How to successfully co-parent and raise happy kids after divorce

Divorce or separation is always more complex when kids are involved. Here’s how to co-parent without anger towards your ex getting in the way.

While your ex might be the last person you want to deal with after a split, if you’ve got kids together, it’s important to develop amicable arrangements for sharing their care – and it is possible.

From Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin, to Miranda Kerr and Orlando Bloom, many former couples have spoken candidly on how they make co-parenting work.

Here’s a guide on how to keep your cool and co-parent for the good of the kids

Establish a co-parenting agreement

Have a clear plan and an approach you both agree on, Raising Children Network director Derek McCormack says.

“We know from research that kids benefit if both parents are still in their lives,” Derek says.

“A co-parenting agreement, whether you develop it yourselves or get help from a mediator or counsellor, will help.

“Think of it like a business arrangement covering things like when and where the kids will spend time with each parent, financial arrangements for things like education and medical costs and what happens on the holidays.”

Maintain communication with your ex

Keep your former partner up-to-date, recommends family lawyer Meredith Hunter.

“Your child will benefit by the other parent knowing what’s going on, so agree on the best way to communicate – whether it’s by phone, email, text or a post separation parenting communication app, which have shared calendars and contacts,” Meredith says.

“The Our Family Wizard app, although more expensive than some, also has a ‘tone meter’ which suggests when you might need to re-word communications.

“Also, messages cannot be deleted.”

Focus on the best outcome for your child

Derek says a lot of unnecessary conflict can be avoided by putting children first.

“It might be tricky, and in the early days there might be some negative feelings, but the kids will already be feeling unsettled, so keep the focus on them,” he says.

“Think about the behaviour you’re modelling and you’ll see that it’s worth the effort.”

Meredith recommends resisting the impulse to speak negatively about your ex.

“Children are aware they are half of their mum’s DNA and half of their dad’s; so if you’re critical of the other parent, they feel you’re also being critical of them,” she says.

Allow your child to love the other parent

Successful co-parenting also means letting your children see it’s OK for them to demonstrate affection for their other parent, Meredith says.

“Don’t put your feelings for the other party above your love for your kids – I interview so many children who blame themselves for what’s happening,” she says.

“You are going to see your ex at school concerts and parent teacher events and sport.

“Don’t make your child feel like they have to choose who to stand with, they need to be able to love both of you.”

Aim to be flexible and accept different parenting styles

If possible, try to be reasonable and flexible with whoever it is you’re co-parenting with and understand plans will need to change and adapt as your child gets older and they might start a new school for example, our experts say.

“Also, your former partner’s parenting style might also change now that you’re no longer together but as long as the kids are safe and happy, that’s usually OK,” Derek says.

“Look for the positives in your new situation.

“Children who are part of a blended family have the opportunity to be exposed to more people who love and care about them and can learn some important life skills in navigating different environments.”

Written by Liz McGrath.