Co-Parenting through Divorce

by Carlene Lehmann, M.A., LMFT

Divorce is one of the most stressful events in a person’s life.

It is even more difficult if you have children. Your relationship with your partner does not cease to exist because you still have children that need you to both. Learning how to co-parent after divorce can be challenging if there are high levels of emotion or abuse present. I am presenting strategies that will help families who wish to work together for the good of their children.

Different Ways to Co-Parent

There are many different ways of co-parenting. In the book “Mindful Co-Parenting: A Child Friendly Path Through Divorce”, the authors discuss three different ways to co-parent- cooperative co-parenting, parallel co-parenting, and encapsulated co-parenting based on the level of conflict between the parents. The goal is to protect the children from being in the middle of disputes and shield them from exposure to any significant tension or hostility that could arise between the parents. mindful coparenting

Cooperative Parenting Works in Low Conflict Relationships

In cooperative co-parenting, each parent communicates regularly and easily with the other parent. They have a low conflict co-parenting relationship. Each parent has the ability and willingness to bend when the other parent makes a reasonable request. In this arrangement, the children are allowed the freedom to adjust their schedules and travel between homes to pick up school items, favorite articles of clothing, or sports equipment. Co-parents are good at respecting each other’s boundaries and following rules they have agreed on. Some advantages to this approach are lack of tension and little or no time, energy, or money wasted on conflict.

Parallel Parenting Can Help Reduce Conflict

In parallel co-parenting, there is a moderate to high level of conflict. When using this co-parenting approach it is essential that the co-parents have a way to navigate their conflicts with the least amount of stress and strain between them. Co-parents communicate on an as needed basis typically through email or text. They only make important decisions together such as which schools the children should attend or serious medical procedures. Daily life is handled by each parent separately with minimal interaction between the parents. They have a fairly rigid schedule that they adhere to and learn to make accommodations within their own lives to deal with changes. An advantage to this co-parenting approach is fewer opportunities for conflict between parents resulting in less stress for them and the children. The goal of parallel co-parenting is for both parents to be working in the same direction towards fostering their children’s well-being, academic progress, and social and emotional development. 

Encapsulated Parenting is Necessary in Relationships with a History of Abuse or Violence

Encapsulated co-parenting is used when the conflict between parents is severe or there is a history of threats of violence or angry outbursts. In this approach, parents adhere to a strict parenting schedule and only make special requests in the presence of a third party such as a therapist. Parents do not attend special events without a specific arrangement worked out in advance. Email communication is monitored by a professional or website designed for high conflict parents. Encapsulated parenting has minimal flexibility and can feel overly restrictive to the children, but is necessary when conflict is severe between parents.

You Can Choose a Style that Works for Your Situation

Co-parents may choose to use a hybrid of these approaches. Each family is different and has their own unique needs. The approach that your family uses will be dependent on how you and your co-parent are able to interact with each other and the level of conflict between both of you. It is possible to start with one style of co-parenting and change as the level of conflict decreases and your children’s needs change. The overall goal with co-parenting needs to put the children’s needs and safety first, so they can be healthy, happy, and fulfilled now and as adults.

Carlene Lehmann, M.A., LMFT is a Marriage and Family Therapist at Relationships Matter Austin in Austin, Texas.   You can have more confidence and peace co-parenting your child with their other parent. Carlene can help you set boundaries that will help your child thrive.  To schedule your appointment with Carlene, you can reach her at (512) 994-0432 or request an appointment with her on the Relationships Matter Austin Scheduling Page.