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The secret to successful co-parenting post-divorce

View profile for Susan Howarth
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“Brangelina” split throws co-parenting into the spotlight again

Angelina Jolie, Brad Pitt and their rainbow family once looked like the picture perfect family, with the world seemingly following every harmonious collaborative move they made.

But in the wake of the shock announcement that Angelina Jolie is filing for divorce amidst alleged rumours of infidelity, parental abuse and substance abuse, the family of 8 is now heading towards a new family reality.


The end of the relationship…

Divorce can be awful, even if you’re a celebrity. And whilst Brangelina’s marriage is clearly over, Pitt and Jolie will always be co-parents.

But when your relationship has irretrievably broken down and the split has been painful, acrimonious and exhausting, it can be extremely difficult to get past the emotion, stress and possible resentment.

And there lies the million dollar question: is it really possible to successfully co-parent post-divorce?


What next?

The short answer is ‘yes’ but the reality of making co-parenting work successfully is far more complex and demanding for both parties.

It takes commitment, communication, co-operation, flexibility, empathy, patience and restraint amongst other things.

Most importantly, your own feelings must be put to one side and your child’s needs must come first.  


The ‘How to…’ bit:

It may be easier said than done to ‘focus on the children’, particularly if the relationship split was relatively recent, bitter and/or your emotions are still raw. 

At times like this, when you feel you can’t see the wood for the trees, we all need some support, guidance and encouragement.

Which is precisely why we’ve put together this 6-step Co-Parenting Plan full of suggestions to help you confidently move forward with a positive co-parenting strategy:

1. The first step and your constant mantra: Put your kids first!

  • Allow & encourage significant relationships in both families to continue - grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins…etc.
  • Use a positive tone when talking to your kids about your ex (even if your ex doesn’t reciprocate this).
  • Share special times when your ex isn’t present e.g. sending texts or pictures of a play, an awards ceremony, a special certificate – tell your kids you’re doing this so they see your ex is being included in their day-to-day life.
  • Listen to your children: don’t judge them or tell them how they should feel – accept their feelings; reassure them – they won’t always feel that way, time will change things, you’ll always be there for them.
  • Don’t force your child to take sides & avoid making comparisons or creating competition between you and your ex.
  • However often you see your children, make home a happy place where your child is loved, accepted and respected.

2. Put your own pain & anger to one side

  • Consciously detach from your ex: you’re divorced, the marriage is over, accept the separation.
  • It’s OK and natural to be feeling hurt & angry, but find a way to vent and express them away from your children: friends or a therapist; get exercise - playing sport can also physically release pent-up frustration and intense emotion, enabling you to healthily deal with your feelings at a later time.
  • Don’t make your kids the messengers: keep children out of any relationship issues or potential conflict by ensuring all communication is direct with your ex, whether it’s face-to-face, calls, or e-mails.
  • Spare your kids the details: remember that children can worry so don’t expose them to your relationship issues, your feelings, financial problems…etc.

3. Effective communication

  • It can help to remind yourself that all communication with your ex has your child’s well-being and happiness at its centre.
  • Commit to cooperate: effective co-parenting doesn’t need friendship but does need cooperation – love your child more than you hate your ex!
  • Rather than making demands, make requests: phrase things with ‘Can we try…?’, ‘Could we….?’ ‘Would you be willing…?’…etc.
  • Listen to your ex: you don’t have to always agree but allow him/her to voice opinions or points of view.
  • Show restraint: try not to overreact to your ex, train yourself to ignore the buttons your ex might try to push.
  • Exercise compromise: a little ‘give-and-take’ will encourage greater flexibility between the both of you in the future, creating a smoother and happier existence for all.
  • Communicate regularly if possible as this conveys a message to your kids that you & your ex are a united front.
  • Keep conversations kid-focussed: don’t digress or get off-topic, it’s not about your relationship any more, it’s about your child’s needs.

4. Parenting ‘together’ as a team

  • Try to agree a basic set of common ground rules, values & discipline that are consistent in both households e.g. homework, meal-times, bed-times, expected behaviours, discipline…etc. Children thrive on routine and consistency but some kids are very good at pitching mum vs dad, so don’t fall into trap!
  • Be flexible with each other: recognise and accept differences in your parenting styles (this can be more difficult if you were/are the primary carer) - the specifics of how you deal with situations is likely to be different and that’s OK.

5. Making ‘hand-overs’ easier for your kids

  • Respect the kids time with your ex: when they’re away, don’t call too often or at key times (dinner, bedtime..etc.); be excited for them at upcoming events or special occasions with your ex; on their return, let them talk freely about what they’ve done, show interest and support – be happy for them!
  • When a visit to your ex is approaching, give your kids reminders to help them prepare mentally, offer to help them pack, remember important items for them e.g. comforters or special toys that help them sleep…etc.
  • Keep goodbyes short, sweet and positive to minimise any upset your kids might feel during the ‘hand-over’.
  • When your kids come back home, help them settle back in as easily as possible – this might mean giving them some space and quiet time, or doing an activity together.

6. Don’t neglect yourself!

  • Give yourself time to take stock, heal and focus on you: this is a new chapter, time to start over & leave the past behind. Think about how you want to live your life now, changes you want to make and who you want to be moving forwards.
  • When your kids are away, keep busy and make plans: enjoy your time when the kids are with your ex – recharge your batteries so that when they’re back, you’re at your best.


Co-parenting at Christmas and during the summer holidays can be particularly stressful and difficult, so we’ve also put together some tips for those specific times: Top Tops for separated parents at Christmas & A short guide to summer scheduling.


Support along the way

Generally speaking, children whose separated parents have a cooperative relationship will feel happier, more confident and secure in the long run.

But in the short-term, and often in the aftermath of a divorce, some children can struggle and it’s important to encourage them to talk – it’s not always best to do that with a parent, but often a neutral, impartial adult can be helpful e.g. a therapist, a counsellor, contact with organisations such as Kids in the Middle and projects such as Voices in the Middle.

If you’ve tried co-parenting and it’s not working out, private counselling or organisations such as Relate can help with improving communication and understanding between parents, paving the way for a better approach to co-parenting.


We’re here to help

At SH&CO, we know that divorce can be incredibly difficult and painful, and rebuilding your life afterwards can feel impossible. 

Whether you’re considering your options and need clarification on your position, or need help and advice with shared child arrangements or co-parenting issues, we are here to help.

If you’d like more information or just to have a chat, call us on 01606 48777 to book yourself a FREE 30 minute appointment with one of our family lawyers or pop in to one of our FREE drop-in Family Law clinics.