When parents separate, they’re entering into an unknown world. Ever since their children were born, they’ve never had to adhere to a timetable or do the job of a single parent. In most modern families, tasks would have been divided.

As a children lawyer and a divorced parent of two, I often get asked questions like; Does shared care really work? Does it not cause confusion to the children? How do they adapt to two homes? Can it work if we simply do not get on?

For most, the view has already been formed that peaceful co-parenting only happens in Disney films, in the Gwyneth Paltrow household or the Hamptons. The reality is it can happen and does happen, but it takes determination by both to get it right. If you do, the rewards can be life changing. Children grow up feeling like they can talk to you both without barriers, can celebrate their love for you both openly and more importantly you can enjoy all of this as a family unit – just a slightly different one.

There are many breakups where for a number of reasons, co- parenting is not possible, but for those where there are no welfare concerns and there’s a genuine desire to work together to get it right, these tips should help…

IT’S ABOUT THE CHILDREN’S WISHES AND FEELINGS, NOT OUR OWN

Focus should be on what’s right for the child. When parents split, they often put their own positions first. In my initial meetings I often hear the words “I must have every weekend,” or “he can see them every other weekend” – I have to take back the emotion and remind parents that children do need both parents. They’ve grown up with both since birth and need both growing up. We may have divorced each other but we are not divorced from our children. My advice is to always have this at the forefront of your mind. If, for example, dad asks for an additional day to watch a football match that happens to be on your day, then go with it. If mum wants to attend a pamper party on a day that falls on dad’s weekend, then go with it. This is putting the child first and also shows them life is about compromise.

ROUTINE RESPECT AND PLANNING IN ADVANCE

Children need routine whatever their age – more so when they’re living in two households. I often get asked what the right co-parenting routine is. The reality is, there’s no right or wrong. Children don’t come with a manual. A week-on-week off routine may work for some children but not others. My own children have a routine which involves them staying with dad Thursday to Monday one week and Wednesday and Thursday the following week. We didn’t even try week-on-week off as we both knew this would be too much for our son who preferred shorter blocks. Whilst our arrangement is not exactly 50/50, it’s good and works. A great tip is to have a visible calendar marking mum and dad days. Children can then see when they’re next seeing the other parent which takes away any worry or anxiety they may have.

Holidays will also need to be planned in advance. The best arrangements tend to be those that alternate the holidays each year, so children create memories of different seasons with both parents.

CREATE A BUSINESS RELATIONSHIP

Tensions between parents can get high and this is often exacerbated by unhelpful communication. We can now talk to each other on a multitude of apps which is dangerous territory to parents in conflict. My advice? See your ex as a business partner akin to a work colleague. This should change the way you communicate with each other. This will also have the benefit of facilitating how you talk about the other parent to the children as it takes away emotion.

DON’T CREATE THE DIVORCE KID ENVIRONMENT

My daughter once said she knows the kids at school whose parents are divorced because they come in loaded up with bags. This comment never left me, so I have worked with my ex to ensure that our kids aren’t loaded up when going to school – with a little planning this can work! And, as tough as it may be, try to attend school functions, plays and parents evenings together. Attending separately and sitting at other sides of the school hall not only reminds children that their family is separated but it also announces it to their school world. It also helps you deal with any negative feedback from teachers and if needs be, it helps to apply the same rules in both households.

Co-parenting isn’t easy. It takes patience, understanding and resilience. I have been co-parenting now for seven years. We didn’t get it all right, but we applied the above rules and have now come out on the other side. The irony is our children are now teenagers and don’t want to spend time with either of us! We’re just uncool mum and dad.

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