May 1, 2024/Parenting

Our Safe and Responsible Guide To Co-Parenting

Keeping open lines of communication and working together as a team for your children are key to co-parenting

Two caregivers, with one holding a child on shoulders, walking happily outside

If you and your partner have separated or divorced, raising your children can be a challenging task if you’re not sure what to prioritize or how to navigate conflict.


Cleveland Clinic is a non-profit academic medical center. Advertising on our site helps support our mission. We do not endorse non-Cleveland Clinic products or services. Policy

But at the heart of co-parenting, adults on all sides can and should work together as a team to make sure your children know they’re safe, supported, loved and cared for regardless of which household they’re in and whenever they travel from one parental unit to the other.

Whether you’re navigating co-parenting for the first time or you’re trying to find ways to improve and mediate the problem-solving process, pediatric psychologist Kathryn Jones, PhD, says the key to co-parenting comes down to open communication, planning and accountability.

Dr. Jones shares tips for how to manage co-parenting and make it a more positive process for your children especially.

The benefits of co-parenting

Co-parenting (or shared parenting) is a legal or personal arrangement in which parents of children work together to share the responsibilities, finances, guardianship and custody of their children even though they’re no longer married and/or in a romantic relationship.

In co-parenting arrangements, teamwork is paramount to your child’s success because research shows that parental divorce and separation have been associated with an increase in child and adolescent adjustment problems, including academic difficulties (like poor performance grades, higher dropout rates), disruptive behaviors and increased risk for anxiety and depression. This is particularly true in co-parenting families where there are higher levels of conflict, aggression and parental disputes (as children often feel caught in the middle).

But in positive co-parenting arrangements where children feel safe, stable and supported in a consistent and reliable environment, cooperative co-parenting has been shown to result in higher levels of self-esteem, improved academic performance and better overall mental health for the children involved.

Tips for successful co-parenting

“If you’re co-parenting, you’re really trying to figure out a way to continue to be a team for your child, even if you’re not in a relationship anymore,” says Dr. Jones. “You’re finding ways to be there for your children with mutual respect.”

She shares some ways you can do that by working together with the other parental units in your family and by centering your children every step of the way.

Create a co-parenting plan with a set schedule

Sometimes, you can set up a parenting schedule on your own or with the help of legal assistance. But however you divvy up the days of the week, it’s important to plan ahead and try to stick to a strict schedule on who gets time with your children for two reasons.

1) Having a schedule sets up a standard of expectations for everyone involved, but 2), it also helps your children develop a sense of familiarity with the situation. They know when they’ll be switching households, for how long they’re expected to be there and what kinds of rules will be in place when they’re present at each household.


“The more you iron out in advance, the better it will be for your child,” reinforces Dr. Jones. “This is so important for kids and so helpful for them because when you have a steady routine, when something has to change because there is something big going on, it’s not going to necessarily feel as big of a deal because they know they’ll return to their original routine eventually. If things are always all over the place, that can be harder to process.”

Be flexible with each other when you have to

Having a daily routine doesn’t mean you have to be rigid. Sometimes, having a daily routine isn’t always possible or even easy, especially if your job requires you to do shift work where your hours change frequently.

“If one parent has shift work that is going to be changing all the time, you can have a conversation with your kids about how this is your job and you can normalize that experience so they can expect those variations in your schedule,” advises Dr. Jones.

“As part of that conversation, to create a routine, you can talk about how you’re going to maintain communication, and maybe have a calendar in their rooms at both homes with your schedule so they can track where you’re going to be at what times so they know as far in advance what they can expect. And that kind of knowledge can make them feel safe and supported.”

Figure out how you’ll handle emergencies

Having a backup plan in place in case of emergencies is always a good idea for any parent. But for co-parents especially, it’s good to know how you’ll handle communication in those possible hard-to-reach moments when someone needs to take a last-minute trip to the emergency room or someone comes down with a serious illness and immediate action or parental guidance is required.

