​​Co-Parenting: What It Is and How to Make It Work

man and woman and child spending time together outside

Cavan Images / Getty Images

If you and your partner have separated or gotten divorced, it can be difficult to interact with them regularly and maintain a civil relationship. However, you may have to do so, for the sake of your child, to help them grow up with the love and support of both parents.

This is important to help your child adjust because research shows that conflict between co-parents after a divorce or separation can make it much harder for children to cope.

Co-parenting is an arrangement where both parents work together and share the responsibilities of raising their child, or children, even though they are no longer married or in a romantic relationship.

Children often struggle with changes to their family unit and the addition, subtraction, or transition of parental figures can be extremely hard for them, says Sabrina Romanoff, PsyD, a clinical psychologist and professor at Yeshiva University. Modeling a cooperative, healthy relationship for them can help improve their long-term development.

If you and your family are in this situation, you’re not alone. The structures of families have changed over the years and families today come in many different shapes and sizes. It is estimated that 40% of children in the United States don’t live with a family of two married, biological parents.

This article explores the types of co-parenting arrangements, what healthy co-parenting looks like, tips for successful co-parenting, and what not to do as a co-parent.

Types of Co-Parenting

There are three types of co-parenting arrangements.

Conflicted Co-Parenting

In this co-parenting arrangement, the parents have frequent conflicts and poor communication between each other. They may have different schedules, parenting styles, rules, and priorities, and may be unable to reach agreements about their child's needs or daily routine. 

Conflicted co-parenting can be tough on children, as they may feel caught in the middle of their parents' disputes. Research shows that conflicted co-parenting can increase children’s risk of experiencing behavioral problems as well as mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, and psychological distress.

Cooperative Co-Parenting

In cooperative co-parenting arrangements, both parents work together to make decisions regarding their child’s upbringing. This arrangement involves communicating regularly, sharing information about their child's needs and progress, and coordinating schedules to ensure that the child spends quality time with both parents.

Cooperative co-parenting can be beneficial for children as it provides a stable, consistent, and supportive environment. Research shows that cooperative co-parenting is linked to higher self-esteem, improved academic performance, and better mental health overall in children.

Parallel Co-Parenting

Parallel co-parenting means both sets of parents operate independently, with little communication, engagement, cooperation, or conflict with each other. 

Their household routines and parenting rules are often different from each other, which can lead to a lack of consistency in the child's life. Any similarities in rules or routines are often not planned or intentional.

It’s important to note that co-parenting arrangements can be fluid and may change over time as the co-parents’ dynamics and circumstances evolve.

What Does Healthy Co-Parenting Look Like?

Healthy co-parenting involves working out a plan and aligning with your child’s co-parent on factors such as:

  • Visitation schedule: Co-parents need to work out a visitation schedule that ensures that both parents get to spend quality time with the child. The schedule should take into account weekdays, weekends, holidays, birthdays, and other special events. Parents should also discuss when and how they can contact the child when the child is with the other parent.
  • Daily routine: In order to maintain consistency across households, co-parents should discuss the child’s meals, extracurricular activities, bedtime, wake-time, and screen time among other things.
  • Education: Both parents should be aligned on where and how the child will be educated. It’s also important for parents to agree on how to divide responsibilities such as paying the child’s school fees, signing permission slips, supervising homework, attending parent-teacher conferences, and participating in other school-related activities.
  • Medical needs: It’s important for co-parents to work out which parent will accompany the child to doctor’s visits. Both parents should be aware of any medical issues the child has and be equipped to manage any medical emergencies.
  • Finances: Co-parents should discuss and arrive at a financial arrangement that keeps the child’s best interests in mind. If the parents have been through a divorce proceeding, the court may mandate that one parent make child support payments.

Tips for Successful Co-Parenting

These are some tips that can help you and your former partner successfully co-parent your child:

