Co-parenting beyond divorce

By Lisa Cossey, LCSW

In a perfect world, all marriages would have the happily-ever-after that is promised in fairy tales. Unfortunately, in the real world, some marriages end in divorce. For families in this situation, the divorce may end the marriage; but it does not end the need for interaction to continue raising children together.

Some couples have no issues co-parenting beyond divorce. Others have great challenges. For couples who are struggling, there are several things to consider when determining the best ways to communicate with each other.

First and foremost, it is helpful to remember to love your child more than you may dislike your former spouse. The children who are young now will continue to grow, have birthday parties, holidays, sports and other extracurricular events, high school graduations, college graduations, get married, have children of their own someday, etc. On all of these occasions, for years beyond the divorce, you will most likely have to interact with your former spouse; so why not set a good foundation for communication?

In addition to making your life smoother, parents who are able to communicate and interact well with each other set a good example when the children can see their parents working together as a team. It is also helpful to remember that you are modeling appropriate communication and behavior for your children; therefore, respectful interactions are key. Some situations can be quite emotionally charged; if you find it is too difficult to interact with your former spouse, reframe your thinking about the situation.

The marriage and personal relationship have ended, so think of the relationship now as a business partnership. Keep your communication focused on the children, and set a matter-of-fact tone, utilizing appropriate language. Make requests of your former spouse; don’t make demands. In addition to being respectful to one another in front of the children, make sure you are being respectful when the other parent isn’t around. Negativity or complaining does no good; it only hurts the children. The two parents may no longer love each other, but the children love both parents. Placing them in the middle, listening to negatives about either parent, will only cause more harm and hurt for the child. Avoid making your child the messenger. This only puts unnecessary stress and pressure on the child. Boundaries should be set and maintained between the parents and children. Let the children be children; don’t put the adult responsibility of communicating between parents on their shoulders.

If communicating — in person or via phone calls — is something that cannot be managed between parents, email or texting are other options to consider. When utilizing these methods, remember to keep the tone professional here as well, and stick to the topic that needs to be addressed. If you receive an emotional or heated email or text, give yourself a calming period prior to responding. Wait at least an hour, if not more, before responding. This time allows you to compose your thoughts and rationally respond, instead of sending a heated message back and antagonizing a difficult situation.

Remember: You can only control yourself and your responses; maintain focus on your own behavior and communication.

For those parents who absolutely cannot communicate without a breakdown occurring, there are resources available to make necessary communication with each other easier and tolerable. There are specific websites, such as and, which cater to divorced families and their interactions. At, families can create their own family calendars to manage visitation, scheduling of events and communication between the parents.

Healthy marriages and family life are what we strive for. But for those whose happily-ever-after did not work out, consider these options when communicating and building your family life post-divorce.

Lisa Cossey, LCSW serves as Youth First social worker at Evansville’s Good Shepherd School.