“It’s important to plan in advance for how you’re going to communicate with each other about the inevitable situations when emergencies arise,” reiterates Dr. Jones. “If someone is sick or needs to go to the emergency room and the kids can’t be at the house, how can you communicate and make sure that kid is taken care of and that everyone is supported in that process? Planning ahead on how that communication is handled and having a backup plan in place for those times emergencies come up or last-minute plans need to be changed is really important.”

Honor and respect the differences in parenting styles

If it hasn’t happened yet, it will. Your child will inevitably come home at some point and talk about how one household handles things a little differently. Maybe the other household allows late-night snacks or an even later bedtime than you’re willing to budge on — and maybe that makes sense considering they spend most of their time at the other house on the weekends. But an 11 p.m. bedtime at your house during the week won’t fly when you have to get your kids up early for school. So, how do you navigate those little comparisons between two very different households without causing an argument or misplacing the blame?

“Sometimes, people think that co-parenting means you have to do everything exactly the same, but that’s not feasible,” recognizes Dr. Jones. “While having as much consistency as possible is, of course, really helpful because it helps make things really routine and predictable for your child, there may need to be some things that have to be different for different reasons in different households.”

For example, if one household has more stepsiblings than the other, that’s likely to change some of the dynamics around bedtime routines and how things are handled at the end of the day compared to a single-child household.

And if your child is allowed to stay up and watch TV a little later at the other household as long as it’s only on the weekends, that may fall within reason. The idea here is that the adults should openly communicate in advance with each other and with their child about what the major household rules are and try to keep those major rules consistent between houses. Then, acknowledge any major differences early on so that all parties involved are aware of what to expect.


“There are going to be differences in parenting styles and how things are handled, but it’s less confusing for kids if everybody is on the same page about that and working toward the same goals,” says Dr. Jones.

Make room for new and extended family members

Introducing your child to new partners, potential future family members or stepsiblings can be a challenging but important part of establishing a strong, supportive co-parenting dynamic. When introducing your children to these parties for the first time, or opening up the door for more experiences, you’ll want to take it slow.

Give your child the physical and emotional space to process their feelings and let them know that sometimes, these moments can be hard and overwhelming. But then, when you feel like your child is ready for those experiences, make time to schedule fun activities with the entire family so they can see everyone together in the same space.

“Having fun things to do where the parents are involved and they can bring in other family members can be helpful because the kids can see all of these adults are on the same team together, where their goal is to support them and love them and the other kids who are in this situation,” says Dr. Jones.

In the event you don’t get along with certain partners or extended family members, try to avoid talking about that in front of your children or posting about it on social media. Research shows social media disapproval and parental conflicts have both been associated with an increase in co-parenting conflicts.

“That can make things worse and make it harder for them when they’re making the adjustment so that they feel like they have to pick sides in some of those situations,” warns Dr. Jones. “We want children to know that it’s not about this house or that house, it’s about how can everyone come together to raise these kids with the best intentions.”

Ask for help when your child needs it

Changes to a household and the family dynamic can be difficult to wrestle with, especially if it’s coupled with conflict and inconsistency. In some cases, you may discover your child might exhibit new behavioral changes or symptoms that may include:


“If your kids are having emotional responses to the changes that are happening, or if you’re noticing some of these other changes in their lives, they might be signs that things are too dissimilar between households or that your child may benefit from therapy,” notes Dr. Jones.

“Sometimes, seeing a family therapist to help find a compromise between where the parents are on different issues can be really helpful. Sometimes, we just need to bring in someone from outside the situation to be able to see the situation clearly.”

Live your life when your child isn’t at home

Keeping lines of communication open for your children is important in case something comes up or your kids miss you while they’re away. Make time for scheduled check-ins and make sure they can call or message you online or over the phone if either of you feel the need to reach out to one another. But make sure you’re also respecting their time with their other parents and/or making time for yourself while your child is away from your home.

