The term "co-parenting" may be something you've never heard -- until you divorce. Then you'll likely hear it a lot. That's what you and your spouse will be to your kids -- co-parents. Whether one of you has primary custody or you share custody equally, you'll be parenting in separate homes.

However, it's essential that your kids can still count on you to be there for them, no matter how you feel about each other. As one post-divorce expert notes, "It's a very small minority of divorced parents that can truly do collaborative co-parenting, where they work together and get along completely for the sake of the children."

The Importance of the Parenting Plan

Successful co-parenting starts with a detailed parenting plan worked out during your divorce. The more specific it is, the less chance there is for confusion and conflict later on. Your family law attorney will help you draft such a plan.

The parenting plan drafting process is the time to discuss big issues, like which schools your kids will attend, how medical issues will be addressed and what religious holidays they'll celebrate. You'll need to work out many of the smaller things as you go along. How well you do that is key to raising happy, well-adjusted kids.

Keys to Successful Co-Parenting

Consistency is important. However, you likely won't have exactly the same rules at both homes. That's okay as long as you're consistent with your own rules. Perhaps you don't want your kids eating fast food, but your ex occasionally brings home Happy Meals. Explain to the kids that you and their other parent have different views, but don't berate your co-parent in front of the kids.

Don't subject your kids to negativity about their other parent. No matter how you feel about your ex's life or parenting, don't express your concerns to your children. Further, don't ask or your kids to rat out their other parent or carry messages between you. Deal with your ex away from the kids.

When your kids are with their other parent, respect their time together. It's fine to arrange a time (agreed to by your co-parent) when you'll Skype, call or text the kids. However, don't constantly check in on them. Further, let them feel free to share photos and stories of what they did with their other parent without making them feel guilty about enjoying themselves.

Co-parenting means putting your kids' well-being above your own feelings, no matter how difficult that is. Of course, if you have valid concerns about what goes on when your kids are with your ex and you can't resolve them, talk with your family law attorney.

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