come along, a well-defined plan is a good way to prevent potential conflict in the future.
Creating a Parenting Plan
The age of your child will be a major contributing factor in your parenting plan, and as your child gets older, the previous agreement may need to be amended.
Baby (Birth to 18 Months)
The first year and a half of your child’s life is important for his early development and for establishing a positive relationship with both of his parents. During this stage of your child’s life, it is important that both parents have the opportunity to participate in daily routines like bathing, feeding, and napping. Both parents should have frequent contact with your child, and separations of more than a few days can interfere with a healthy attachment to that parent. Both parents should also establish similar home routines and use open communication to describe the child’s daily experiences.
Toddler (18 months to 3 Years)
During the toddler years, your child will become more aware of the world around him. It is important that both parents have the chance to become comfortable and competent in all aspects of the child’s daily routine. If one parent was not regularly involved in caring for the child up until this point in his life, begin contacts slowly with two or three daytime meetings per week so that the parent-child bond can begin to develop. If both parents have been involved in every aspect of childcare since birth, the child should be fine to be away from either parent for about two days.
Pre-School (3 to 5 Years)
Pre-school aged children are attached to their primary or regular caregivers. Separation from them can cause feelings of anxiousness or fear, so they may have difficulty moving between the homes of both parents. Children of this age need predictability and consistency, and your child will do better if each of his parents displays a positive attitude during transitions.
School Age (6 to 12 years)
The middle years of childhood are usually a long, settled period for kids. Your child will have greater experience with being separated from you and his other parent. However, it is important to maximize frequent contact with both parents at this age. Some parents still choose to split up the weeks, so that the child is spending equal time with both parents, while other children may require a “home base” and are more comfortable with alternating weekends.
Early Adolescents (13 to 15 years)
Teenagers will continue to use their family as a base of guidance and support. While your teen may not show it, he still needs oversight and nurturing from both of his parents. When your child reaches this age, he may begin to negotiate his time directly with each of his parents, so it is important that you are talking directly to your ex to ensure that your child is accountable and safe.
During these years of your child’s life, it may be in his best interest to establish a “home base” because of his school activities, commitments, and social relationships. If this situation does arise, the non-residential parent should still get time during the week and on the weekends, and both of you should increase contact by attending his school activities and events.
Late Adolescents (16 to 18 years)
Parents of 16-18 year olds need to work together to encourage and support their child’s development of an individual identity. Communication during these later teen years remains essential, and it is important that both parents are on the same page about curfews, dating, driving, and other issues. Children are extremely vulnerable to family changes and pressure from outside of the family during these years, so maintaining consistency and stability is essential. Even though you should be supporting your child’s healthy and gradual separation away from you, he will still need meaningful time with both of his parents.
- Bonus Families – Resources for living with stepfamilies and proper ex-etiquette after a divorce.
- Dads of Wisconsin – This group is working to improve the lives of Wisconsin children affected by separation and divorce by lobbying for equal child placement time and parental responsibility.
- Fathers and Families of New York – A non-profit advocacy and educational organization that works to keep fathers and their children together.
- Helping Boys Thrive – An educational event for parents who are raising and educating young boys.
- Keeping Families Connected – Parental alienation resources that can help families during child custody and high conflict divorce cases.
- National Parents Organization – This organization works to preserve the bond between parents and children via shared parenting, child support, and alimony reform.
- Our Family Wizard – This online tool helps to simplify joint and shared child custody issues.
- Parenting Plans – This book offers tips on how to develop a successful parenting plan in child custody cases.
- Stand Up for Gus – This organization provides resources for families dealing with parental alienation issues.
- The Evolution of Dad – This documentary examines what it means to be an involved, contemporary father in the U.S.