  • Maintain regular communication: It’s important to maintain regular communication with your child, co-parent, and any other stepparents, grandparents, or other caregivers in the child’s life. Share news and updates about your child’s development, school, activities, medical issues, and routine with everyone involved.
  • Work out a co-parenting plan: Jointly work out a plan that covers the factors listed above, such as visitation schedule, daily routine, education, finances, medical needs, etc.
  • Create an arrangement that works for both of you: Work out a co-parenting arrangement that works for you and your former partner. If you live nearby, you can have your child spend alternate days or weeks with each of you. Or, if your jobs are on different schedules, the child can spend mornings with one parent and evenings with another. If you live in different cities, the child may have to spend school days with one parent and holidays with another.
  • Discuss changes to the plan: The co-parenting plan may have to evolve based on the child’s needs and parents’ circumstances. Discuss any changes or updates to the plan with all the stakeholders involved. This can help ensure everyone is on the same page.
  • Be flexible: There may be times when things don’t go according to plan, despite the best intentions. Keep some room for flexibility in case the other parent is late or cannot pick up the child, the babysitter doesn’t show up on time, school lets out early, or there’s an unexpected emergency. Cooperating with your former partner when you are able to can help gain their cooperation for times when you need their help.
  • Respect different parenting styles: Understand that everyone has a different parenting style. Unless your former partner’s parenting style is harming your child, respect them and let them bond with the child on their own terms. Exposure to different parenting approaches can help your child learn how to adapt to different situations and relationships.
  • Make room for stepparents: You or your former partner may move on and start seeing other people. When you bring new partners into your child’s life, they may take on the role of stepparents. As long as they are respectful of your authority and good with your child, try to make room for them in your child’s life, instead of resenting their presence.
  • Keep interactions cordial: There may be times when you have to meet or interact with your former partner or other people in their life, such as their family members or current partners. For instance, while dropping off or picking up the child, at the child’s birthday parties, or at school events. Try to keep interactions friendly, if possible, or at least cordial.
  • Make the most of the time with your child: Make it a point to spend quality time with your child when they’re with you, especially if you have limited time together. Keep other commitments and distractions to a minimum and plan fun activities to do together. Try to create meaningful rituals that are unique to your relationship with your child.
  • Prepare for when your child isn’t with you: It’s natural to experience a sense of loss or loneliness when your child isn’t with you. This feeling may be more pronounced on the weekends or holidays. Try to reframe the sense of loss as a chance to rest and relax instead. Try to schedule activities that you enjoy but may not get to do when your child is around, such as seeing friends, watching movies, planning trips, or doing other things for yourself.

What Not to Do in Co-Parenting

These are some strategies to avoid if you’re a co-parent:

  • Disrupt your child’s routine: Try to ensure that your child’s routine stays consistent, across different households, caregivers, and occasions. A consistent daily routine can be a source of stability and comfort in the child’s life.
  • Undermine your former partner: Avoid undermining your former partner in the child’s eyes. Don’t flout their rules or speak disrespectfully about them in front of your child. Show the child a united front and support each other’s decisions. Discuss any issues you have with your former partner privately, when your child is not around.
  • Make your child feel guilty about loving their other parent: Even if you and your former partner are not romantically involved anymore, they are still your child’s parent and should have a loving relationship with them. Don’t make your child feel guilty about loving them, spending time with them, enjoying their time together, talking to you about them, or wanting to contact them while they're with you.

Frequently Asked Questions

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Is co-parenting the same as joint custody?

    Co-parenting and joint custody are not exactly the same thing although they may sometimes go hand in hand.

    Co-parenting is a collaborative approach to parenting; whereas, joint custody is a legal arrangement wherein both parents share custody and responsibility of the child.

    Often, parents who have joint custody of their child also choose to co-parent in order to create a stable and supportive environment for the child. However, it is possible to have joint custody arrangements without co-parenting and co-parenting arrangements without joint custody.

  • Is co-parenting a good idea?

    Co-parenting can be an effective way for parents to raise their children after a divorce or separation. Cooperative co-parenting can help provide children with the stability and support they need, particularly in the wake of any disruptive changes to their family structure.

    However, co-parenting is not always a good idea in cases where there is a history of abuse or neglect, or where one parent is unable or unwilling to co-parent effectively. In these situations, it may be necessary to establish a custody arrangement that prioritizes the safety and well-being of the child.

A Word From Verywell

As the structures and dynamics of families change, co-parenting has become a way for both parents to raise their child, despite not longer being in a relationship with one another. 

Successful co-parenting takes a lot of communication, coordination, planning, flexibility, and mutual respect. This can sometimes be difficult to achieve, particularly with an ex-partner you’re no longer with. However, maintaining a co-operative relationship with them for the sake of your child can make a big difference to the child’s mental and emotional well-being.

6 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Pires M, Martins M. Parenting styles, co-parenting, and early child adjustment in separated families with child physical custody processes ongoing in family court. Children (Basel). 2021;8(8):629. doi:10.3390/children8080629

  2. Parkes A, Green M, Mitchell K. Co-parenting and parenting pathways from the couple relationship to children's behavior problems. J Fam Psychol. 2019;33(2):215-225. doi:10.1037/fam0000492

  3. D'Onofrio B, Emery R. Parental divorce or separation and children's mental health. World Psychiatry. 2019;18(1):100-101. doi:10.1002/wps.20590

  4. Lamela D, Figueiredo B. Co-parenting after marital dissolution and children's mental health: a systematic review. J Pediatr (Rio J). 2016;92(4):331-342. doi:10.1016/j.jped.2015.09.011

  5. Goldberg JS, Carlson MJ. Patterns and predictors of co-parenting after unmarried parents part. J Fam Psychol. 2015;29(3):416-426. doi:10.1037/fam0000078

  6. Arlinghaus KR, Johnston CA. The importance of creating habits and routine. Am J Lifestyle Med. 2018;13(2):142-144. doi:10.1177/1559827618818044

By Sanjana Gupta
Sanjana is a health writer and editor. Her work spans various health-related topics, including mental health, fitness, nutrition, and wellness.