“Think about where your supports are — who are the people you can reach out to and talk to or do other things with that you might not get to do when you don’t have that alone time?” suggests Dr. Jones. “Maybe there are some things you’ve been meaning to get back to or you want to find other things that you love, and then you can share those things with your kid. Those are all important parts of self-care that can help when you’re feeling stressed out, lonely or alone.”

You can also plan to make your kid’s return to your house something special by sharing your adventures with them when they return, or by making sure you have something on hand that will make their return feel comforting.


“Think about something cool you can do for them when they return to your home,” she continues. “Maybe it’s getting them a little card or planning to make them their favorite meal the first day they’re back. You can have a positive thing in place for when they return to help normalize the routine, especially in the beginning when everyone is getting used to the co-parenting arrangement.”

How to problem-solve with your co-parent

“A lot of times, when we’re problem-solving, we tend to go from one problem to the next until it builds up and then, we never really look at and solve any of the things,” states Dr. Jones.

“The more you can look at one problem at a time, and brainstorm ideas on how to tackle those problems together, and what solutions will work in both situations and how it’ll impact the children, the better all parties can manage problems as they come up.”

The key to problem-solving is making sure that you’re working together as a team. When disagreements come up, you find a way to meet some middle-ground that works as a solution with your child’s best interests in mind. In the instance these arguments or disagreements arise, it’s important that you avoid having your child get involved. Don’t send them back and forth as a messenger. Instead, the adults should communicate directly with one another.

“As parents, you should be doing most of the arranging and working together for the good of that child,” states Dr. Jones. “You want to figure out what’s going to be best for the child. If that process of problem solving is always devolving into having arguments, then it’s a good sign that getting a family therapist might help mediate some of those conflicts and help strengthen some of those relationships so that you can problem-solve in a more productive and positive way.”

Come together

Remember: Co-parenting isn’t a competition. When parents work together to be on the same page, regardless of what kind of relationship they have, the children they raise reap all the rewards.

Learn more about our editorial process.

Health Library
Child Life Specialist

Related Articles

Person observing a loving couple
May 15, 2024/Mental Health
Resentment: How It Can Creep In and Take Hold

The key to letting go of resentment is unpacking complex emotions and learning how to express them

Teen lying on bed holding cell phone up reading it
May 9, 2024/Parenting
Sexting: The Risks and How To Talk to Your Children About It

Sexting has become all too common among kids, putting them at risk for bullying, blackmailing and human trafficking

Young child in bed reading at night
May 2, 2024/Children's Health
Nighty-Night: Tips To Get Your Kid To Stay In Bed

A consistent, structured routine, which may include incentives, can help children learn to stay in bed and get the ZZZs they need

yin-yang-type hands in black and red
April 30, 2024/Sex & Relationships
What Are Karmic Relationships?

Don’t let the romantic terminology fool you: Karmic relationships are dysfunctional by definition

Caregiver and child sitting in front of toilet holding toilet paper rolls
April 24, 2024/Children's Health
How To Potty Train: Our Best Tips

Set your child up for potty training success by waiting until they’re ready, keeping the pressure low and going heavy on the praise

Three sick babies crying amidst toys and baby items
April 18, 2024/Children's Health
How To Keep Your Kids Healthy When They Go to Daycare

You can help strengthen your child’s immune system by focusing on hand washing and staying up-to-date on their vaccines

Close up of child's chipped teeth
March 29, 2024/Children's Health
What To Do if Your Child Chips a Tooth

A dental emergency, quick action is key to preventing long-term damage

Parent helping toddler brush their teeth while in the bathroom
March 13, 2024/Oral Health
Tips for Preventing Cavities in Children

Help and encourage them to brush and floss regularly, limit sugary foods and get routine dental checkups

Trending Topics

Person in yellow tshirt and blue jeans relaxing on green couch in living room reading texts on their phone.
Here’s How Many Calories You Naturally Burn in a Day

Your metabolism may torch 1,300 to 2,000 calories daily with no activity

woman snacking on raisins and nuts
52 Foods High In Iron

Pump up your iron intake with foods like tuna, tofu and turkey