Co-Parenting Agreements

Learn how to co-parent successfully

If you and your (ex) partner want to raise your children collectively and cooperatively, co-parenting agreements can help improve your focus. Find out how planning an agreement together may turn both of you into better parents.

Information About Co-Parenting

In short, co-parenting means both parents work together in a cooperative manner to raise healthy, happy and well-balanced children. This type of parenting puts a large portion of the family focus directly on the children and requires certain skills that may seem elusive to some adults. The introduction of an agreement between both parents assures that everyone involved with raising the children adheres to similar values and works towards the same goals.

Who Needs a Parenting Agreement?

No matter the circumstances, all parents and children will benefit from well-crafted co-parenting agreements. However, most parents who are still together and reside in the same home never think about implementing an agreement to care for their children. Some situations that commonly rely on agreements of this type include divorced families, parents who were never married and don't live together, separated parents, parents in crisis (emotional, mental, physical, etc.) and teenage parents. Although somewhat rare, family advocates, counselors and social workers often recommend some form of cooperative parenting statement for intact families due to the success of these agreements when used in special circumstances. It may become more and more common to have cooperative agreements between parents in the future, even when the parents live together and have no special needs.

Elements of Co-Parenting Agreements

An agreement between parents or custodians about how to raise their kids is a serious matter. For best results, all parties included in the contract (parents, god-parents, grandparents, etc.) must sit down together and work out the details in a cooperative manner. If you believe your children will benefit from such an agreement, browse the options below to find the best elements for your family.

Married and Non-Married Parents

It might seem silly for married people to draft a contract for cooperative parenting, but having a document like this can serve as a guideline for raising children and prevent misunderstandings down the road. When parents agree on key issues early on, children tend to grow up to be confident, emotionally secure and successful. This also applies to parents who live together as a couple, but were never married.

Points to consider when coming up with a document include:

  • Religion
  • Education
  • Extra-curricular activities
  • Bedtimes by age
  • Childcare
  • Diet and nutrition
  • Internet usage and TV/video game time
  • Dating rules
  • Parental roles and responsibilities
  • Discipline
  • Morals and family values
  • Long-term parental expectations
  • Spontaneous or emergency decision-making guidelines

Divorced and Separated Parents

Having a written agreement is crucial to the nurturing of children after divorce. Since it's a time of massive upheaval, formulating a set of firm guidelines can keep your children grounded before, during and after the break-up, while also imbuing them with feelings of consistency and safe security. Although they may protest the idea itself, children respond favorably to most parenting contracts on the long term.

In addition to the items present in a married couple's agreement, points to consider include:

  • Child custody
  • Child support
  • Residential scheduling
  • Visitation plans
  • Custody during holidays
  • Financial responsibilities
  • Emergency procedures
  • Grandparent visitation plans
  • Gift-giving guidelines
  • Child-related communication procedures
  • Last testament and will

Unmarried Parents Who Split Up

Although this case is special, unmarried parents who decide to split should also have a firm agreement about the children before doing so. In fact, it is important to draft such an agreement before children even enter the picture. If the break-up is especially bitter or suffused with anger, a previously-established, legally-binding agreement helps to lighten the already hefty load suddenly placed upon the shoulders of both parents. Having everything about the kids in writing means one less thing for you and your ex to battle over.

In general, co-parenting agreements between unmarried parents bear a strong resemblance to more traditional contracts, but you or your ex may want to include the following items or addendums:

  • Role and obligations: While not an actual agreement point, establishing and including paternal and maternal information in the agreement ensures a parent's right to raise his/her children and a mother or father's right to secure financial support for the kids.
  • Children's legal last name
  • Legal or joint custody
  • Long-term legal procedures during emergencies

Follow Through

Even if you and your co-parent have documented a comprehensive, all-inclusive agreement, the document has no purpose if both parents do not make a concerted effort to follow it. Give your children and yourselves a leg-up in the world by adhering to all agreed-upon elements right from the start. If you need additional help in sorting through co-parenting issues that have come up in your family, consider finding a co-parenting program in your area.

Co-Parenting Agreements