A parenting agreement, or co-parenting agreement, is a written plan between two biological parents who are no longer together, in which both parents commit to raise their children cooperatively despite the end of their relationship. Co-parenting agreements are meant to reduce much of the emotional trauma associated with divorce.
Effects of Divorce
In an adversarial divorce, custody arrangements must be mediated by the courts and the divorced partners remain hostile to each other and are frequently in conflict. This type of divorce can be highly emotionally damaging, especially to young children. According to an article in Psychology Today, children below the age of 2 typically experience depression and anxiety after a divorce. Children above the age of 2 tend to regress in their emotional and mental development and become obsessed with fears of abandonment. They often blame themselves for the divorce. If they aren't in regular contact with one of the parents, they suffer ongoing emotional distress over it. These problems can be greatly reduced by a thoughtful co-parenting agreement.
A successful parenting agreement must create a shared approach to parenting while also resolving practical matters such as custody arrangements. It can be a good idea to begin the agreement with a statement that both parents are committed to working together to create a loving and stable parenting arrangement for their children and to help their children remain emotionally close to both parents. The agreement covers custody arrangements including overnights with both parents, specifies which parent has primary decision-making power in which areas of life and how to resolve any conflicts that arise. It addresses what to do if either parent moves, who is financially responsible for various expenses and what should be done if either parent passes away. Although a number of different co-parenting templates are available online, you should check with an attorney to find out how to draft a legally binding agreement in the area where you live.
Parenting agreements can help protect children from the destructive emotional consequences of divorce. The written agreement between both parents to raise their children as a mutually supportive team can help to preserve a stable and relatively harmonious relationship and reduce the amount of conflict to which the child is exposed. According to an article by psychology professor Dr. Linda Nielsen, children whose parents have a shared custody agreement have less conflict than those who don't.
Parenting agreements typically provide for both parents to share residential custody rather than restricting one parent to visitations. According to social work professor Edward Kruk in Psychology Today, this is the most crucial aspect of successful co-parenting for the well-being of the child. According to the article by Dr. Nielsen, children who spend overnights with both parents after a divorce do better on every measurement of emotional and mental well-being, except in cases where one parent is abusive. Even the negative emotional effects of observing frequent conflict between parents is not as severe as that of not being able to spend enough time with both of them.
- Rock County Wisconsin: Designing the Parenting Plan
- Hennepin County Co-Parent Court: Parenting Plan Template
- Family by Design: Co-Parenting Agreement
- Psychology Today: Co-Parenting Infants and Very Young Children
- American Coalition for Fathers and Children: Parenting Time & Shared Residential Custody - Ten Common Myths
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